Monday, June 08, 2009

Farewell to the King? : The Reported Demise of El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba

Source: Associated Press
On Sunday evening, news agencies worldwide were reporting that the man who held the dubious title of "Africa's longest serving leader" had finally met his demise. This coveted crown, once held by Mr. Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, was all set to be passed on to another leader such as Mr Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya. Just when the world was coming to grips with the passing of the de facto King of Gabon, the Gabonese authorities refuted all death claims. According to them, Mr. Bongo is very much alive and is continuing his "holiday" in Spain. Alas, it appears that good people of Gabon are the only ones who actually believe that Omar Bongo is still with us. Wikipedia has already written him off and have updated their 'Omar Bongo' page stating his death as 7 June 2009.

Why am I so fascinated? Well, out of all the countries I have visited, my trip to Gabon last year was truly unforgettable. I was there for 2 months and during that time I failed to really understand the country. From the unspoiled beaches to the rich lush equatorial forests, it is still very hard to describe Gabon. A nation full of contradictions; extreme wealth coupled with extreme poverty. The entire nation is adorned with sign-boards with Mr. Bongo's picture, monuments celebrating him and a Presidential palace that makes the White House look like a quaint country club. The Gabonese people were equally fascinating. Customer service has a unique meaning in Gabon and a visit to Libreville is not recommended for someone looking for a budget vacation. Yet, Libreville has an undeniable vibrant pulse. I will never forget the beautiful Italian restaurant we ate in that was literally on water or the wonderfully paved streets. I spent most of my time in the provincial town of Lambaréné which has a strange 1950s colonial feel with great roads, bridges, rivers and fantastic lighting.

I'm certain that Mr. Bongo has left this world to join his long-departed contemporaries but I'm also sure that the Gabonese authorities will deny the news while they strategise how best to prevent the country falling apart like a house of cards. Will power continue to rest in the hands of the Bongo family and the ruling elite? Does the death of Mr. Bongo pave the way for real power to go to the people for the first time since 1967? The possibilities are infinite. In the meantime, we can always enjoy Gabonese rap courtesy of Eben Entertainment family.

Espoir (Hope) Ba'Ponga of Eben Entertainment


posekyere said...

Thanks Abena for informing us.
As sad as is the passing of any Human Being, I cannot bring myself to feel 'anything' for Mr Bongo.
He had overstayed his welcome.
This is a lesson for all those fetish of African presidents who cling to power for life as if without them their nations will perish.
Let Gabon continue! Long Live Gabon!
As Chinua Achebe wrote "...old men become uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in proverbs",Mr Mugabe, Mr Biya and Mr Gadaffi will hear of Mr Bongo's passing and become more than uneasy. Let us hope democracy comes to Gabon this time.

Kodjo said...

I wrote a blog on this last yesterday. For a country of 1.5million people I think Gabon could be a lot better than it is now. I blame France. Yes! See details on the blog. Gabon could have been the success story on sub-saharan African. They still can. But French influences will rather keep the masses poor and looking up to France.

novisi said...

down with Omar Bongo!

people like him were just a mess in the end!

i hope Gabon wakes up to a better dawn!

all those presidential palace and rot don't mean nothing to a people who need the basic things to survive.

such epitome of thievery!


Abena said...

So true Posekyere, what is it about power that makes hanging on for dear life so appealing?
Now that it is official that Mr. Bongo is dead, I'm sure the Mugabes, Biyas of Africa are questioning their own immortality.

Abena said...

Indeed Kodjo, for an oil-rich country of 1.5million, Gabon should be more like Botswana with excellent social services and the vast majority of people being reasonably well-off.
Alas, this is far from the case.
I also agree that the French have a role in propping up some of the more dubious leaders in Francophone countries. It has only been in recent years that France has felt compelled in some way to
investigate the Bongo family assets as you blogged about.

Abena said...

Candid and to the point as usual Novisi!! Totally agree with you...

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I am writing a poem on this man and in fact on all the 'older' men in Africa. It is part of the series 'One Year of Newspaper Clippings'. However, it is taking me much time to even start with the open verse. I hope I get it done.

Would I get a copy of the book you suggested (Half of a Yellow Sun) at the Accra Mall?

Abena said...

Very fascinating poem you have lined up Nana, I'm sure Robert, Paul and Muammar will feature prominently!
I'm not sure if Half of a Yellow Sun is at the bookshop.mmmm.. I never actually looked..