Its experience with local democracy was a respectable one, before it deviated from its path.
Gabon's political system was not significantly more corrupt than other French-backed regimes that prioritised the interests of companies close to the Élysée Palace. However, Gabon's importance lay in its Atlantic Ocean coastline and massive forests, sandwiched between the Sahara Desert to the north and the Kalahari Desert to the south. Its economy relies on oil and gas, which account for 36% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 70% of exports, followed by manganese at 7%, and timber as its third most valuable resource.
Trade relations between France and Gabon amount to €846mn, of which €536mn are French exports and €310mn are Gabonese imports.
The domino effect
Perhaps Paris and Brussels were late to realise that the domino effect of these coups is a real threat to France's vital interests – and they may not stop in the heart of the continent. Potential coups could take place in countries that align most closely to Paris' policies in Africa.
Disputes are not with the rulers but with their relationship to the old colonial system and their role in continuing to enact social inequalities and financial corruption with foreign companies.
Paris, which wasted uranium and gold in the Sahel region, is currently trying to give up control over oil, manganese, timber, diamonds, and precious stones – or what remains of something worth a third of Africa's wealth in an area of more than 10mn square kilometres.
This had once covered the salaries of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and officials overseas, while the rest was sent to Paris to make up the deficit in the treasury.
The timing is unfortunate. The French economy is going through several concurrent challenges, with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire describing as "the most difficult and uncertain" period. Concerns include the Russian war in Ukraine, climate change, the need to transition to green energy amid rising fuel prices, the cost of social reforms, the debt challenge, approaching 120% of GDP, and internal political fragmentation.
French decision-makers never expected that these difficulties would escalate and coincide with coups that could deprive the economy of its strongest competitive components. Namely, cheap and durable raw materials, trade deals, and economic transactions with political cover and local extortion that help reduce the budget deficit, which is expected to reach 4.4% of GDP by 2024.
Africa contributes between 0.25% and 0.5% of a point to annual economic growth and offers great opportunities for French companies abroad. The economy might not be able to survive for long if France is pushed out of Africa.
Chinese President Xi Jinping used to describe Gabon's ousted President Ali Bongo as an old friend of China.
The truth is that relations between Beijing and Libreville have evolved significantly in recent years, moving towards a comprehensive strategic partnership. China has gained privileges in the mining and extraction of manganese, timber, and oil, and has secured contracts in the field of infrastructure.
It has also become the second largest supplier after France, and the top customer for timber.
France's political losses are not limited to countries hit by coups or political instability but extend to North Africa, as well.
In this region, China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, and others have secured substantial contracts and investments worth tens of billions of dollars. This prompted President Macron to state that relations with Maghreb countries are currently not at the level that they should be.
He also recognised that the road to Europe must first pass through the Mediterranean Sea.