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Gabon: five decades under the Bongo family thumb

Published on September 01, 2016

Since independence from France in 1960, Gabon has had only three presidents, two of them from the same family who have ruled the country for the past five decades.

M’Ba to Omar Bongo

– August 1960: Gabon becomes independent from France and the following year, nationalist Leon M’Ba is elected president.

– 1967: M’Ba dies and is succeeded by Albert Bernard Bongo with the help of France. He sets up a one-party state, ruling with an iron fist due notably to oil exploitation from the 1970s.

– 1973: Bongo converts to Islam, changing his name to Omar Bongo.

As the sole candidate, he is elected president in 1973, 1979 and 1986.

– January to April 1990: After social unrest and riots, a multi-party system is introduced but Bongo nonetheless wins the elections in 1993, 1998 and 2005. Poll results are inevitably disputed or followed by unrest.

Ali Bongo comes to power

– June 8, 2009: Bongo’s death is announced and after a controversial August election, one of his sons, Ali Bongo, is sworn in as president in a ceremony on October 16 which is boycotted by the opposition.

Despite the opposition challenge, the constitutional court approves the election results, but there is post-poll violence and looting in the western oil hub, Port-Gentil.

– From October 22 onwards, the opposition slams Bongo’s “authoritarianism” and “autocratic leadership”.

Social unrest

– December 2014: Violent clashes pit opposition supporters against security forces during a banned demonstration to demand Bongo’s departure.

Officials say one person was killed, while the opposition puts the death toll at six.

The regime, which is currently grappling with budgetary problems due to plummeting oil prices, has in 2016 faced months of rising social tensions, including strikes in the private and public sectors, notably in schools and hospitals.

Legal wrangling over birth dispute

– In 2014, French journalist Pierre Pean, an Africa expert, triggered a sharp controversy by charging that Ali Bongo had forged his birth certificate.

According to the allegations, vigorously denied by the authorities, the president was originally a Nigerian boy adopted by Omar Bongo during the Biafra war in the late 1960s.

Bongo’s opponents say he lied about his origins and dispute his eligibility for office under the constitution, which requires presidential candidates to be born in Gabon.

The controversy has triggered several legal proceedings in France and Gabon.

Opposition from within

– In March 2016, parliament speaker Guy Nzouba Ndama resigns, walking out with others following a split within the party.

– August 16: He and former prime minister Casimir Oye Mba withdraw from the presidential race to back a third heavyweight, Jean Ping, a former top African Union official.

Bongo returned to power

– August 27: Gabon votes in a presidential election with Bongo and Ping the frontrunners. Before the official results are announced, both men claim victory and accuse the other of cheating.

– August 31: Bongo is declared the winner with a margin of less than two percent, prompting the opposition to cry foul and thousands to descend onto the streets. Protesters torch the parliament and at least two people are killed when police raid the opposition’s HQ, Ping tells AFP.