African business, politics and lifestyle
Life after Omar Bongo
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?