Monday, June 08, 2009

The Death of Omar Bongo

It was an unusual announcement. This morning, the government of Gabon stated that "the President of the Republic, the Head of State, His Excellency Omar Bongo is not dead." The official statement, like the off-the-cuff comment of Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong who had declared that Bongo was "alive and well," was wrong. Bongo, 73, died of cardiac arrest in a hospital in Barcelona, Spain.

Bongo's death ended a run of almost forty-two years at the head of the Gabonese government. In fact, he and his mentor, Leon Mba, are the only two men to have ruled Gabon since the West African state gained its independence from France in 1960.

At the time of his death, Bongo was under investigation for corruption in France where Transparency International and Association Sherpa had recently succeeded in convincing an investigating judge to examine whether he and two other West African leaders, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Congo, had acquired their vast wealth by embezzling public funds. Bongo's wealth, which included fifteen luxury properties in Paris and seventy bank accounts in France, appears largely to have been produced by his corrupt handling of Gabon's oil wealth.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that Bongo's demise will lead to greater democracy and development in Gabon. Many expect the current defense minister of Gabon, Bongo's son Ali, to seize power.