Students trapped in post-election violence – an eyewitness report from Gabon

Sep 22
Posted by Nesmy Bersot Mvé Nguéma (22 Sep 2016)

I did not pray for peace. I prayed and still pray for truth, justice and fairness without which peace will be false and deceptive. And I did not pray for the peace which means an absence of disturbances, but for the peace which conveys tranquillity. Not for the peace of cowardice and resignation, but that which Christ offers and surpasses all understanding.

I prayed for the peace which provides joy in the midst of suffering; provides calmness in the face of torture; sings praise amidst agony; does not fear those who can kill but the body; and loves the enemy and the persecutor. 

If you plan to pray for me over the next few days, I beseech you to ask God to grant me that kind of peace.

During the first few days after the violence, we hosted one lady and three young men (all Christian friends) who were unable to go home after taking part in a protest march, due to the barricades throughout town. Also, one of these people we hosted was a civil society leader and we believed it was safer for that person to stay with us for a few days instead of going back home where the military were most certainly waiting to carry out an arrest. We thank God that all have now returned to their places safely.

I was then involved in helping families find their relatives who had disappeared during the violence. We were really concerned about two of our GBG students who were present at the opposition leader Jean Ping's headquarters when the military attacked the site. We found out three days later that one had managed to escape the attack but the second one was trapped inside. He heard the shooting beginning outside and then the military climbed the floors of the five-storey building one by one while shooting and taking pauses of 15 to 20 minutes to carry the bodies away and clean up the blood before resuming shooting.

The shootings were carried out from 1am to 6am. Our student kept going up another storey as the military climbed, and finally at 6am another group from the army came and all the survivors were asked to come out of the building. They were asked to lie with their faces to the ground.

Our student was badly beaten and walked with crutches for some time but he is now doing OK. Doctors predict that at the age of 40, he will have mobility problems due to the bad beating he got on his feet.

At least 20 people died in the capital, Libreville, during the first week of protests. Last Monday a local newspaper revealed that 60 bodies were moved from a mass grave. We think there are about 40 more dead now and more than 100 people have disappeared.

Do not ask God to keep me at home. Ask him to renew my courage despite what I see and hear. Ask him to keep my heart from evil and avoid resorting to violence. Ask him to keep me strong and focused in the non-violent struggle. Ask him to remind me that I am not fighting in order to necessarily win but rather to obey him so that, whether I win or lose, I may thank him.

Pray that I may not consider my life and comfort more important than those of thousands of other people, and that I may not prefer my selfish privileges over and above the deliverance of a greater number.

Pray for me and for the hundreds of other Christians who have understood that salvation must be lived out and preached differently in our nation.

 

[Editor’s note] Since the presidential election at the end of August, GBG Gabon staff and students have been caught up in the violent aftermath. At first EU observers raised questions about the poll results, then swiftly opposition leader Jean Ping, who lost to incumbent Ali Bongo by fewer than 6,000 votes, claimed he won and demanded a recount.

The violence that ensued arises from what a major newspaper calls ‘deep-seated popular anger’ arising from Bongo’s repressive methods and alleged corruption. Ping supporters burned the parliament buildings and the military burned Ping’s headquarters.

The government has cut off access to internet from 6pm to 6am. There is limited access during the day and no access to social networks. 

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About Nesmy Bersot Mvé Nguéma

Nesmy is General Secretary of GBG Gabon. His staff and his students are facing extraordinary pressure in Gabon as the country reacts to last month’s disputed presidential elections. He has recently been helping families find their relatives who disappeared during the violence.

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