Gabon coup brings abrupt end to Bongos’ improbable 56-year dynasty

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By the point Omar Bongo Ondimba died in 2009 after 41 uninterrupted years as president of Gabon he had fathered as many as 50 kids. In that crowded area it was the French-educated Ali Bongo, one among seven “official sons” and a jazz-funk musician, who emerged as his successor.

Ali, now 64, was elected president a number of months after his father’s dying, a place he held till this week when he turned the newest African head of state to be swept out of workplace in a coup. 1000’s poured on to the streets of Libreville, the seaside capital, to have a good time the obvious demise of the Bongo dynasty.

“The military has determined to show the web page,” mentioned Brice Oligui Nguema, a longtime confidante of each Bongos and head of the presidential guard, who led the coup. Nguema, a cousin of Ali, mentioned the president, who had a stroke in 2018, was not competent to run the nation and that the elections he had supposedly received — after an web shutdown and a delay in counting — had not been clear.

Ali, born Alain Bernard, struggled all through his 14 years as president to shake off the impression that Gabon, a densely forested nation of two.4mn individuals, was little greater than a household slush fund.

His father turned president in 1967 when Ali was eight-years-old and the younger boy was dispatched to Neuilly, a rich suburb of Paris, to be educated. Fluent in French and English, however not within the languages of Gabon, he later graduated in regulation from the Sorbonne.

From left, standing contained in the automotive: Jacques Chirac, then-president of France, and Omar Bongo, then chief of Gabon. Each are proven throughout Chirac’s go to to Gabon in July 1996 © AFP through Getty Photographs

“In life, kids are going to be influenced by what their dad and mom do,” he instructed the Monetary Instances in a 2012 interview, rejecting the concept that he ought to have avoided following his father into workplace. “What number of docs’ sons turn out to be docs? What number of lawyer’s sons turn out to be a lawyer?” he requested.

But Omar Bongo, born right into a peasant household in Gabon’s Bateke area, was no physician or lawyer. After an inconceivable rise to the presidency, he lived like a king and renamed Lewai, the city of his start, Bongoville.

As his nation bought wealthy on oil, producing about 230,000 barrels a day, he spent prodigiously on mansions, vehicles and, apparently, on ladies.

Ivette Santa Maria, a 22-year-old Miss Peru, described how she had been flown to Libreville and propositioned by the then 67-year-old Gabonese chief. “He pressed a button and a few sliding doorways opened, revealing a big mattress,” she instructed the Related Press.

Bongo senior amassed an enormous portfolio of property in France. A 2007 French police report mentioned the Bongo clan had 39 properties in France, together with some unique addresses. Prized possessions included a luxurious Paris property acquired from the aristocratic Pozzo di Borgo household on Rue de l’Université and a fleet of luxurious vehicles, together with Ferraris and Mercedes.

Bongo senior was the personification of the shut relations that persevered between African leaders and France, which got here to be often known as Francafrique. So shut have been the ties that, even after independence in 1960, postboxes in Libreville carried three headings: Gabon, France and Overseas Nations.

President of Gabon Ali Bongo sets a fire on an ivory stack at the Nairobi National Park on April 30, 2016.
Ali Bongo units fireplace to an ivory stack at Nairobi Nationwide Park, Kenya, in April 2016. A dedicated environmentalist, he staked his repute on defending the ample gorillas and elephants that inhabit Gabon’s huge forests © Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Photographs

Omar, who was alleged to have funded the presidential marketing campaign of French politicians, together with Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, was quoted as saying of the symbiotic relations: “Gabon with out France is sort of a automotive with no driver. France with out Gabon is sort of a automotive with no gasoline.”

After his father’s dying, Ali, extra diffident and earnest, labored exhausting to reshape his nation’s picture. He sought to widen Gabon’s ties by becoming a member of the Commonwealth final 12 months. A dedicated environmentalist, he staked his repute on defending the ample gorillas and elephants that inhabit the huge forests, which cowl some 90 per cent of the nation.

In 2010, he banned the export of unprocessed logs and inspired investments to course of wooden into furnishings and completed merchandise. As oil reserves started to dry up he sought to show the nation right into a “green superpower”, one that might probably obtain billions of {dollars} in carbon credit.

Gabon is without doubt one of the few international locations to soak up extra carbon than it emits. Final month it negotiated a $500mn debt-for-nature swap, organized by Financial institution of America, that freed $163mn for marine safety.

Nonetheless, Bongo junior hobnobbed with celebrities from the UK’s King Charles III, with whom he shared an curiosity in conservation, and the likes of footballer Lionel Messi and Michael Jackson, the late singer, whom he entertained in Libreville. He typically performed jazz piano for visiting dignitaries.

Ali Bongo shakes the hand of footballer Lionel Messi at the construction site of a new stadium in Port-Gentil, Gabon
Ali Bongo, proper, hobnobbed with celebrities reminiscent of footballer Lionel Messi, left © Gérauds Wilfried Obangome/Reuters

Mark Pursey, chief government of BTP Advisers, which suggested Bongo’s latest election technique, mentioned the president had gone some strategy to altering perceptions of Gabon. “You go to a newspaper stand in Gabon and also you’ll see opposition newspapers. This was not a Stalinist state,” he mentioned. “In his father’s time that was merely not allowed.”

Pursey mentioned Bongo had personally polled nicely, though his authorities’s efficiency was criticised, significantly in its means to transform the nation’s massive, if declining, oil wealth into infrastructure, jobs and alternative.

Bongo’s environmental insurance policies performed higher overseas than at house, he mentioned. Domestically, farmers blamed elephants for ruining their crops and other people apprehensive that defending forests was incompatible with improvement.

Pursey mentioned Bongo favored to present the impression that he had come to the presidency reluctantly. “Ali was fairly shy and unassuming. He would have been very blissful being a musician,” he mentioned.

Nguema, the transitional chief, recommended in an interview with Le Monde this week that Bongo, now below home arrest, would lastly get his want. “He’s retired and enjoys all his rights,” he mentioned. “He’s a traditional Gabonese, like everybody else.”

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