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The influence of Bongo’s death on French-African relations

Text by Marie Sophie JOUBERT

Latest update : 2009-06-09

Revealed by the French media, denied at first by Libreville before being confirmed, Omar Bongo’s death might alter relations between Paris and African nations: analysis by Central Africa expert Antoine Glaser.

FRANCE 24: What is the current situation in Libreville?

Antoine Glaser: The situation is difficult, and the silence about Bongo’s health increased the uncertainty.

He led his country like a village. Even years ago, when he was in good health but simply out of Libreville, political life was brought to a halt. Since he was hospitalized in late May, political leaders have been holding their breath and the country was blocked. There was a mad rush to stock up on basic supplies in supermarkets, a sign of people’s growing anxiousness.

F24: What will happen now that Omar Bongo Ondimba is dead?

A.G: The Constitution is very clear about succession: the president of the Senate, Rose Rogombe, is to act as interim president and organize future elections. In reality, the situation is far more complex.

Ali Ben Bongo, the president’s son and defence minister since 1999, may seem like the best bet for his father’s succession. He visited the French president at the Elysée several times, with his father’s blessing. He’s one of the heavyweights of Gabon’s main political party, the Gabon Democratic Party. At the same time, Omar Bongo did nothing to secure his son’s succession before flying to Barcelona for treatment, and there is no consensus around his leadership, even within his own family.

His own sister Pascaline, the president’s chief of staff, doesn’t seem to support him. Her husband, Paul Toungui, may have presidential ambitions of his own. 

F24: Other than the Bongo family, are there other aspiring heirs to the throne

A.G: Jean Ping, president of the African Union Commission and, by the way, Pascaline’s ex-husband, may also want to run for president.

Gabon also has a very active civil society, whose leaders were given a hard time by the former president. They want anything but another Bongo regime and have the United States’ backing. Several influential Republican and Democratic senators, members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, have begun championing Marc Ona Essangui’s leadership.

Essangui is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which has Washington’s total support. He is Gabon’s coordinator for the international “Publish What You Pay” network, which fights against corruption and promotes fiscal transparency.

In March, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, wrote a letter to late President Omar Bongo asking him to allow Marc Ona and his wife to fly to San Francisco in April to receive a Goldman Environmental Prize for their defence of the Ivindo National Park.

A Franco-Gabonese civil society leader, Bruno Ben Mouamba, president of the non-governmental organization Free Actors of Gabon’s Civil Society, is the main NGO figure with open political ambitions.

F24: Will Omar Bongo’s death have any consequences on Franco-Gabonese relations?

A.G: It certainly will. It will also have consequences on Franco-African relations in general. Omar Bongo played a very important role on the African continent. He monitored all sensitive issues and served as a mediator in many conflicts. Bongo held the keys to Françafrique (privileged Franco-African relations), and they will probably die with him.

Date created : 2009-06-09