Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

WEB NEWS

USA: thousands pay tribute to Michael Brown

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

France's Iliad considers fresh offer for T-Mobile

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Is Carla Bruni against a political comeback for Sarkozy?

Read more

DEBATE

Clone of Pakistan Protests: Democracy put the test (Part Two)

Read more

DEBATE

Pakistan Protests: Democracy put the test (Part One)

Read more

ENCORE!

The French Maestro of Soul

Read more

FOCUS

US tobacco giants want lion's share of e-cigarette business

Read more

ENCORE!

Bold and bonkers: Kate Bush is back on stage

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Simon Serfaty, US foreign policy specialist

Read more

  • NATO plans new 'spearhead' force to counter Russia

    Read more

  • French education ministry picture sparks racist abuse

    Read more

  • UN backs Iraqi request for inquiry into IS militant crimes

    Read more

  • US military targets Somalia's al Shabaab Islamist group

    Read more

  • Monaco’s Falcao leaves Ligue 1 for Man Utd

    Read more

  • Obama calls for higher wages amid 'revving' US economy

    Read more

  • Video: Ukraine’s children return to school as fighting rages on

    Read more

  • Americans detained in North Korea call for US help

    Read more

  • US urges Israel to reverse West Bank land seizure

    Read more

  • Lesotho PM calls for regional peacekeeping force after ‘coup’

    Read more

  • Ukrainian forces retreat from Luhansk airport after clashes

    Read more

  • Teddy Riner, France’s unstoppable judo champion

    Read more

  • Death toll rises in Paris apartment building blast

    Read more

  • Iraqi forces free Amerli in biggest victory over IS militants since June

    Read more

  • French police arrest hungry hedgehog hunters

    Read more

  • Tripoli under control of militias, says government

    Read more

Africa

President Bongo dead at 73

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-08

Gabon's President Omar Bongo Ondimba, Africa's longest-serving leader, died Monday at the age of 73 at a clinic in Barcelona, Spain, Gabon's prime minister said in a statement. Bongo ruled the former French colony for 41 years.

Omar Bongo Ondimba, who died Monday in Spain, ruled longer than any of Africa's so-called "Big Men", but his legacy was tarnished by allegations that he built a personal fortune out of Gabon's oil boom.
  
A small figure with a neat moustache and a penetrating gaze often hidden behind black glasses, he was a wily political dinosaur who ruled Gabon as a one-party state for more than 41 years.
  
Bongo, who died in a private clinic in Barcelona, according to his prime minister, also gained plaudits late in his life for his mediation efforts -- in the Central African Republic, for example, which is now striving for peace.
  
But many will remember him for his murky ties with France and widespread allegations that he personally profited from Gabon's oil boom in the 1970s and 1980s.
  
Born on December 30, 1935, as one of 12 children to a peasant family in the Bateke region of southeast Gabon, Albert-Bernard Bongo was only 27 when he caught the attention of the country's first ruler, Leon Mba.
  
Obviously an astute political tactician, Bongo was a rising star and Mba made him his vice president five years later.
  
Less than nine months passed before Mba died and Bongo was suddenly Africa's fourth youngest president ever. He set about building the single-party regime that was to dominate Gabon's political scene.
  
Bongo took a new name, becoming el-Hadj Omar Bongo, after his conversion to Islam in 1973, then added his father's name Ondimba to his own in 2003.
  
From one of Gabon's smallest ethnic minorities, Bongo tolerated no opposition but was always careful how he divvied out power, showing respect at the same time for his country's subtle ethnic and regional complexities.
  
In the 1970s and 1980s, Gabon's oil flowed abundantly, but much of the wealth remains in few hands; it was then that the rot of corruption set in, according to many observers.
  
Challenged by a populist surge in 1990, Bongo installed a multi-party system, but his Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) always held the absolute majority in parliament.
  
When Bongo was re-elected in 1998 with 66.88 percent of the vote, then in 2005 with 79.21 percent, the opposition cried fraud. Ultimately, though, they were out-manoeuvred, as the veteran leader gave key government posts to some of his foes.
  
The handing out of privileges and contracts enabled Bongo to rally some of his oldest and fiercest opponents to his cause, and helped him become the world's longest-serving leader, except for monarchs.
  
The president's wife, Edith Lucie Bongo Odimba, daughter of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, died in March at the age of 45. Following her death, Bongo announced he was "temporarily" suspending his own duties to rest and mourn.
  
At the international level, Bongo was one of the African kingpins in the opaque French politics of the same period as the oil boom, when Paris maintained murky ties with some of its former colonies for "reasons of state."
  
But times changed. A French judge announced in May that he would launch a landmark investigation into whether Bongo, his ally Nguesso of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema had plundered state coffers to buy luxury homes and cars in France.
  
A complaint filed by Transparency International France accused the leaders, who deny any wrongdoing, of acquiring millions of dollars of real estate in Paris and on the French Riviera and buying luxury cars with embezzled public money.
  
An earlier French police report on Bongo's French assets fuelled tensions between the two countries, with Gabon threatening to review relations with Paris.
  
Favoured to succeed him is his 50-year-old son Ali Ben Bongo.

Date created : 2009-06-08

COMMENT(S)