Sarkozy booed at dictator’s funeral

There were probably quite a few places Nicolas Sarkozy would have rather been than at Omar Bongo’s funeral today. Not only did the late Gabonese dictator have an astonishing 40-year record of human right abuses and corruption, but at the time of his death, a French court was investigating him for embezzlement, which always makes ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
584817_090616_sarkozy2.jpg
584817_090616_sarkozy2.jpg
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) gestures as he arrives at the president's palace to attend the funeral of Gabonese President Omar Bongo, on June 16, 2009 in Libreville. Sarkozy was met with jeers today as he joined fellow leaders at the funeral of Gabon's Omar Bongo Ondimba, Africa's longest-serving head of state. Bongo, 73, died in Barcelona from cancer on June 8, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ MARTIN BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

There were probably quite a few places Nicolas Sarkozy would have rather been than at Omar Bongo's funeral today. Not only did the late Gabonese dictator have an astonishing 40-year record of human right abuses and corruption, but at the time of his death, a French court was investigating him for embezzlement, which always makes things awkward, not to mention the fact that the French government had been accused for years of protecting Bongo from prosecution. 

 

There were probably quite a few places Nicolas Sarkozy would have rather been than at Omar Bongo’s funeral today. Not only did the late Gabonese dictator have an astonishing 40-year record of human right abuses and corruption, but at the time of his death, a French court was investigating him for embezzlement, which always makes things awkward, not to mention the fact that the French government had been accused for years of protecting Bongo from prosecution. 

 

But then, he had to listen to the crowd cheer his predecessor Jacques Chirac (who allegedly received illegal campaign contributions from Bongo) receive cheers from the crowd while he got booed:

“Go home we don’t want you, leave,” chanted the protesters. “Timber, petrol, manganese, we’ve given you everything. If France is what it is, it’s thanks to Gabon. We don’t want this anymore. We want the Americans and Chinese,” said one.

Chirac was a close friend of Bongo (and, if you believe Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, received money from him to fund his 1981 presidential campaign); Sarkozy paid him lip service but Bongo was outraged that the French leader had failed to crush a legal complaint about where his family got the money to pay for 39 luxury properties in France and various flash racing cars. A court order to block some of his France-based bank accounts further irked him.

All of this raises the question of why Sarkozy allowed himself to be humiliated like this. Chirac got a lot of flack for not attending the funeral of former Senegalese President Leopold Senghor in 2001, but Senghor was a genuine democrat, anticolonialist icon, and major Francaphone literary figure to boot. Bongo: not so much.

I know France has economic interests to protect in Gabon, but given that the French president Bongo actually liked was going anyway, I’m sure Sarkozy could have gotten away with a sympathy card. 

AFP/Getty Images 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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