In recent weeks, the African nation of Gabon has been thrust into the global spotlight following the house arrest of its longtime President, Ali Bongo Ondimba. This incident has shed light on the political turmoil that has plagued the country for the past 54 years, with the Bongo family at the helm. However, amid the serious discussions surrounding Gabon’s future, an unexpected twist has emerged: a viral dance meme is currently uniting Africans across the continent.
For more than five decades, Gabon has been under the tight grip of the Bongo family. Ali took the reins from his father Omar in 2009. Previously the elder had ruled Gabon for 42 years until his death, making him one of the richest men in the world. This familial stronghold on the presidency has been a source of political instability and frustration for many Gabonese citizens. Allegations of corruption, electoral irregularities, and human rights abuses have marred the Bongo dynasty.
Nevertheless, the military held a divergent vision for the nation. And, after it was announced that Bongo Ondimba had won a third election term on 30 August 2023, opposition groups began vehemently declaring the election as fraudulent, a sentiment that resonated with the military. Remarkably, within a mere hour of the election results being unveiled, the military executed a swift takeover. This prompt intervention ultimately led to Gabonese military officer Brice Oligui Nguema inserting himself as the nation’s new leader, as reported by Reuters.
Now, here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn and where the world of viral memes comes into play. On the same day of his arrest, Bongo Ondimba released a video pleading for his supporters and citizens to “make noise.”
Yet, the Gabonese people, alongside others across African nations, took an unforeseen turn after the release of this video, by deciding to transform the clip into a viral meme. You heard that right, a dance meme. What began as a presidential cry for help miraculously transformed into a nonsensical internet trend—probably not exactly what the former Gabonese president was looking for.
In the middle of this political turmoil, Africans have turned to an unexpected outlet for expression: dance. A majority of the videos attached to the “make noise” viral sound involve people dancing and singing along to the beat—seemingly in an attempt to poke fun at Bongo Ondimba. It’s become so popular that the #makenoisechallenge now has over 2.5 million views on TikTok.
So, why the meme, you ask? Well, It’s a question worth exploring. You see, when faced with uncertainty, humour and creativity frequently emerge as potent tools for coping. This meme, in particular, served as a vivid manifestation of the unyielding resilience found within the Gabonese people. It echoed a rich tradition of turning adversity into art, a timeless human response to challenging circumstances. Furthermore, it emphasised a fundamental truth: you simply can’t subject a population to abuse and deprivation for more than five decades without eventually facing consequences.
The future of Gabon may remain uncertain, but it’s clear that Gabon and other African nations are finding ways to make their voices heard, whether through protest or dance.