The military announced on Wednesday August 30 that they were “putting an end to the regime in place” in Gabon, shortly after the official results of the presidential election of August 26 which gave outgoing President Ali Bongo Ondimba the victory. The latter, in power for 14 years, had sought and obtained a third mandate during Saturday’s elections, with 64.27% of the votes cast. Is this a blow to the Bongo dynasty, in power for 55 years?
Gabon, which gained independence in 1960, like the majority of French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, was first led by Léon Mba, who had asked, in vain, for his country to become a French department of overseas. When he died in 1967, his chief of staff, Albert-Bernard Bongo, succeeded him as president. Converted to Islam in 1973, he took the name Omar Bongo and then added his father’s surname, Ondimba.
Omar Bongo, the patriarch
Shortly after coming to power, Omar Bongo created a political group, the Gabonese Democratic Party, and imposed it as a single party. He was thus re-elected as the only candidate, in 1973, in 1979 and in 1986 with more than 99% of the votes. His scores decreased in the 1990s, although he won in 1993 and 1998, after having the constitution revised in 1997 to allow him to run for two more seven-year terms. In total, Omar Bongo remained at the head of Gabon for almost 42 years.
Taking advantage of the riches of his country, notably wood, manganese and especially oil, Omar Bongo rules his country with an iron fist, establishes his power and enriches himself at the same time. The explosion in the price of a barrel after 1973, then 1979, allowed him to use the oil windfall to modernize the country’s infrastructure. He built roads, railways, ports, power plants and set up the airline Air Gabon.
Pillar of “Françafrique”, Omar Bongo remains close to the former colonial power. He agrees that French companies can exploit the uranium and black gold of this small Central African state. “Gabon without France is a car without a driver, France without Gabon is a car without fuel,” Omar Bongo wrote in the 1980s.
Pascaline Bongo, inheritance of fortune
His death in 2009 set up a war of succession. Married twice, having also had several companions, the patriarch officially recognized 52 children. However, it is two children from his marriages, Pascaline and Ali, who dispute the political inheritance.
Pascaline is the one who holds the key to her father’s immense fortune. She was also the director of his cabinet. In addition, after having been the companion of Jean Ping, former traveling companion of Omar Bongo, she is married to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paul Toungui. She works in favor of her husband. In vain.
Ali Bongo, the heir
The Gabonese Democratic Party chose Ali Bongo, then defense minister, to represent it in the presidential election. On August 31, 2009, Ali Bongo declared himself the winner, even before the publication of the results.
Barely elected, the heir ostensibly distances himself from France, in particular to break with the policy of proximity of the father. In Paris, nine other children of Omar Bongo are indicted for “ill-gotten gains”, real estate assets created in France with public money embezzled from Gabon.
Ali Bongo’s power turns out to be more fragile than that of his father. In 2016, his re-election, won with only 5,500 votes in advance, was contested by the opposition. In 2019, while he was convalescing abroad after a stroke, a group of soldiers launched a coup attempt, which was however defeated. These upheavals do not dissuade him from running for a third term in 2023.