Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Life after Omar Bongo

June 8, 2009

After a night of claims by various French news outlets that he had died, then a stream of angry denials by government officials in Gabon, President Omar Bongo was officially declared dead on Monday.

His death did not come completely out of the blue – Bongo has been in hospital in Spain for the last month or so. But the demise of Africa’s longest-serving head of state will, no doubt, leave a gap, not just in the central African nation he ruled but also the region where his presence has been central.

With word of his death still spreading, questions over how Gabon would manage the transition are already being asked. Libreville, the capital, was calm and initial statements from government officials point to plans to abide by the constitution, which would mean the president of the senate leading the country to elections within 45 days.

But, underscoring fears of uncertainty, the country’s land, air and sea borders were
immediately closed and the debate over who would step up and fill the gap left by Bongo after more than four decades in power intensified.

Years of power play and co-opting opponents and ethnic rivals have left Gabon without a genuine opposition. But Bongo’s death paves the way for rivals within his family-dominated clan to vie for positions. The late president’s son and son-in-law are rivals whose names have been among the first to come up.

How will Gabon manage this potentially dangerous time? Will the country’s leaders stick to the constitution or will factions decide they have more to gain by using other means to win power?

What of former colonial power France? Paris was one of Bongo’s staunchest allies but France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised a new, more honest relationship with the continent. Will this be another nail in the coffin for Francafrique?

Have Gabon and Central Africa been left orphaned, as some said on the streets of Libreville on Monday, or is this a chance for a fresh start?


Is it not a case that King Bongo is dead, Long live King Bongo the 2nd?Aly-Khan alykhansatchu


Gabon looks very much like Togo except for the oil. Both countries were led by political dinosores closely linked to France, with an long, unending rules until they died in power. It is a new start for Gabon and Central Africa indeed as things will no longer be the same, not so much because of France’s so called new policy which has not really changed, but because once “fathers of the nation” disappear, then so is the fear that they had instilled in their population. Their heirs are only pallid copies and unless they have a strong army support, they are nor respected. After a truce following the funerals, tensions are likely to start when elections are held, within the first circle. Gabon has no real opposition, but a civil society that is getting stronger. Will it be able to organise the population? Will Gabonese be tempted to think along ethnic lines? It is quite possible.


Definitely a good opportunity to start investing in participative democracy, and comparing to other dictatorship rulers, Bongo did invest in public infrastructures with enormous technological development. Thus, there a good base to start on with if there is a will from the country leadership to turn things round. It will sad if the political leadership of thew country waste this opportunity for change of direction. Surely Bongo will be missed by people for managing Gabon with some stability for a very long time, but to what extend people enjoyed freedom is the big issue. Without freedom of expression or to choose leaders of their own, Gabon was just another Cuba.


Omar Bongo’s transition is a chance for Gabon and its peoples to actualise a fresh beginning at governance, an experience held hostage these past four decades plus. Bongo’s endurance at the pinnacle of power in Gabon is also a testimony to the quality of the country’s elite — acquiescing too easily as soon as they are co-opted into the looting cabal, or agitating as opposition to get co-opted. For a continent whose main problem has been quality leadership, the power elite in Gabon must rise to the occasion by by providing a purposeful, visionary, even if not youthful (though that would help) successor to Bongo. Talks of his son, or son-in-law succeeding him, like Faure Gnassingbe succeeded his dad, Gnassingbe Eyadema in Togo should not be realized. Gabon needs another mindset at the head of its government business.

Posted by Adekunle Adekoya | Report as abusive

Are there any indications that the post-Bongo era will differ substantially from the past 40 years?

Posted by James F. Barnes | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see