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Africa’s longest-ruling leader dies. Does his era die with him?

Gabon’s Omar Bongo probably will not be remembered fondly. Before his death, confirmed today, Bongo held the title of Africa’s longest-ruling leader. He recently came under investigation for corruption related to the country’s oil wealth. And since he came to power in 1967, he has been accused of human rights abuses, and of doing little ...

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PARIS, FRANCE: Gabonese President Omar Bongo smiles as he answers journalists' questions 30 August 2000 at the Elysee palace in Paris after a lunch with the French Head of State. Their talks focused on the Gabonese debt. Omar Bongo is later expected to meet French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. (Photo credit should read GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)

Gabon’s Omar Bongo probably will not be remembered fondly. Before his death, confirmed today, Bongo held the title of Africa’s longest-ruling leader. He recently came under investigation for corruption related to the country’s oil wealth. And since he came to power in 1967, he has been accused of human rights abuses, and of doing little to improve the poverty of his country. As one online commentator put it, “The greatest indictment of his lamentable regime of 42 years is that Gabon does not have hospitals that could treat either himself or his wife.”

 

Behold the legacy of Omar Bongo. The former member of the French Air Force became a archetypal Afrian “big man.” He gave favors for political advantage. He remained staunchly close to former colonial power, France. Though oil exports brought in billions of dollars (about 80 percent of last year’s $8.5 billion in trade), profits enriched only a small elite. On the plus side, he did keep the country out of regional conflicts, for example in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo. And he didn’t stir up any “trouble” of his own. But his reign went on and on and on and on, despite his introducing democratic (albeit probably rigged) elections in 1993.

As GlobalVoices reports, commentators’ responses have been a mixed bag of concern, apprehension, hope, and resentment. In the capital, Libreville, stores were closed, and some had apparently stockpiled food when the rumors of Bongo’s death began to circulate. The anxiety is largely over what happens next. Reuters says that the Speaker of the House is most likely to take over, while others point to Bongo’s son, the Minister of Defense.

All eyes are not just on who wins the power struggle to come, but also how they do so. Perhaps in honor of Bongo’s legacy, no one is mentioning free and fair elections yet.

Tag: Africa

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