[DEHAI] Gabon - The end of a kleptocrat

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From: Haile Abraham (haileab99@msn.com)
Date: Wed Jun 17 2009 - 15:09:49 EDT

Hello All,
Below is an article from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that I find rather interesting. It is about an African leader, who ruled his oil-rich country for 41 years and just died recently. Naturally, we mourn the death of an African leader, but in this case there may just be a cause for celebration in the name of "The End of a Kleptocrat."
Even though Gabon is oil-rich, eyewitness reports indicate that this wealthy West African nation lacks roads, schools, and adequate health care, and on top of that a whooping 21% unempolyment rate. In contrast, the income from oil revenue has fattened the pockets of its ruler, who, according to the French weekly L'Autre Afrique, is said to own more real estate in Paris than any other foreign leader.
What a shame!!!
As you read the article, think about how many of this type of African leaders are still floating around IGAD & AU, and also at the same time, don't forget to count your blessing that Eritrea and its leaders are too far away from this type of mentalilty.
Haile A.
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The end of a kleptocrat
Omar Bongo of Gabon dies after ripping off his country for more than 41 years
By Dan Simpson
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday, June 17, 2009


The longtime president of Gabon, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, died in Spain earlier this month.

Mr. Bongo had been president of his small, oil-rich West African state since December 1967, putting him at his death the longest-serving African president. In his case, it would be appropriate to use the term "self-serving." In French the reflexive of "serve" means "to help oneself." That is what Mr. Bongo did.

The people of his country remained pathetically poor, in spite of Gabon's oil wealth, while Mr. Bongo and his family accumulated great wealth. In France, reports indicate he had some 39 properties and 70 bank accounts. Mr. Bongo's approach to governance was to keep the 1.5 million people of his country impoverished, uneducated, unserved by health care and isolated in the interior by lack of transportation infrastructure. They were easier to rule that way.

His partners in this exercise across the years have been the French. French oil companies exploit Gabon's offshore oil wealth. There have long been French Foreign Legionnaires stationed in Gabon to protect the French citizens who live there and to make sure that power remained in sympathetic hands.

Former African colonies have always been important to France to maintain pretensions to being a world power. One wag observed that France without its former colonies would be Spain with nuclear weapons.

France does keep them close at hand, particularly oil producers such as Gabon, the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) and Chad. Some would say there is even a physical resemblance between Mr. Bongo and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Both are relatively short, self-conscious about it and feel it necessary always to have an attractive woman in the vicinity.

I met Mr. Bongo twice. Both of my visits to his country were vaguely life-threatening.
The first was in 1975, when I was a special assistant to the head of the Africa bureau of the State Department. Mr. Bongo lodged us in a complex of VIP villas that he had built at great cost on a hill outside Libreville, the capital, for a summit conference of the Organization of African Unity. We were driven from the OAU village to Mr. Bongo's palace in a Mercedes with motorcycle outriders. The route took us through narrow, winding streets, with the sirens blazing and pedestrians, chickens, goats and cyclists diving for the edges as we screeched through.

I thought it was all over. To die in Libreville. But we got there. Mr. Bongo received us in his office, adorned with a huge chromium desk. In the next room loud rock music played and his wife at the time, Jacqueline, danced alone to it. That evening, after more hair-raising trips to and from the OAU village, we had dinner at the palace, on gold service, with white waiters in white gloves.

Jacqueline eventually departed the scene and Mr. Bongo's final marriage was to the daughter of Congo (Brazzaville) President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. It was an African presidents' version of "keeping it in the family."

The second meeting came with another U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. This time, in the early 1980s, at the instigation of the French, it was to try to sign Mr. Bongo on to helping the countries of southern Africa -- South Africa, Angola, Namibia, et al. -- reach an agreement that would bring independence to Namibia and get Cuban troops out of Angola.

Mr. Bongo was considered to be potentially helpful for several reasons. First, the South Africans liked him -- or, at least, his style. He provided support to the Angolan rebel movement UNITA, one of the more difficult players in the equation. And he was known for using Gabon's money to achieve ends that he desired. Unaccountable money can be useful in such affairs. (Mr. Bongo would have played well in Pennsylvania.)

It was arranged that the U.S. delegation would travel from Paris to southern Africa by Air France, which stopped in Libreville. We got off at the transit stop there to go see Mr. Bongo. He was late, basically to underline his importance. The meeting didn't come to much, although the French said it made Mr. Bongo happy, which was their objective.

The scary part came when we had to get back on the plane, having kept it waiting for well over an hour. I adopted my best "Who, me?" expression and strolled down the aisle, looking neither to the left nor the right. Fortunately, most of the passengers were old Africa hands who understood the drill.

Mr. Bongo's propensity to get his way with money unfortunately spilled over into his relations with the United States. He was always particularly keen on being received at the White House. America's custom -- not shared by Gabon -- to change presidents every four or eight years did not lend itself to fulfilling this goal on Mr. Bongo's part. It meant that he had to start his quest over again some nine times during his happy reign in Libreville.

He got the idea, which we pray isn't true, that the way to be received at the White House is to make a large financial contribution to the American president or his party. (Hey, it worked for him in Africa and France, why not in Washington?)

Some not-totally-scrupulous American businesspersons and politicians took advantage of this belief on Mr. Bongo's part and some money did in fact change hands. Mr. Bongo was received by American presidents on various occasions. Each time a different reason was given.

He kept going for more than 41 years that way, outliving some of Africa's other masters at looting their countries, such as President Mobutu Sese Seku of Congo (Kinshasa) and Uganda's Idi Amin. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe lives on.

Gabon's constitution says that a deceased president is to be succeeded by the president of the Senate, in this case Rose Francine Rogombe, who has a few months to organize elections. Mr. Bongo has a son, Ali, who is minister of defense. It is not unimaginable that Ali Mr. Bongo will want to "keep it in the family."
Poor Gabon. But then, people like the Bongos, Mobutus and Mugabes of this world will do to you what you let them do.

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