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Africa's political dynasties: part one

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2009-10-13

Now that Gabon's Ali Ben Bongo hasb succeeded in his quest to take over his late father's presidency, he is part of an exclusive club of African nations where presidential succession has remained a family affair.

GABON: Ali Bongo, in daddy's footsteps
“There is no dauphin,” declared Gabon’s late president Omar Bongo as he basked in his sixth straight election victory in 2005, referring to the old French term for a king-in-waiting, usually the eldest son. “The succession is open,” he added.


But the Bongo Ondimba dynasty still has good days ahead. The eldest son, Ali, became the first president of Gabon’s post-Omar Bongo era after an election held on August 30, the outcome of which is still disputed by rival opposition candidates Andre Mba Obame and Pierre Mamboundou.


Ali Ben Bongo does not have his father’s charisma and ability to speak the various Gabonese dialects that made “Papa Bongo” so popular.


 But the father was careful to teach his son the inner workings of power.


Ali Ben Bongo was appointed foreign minister in 1989 at the age of 30, although he had to step down after two years when it was written into the country's constitution that ministers had to be at least 35 years old.


In 1999 “Baby Zeus”, as Ali Ben Bongo was nicknamed, was made defence minister, a position he held on to until the 2009 election campaign and that allowed him to secure the loyalty and support of the military.


 Last year, in France, Ali Ben Bongo was alleged to have taken advantage of his country’s wealth. He owns a large apartment in upmarket Avenue Foch in Paris, as well as two Ferraris, in contrast to the comparative poverty of his country.


Nevertheless, in the same year he was appointed head of the all-powerful Gabonese Democratic Party founded by his father, and is favourite to win the upcoming election - largely down to the fractured nature of the opposition.

TOGO: Faure Gnassingbé, from a military coup to legitimate rule

Just two hours after the death of President Gnassingbé Eyedema in 2005, the Togolese army placed his son Faure Gnassingbé in power.


The 38-year-old former minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications took the reins of power thanks to an eleventh-hour amendment to Togo’s constitution – a move the African Union and many Western powers denounced as an effective coup d’etat.


As a result of international pressure, a presidential election was held two months later.


Faure Gnassingbé won a bloody and allegedly fraudulent vote. TV images of government soldiers taking away ballot boxes

provoked riots in which some 500 were killed.


The challenges he faced on coming to power were enormous for someone who, as a businessman, had essentially been in charge of watching over his family’s interests – notably in telecoms and phosphate mining.


But his father had left a hugely divided country on his death after 38 years in power. Conscious of these divisions, Faure declared that he would be “neither the president of the south, nor of the north, but of all of Tongo.”


In an attempt to prove his good faith, he set up a government of national unity, a move that has paid off. Two years later, legislative elections were widely praised by the international community and 13 years of EU sanctions came to an end.


Despite these successes, the scourge of nepotism has continued to haunt Togo’s halls of power. In 2006, Faure’s half brother, then defence minister Kpatcha, was refused the position of prime minister and parliament speaker.


Three years later Kpatcha was arrested, accused of plotting a coup. Another brother, Essolizam, was arrested three days later on the same charge.



DR CONGO: Joseph Kabila, the youngest president in the world

Following the assassination of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila in January 2001, his 29-year-old son Joseph was propelled to the head of the Democratic Republic of Congo by his father’s political entourage, who didn’t want to give up their power.


Thus becoming the world’s youngest head of state, Kabila was at that point little known by the Congolese population and the international community alike. His only military accomplishments were fighting alongside his father against Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime and then taking on the position of military advisor when his father overthrew Mobutu in 1997, claiming the presidency.


Whereas the senior Kabila chose to isolate himself from international institutions, incurring the boycott of several countries, Joseph Kabila -- despite a reputation for being severe and reserved -- preferred an approach of renewed engagement with Washington, Paris, Brussels and neighbouring African nations.


The young president succeeded in restoring peace with Rwanda and Uganda, just one year after his rise to power. He also kept his promise to “guide the Congolese people” to the first free elections in the country’s history in 2006, winning 58.05 % of the vote against Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.


But after eight years in power, the hardest is still to come: the eastern province of Nord-Kivu remains in the throes of violence between the Congolese army and Rwandan Hutu rebels. The country itself, though rich in natural resources, is still devastated by unemployment, poverty and corruption.


Date created : 2009-08-28