– Pedro Burlamaqui
On the 30th of last month, 10 days ago, a group of high-ranking military officers seized power in Gabon shortly after the announcement that Ali Bongo had been reelected with more than 60% of the vote. The now former president had been in power for 14 years and, while under house arrest, sought help from his “Western friends,” not the people. In response, the people took to the streets to celebrate the end of the so-called “Bongo era.”
Finally, the coup in Gabon happened without a single drop of bloodshed, demonstrating that not a single soldier felt the need to defend Ali Bongo. These events confirm that he had no popularity whatsoever. Let’s understand who Ali Bongo is and why he is so despised by the majority of the people.
Born on February 9, 1959, in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, Ali Bongo, whose birth name is Alain Bernard Bongo, served as the third president of Gabon from 2009 to 2023. There are rumors, however, that he was adopted and was actually born in southeastern Nigeria during the Biafra war. He has always denied such accusations.
From the age of nine, Bongo was educated at a private school in Neuilly, France. Afterward, he studied law at Sorbonne, one of the country’s prominent universities. It’s interesting to note that due to his international education, many Gabonese people consider Bongo a foreigner.
“The fact that he attended the best schools in Libreville and did not learn the local languages is something that will be criticized later,” said François Gaulme, a French historian and author of books on Gabonese politics.
In 1967, his father, Omar Bongo, took control of Gabon and remained in the presidency until his death in 2009. It’s because of these 42 years – or 56 if you count Ali Bongo’s government – that it is said there was a “Bongo dynasty” in the African country.
An interesting fact: when he was young, Ali Bongo was a funk singer! Not Brazilian funk, obviously, but American funk. In 1977, at the age of 18, he even released an album produced by Charles Bobbit, James Brown’s manager. However, “A brand new man” turned out to be the only album of his short-lived musical career.
After graduating from Sorbonne and amidst his father’s government, Bongo began his political career in 1981 by joining the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG in French). In March 1983, he was elected to the Central Committee of the PDG, later becoming his father’s Personal Representative in the party and, thus, joining the Political Bureau of the PDG in 1984. In 1986, he was effectively elected to the Political Bureau during a regular party congress.
Between 1987 and 1989, Bongo held the position of Personal Representative of the President of the Republic. In 1989, his father appointed him Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, replacing Marint Bongo, Omar’s nephew. Then, in the 1990 elections, he was elected to the National Assembly as a PDG candidate for the Haut-Ogooué province.
Since then, Ali Bongo alternated between roles in the legislature and the executive branch, finally ascending to the presidency in 2009 after his father’s death.
Similar to the elections of the last weekend, the elections that declared his victory were also tumultuous. After the announcement that he had won with 42% of the vote, for example, the opposition disputed the result, and violent protests erupted in the country’s second-largest city, Port-Gentil.
During his terms, Bongo governed alongside imperialism, handing over a significant portion of Gabon’s wealth to foreign interests. For example, Gabon’s oil sector accounted for 80% of its exports during his rule.
According to Daniel Mengara, a professor at Montclair State University and the leader of the exiled opposition movement Bongo Must Leave, 18% of all the money from the country’s oil went directly to the Bongo family. For comparison, Gabon received 25% of that total, and France took the remaining 57%. In practical terms, the country served as a gas station for imperialist powers.
His subservience to imperialism doesn’t stop there. His father was one of France’s closest allies in the post-colonial era, and Ali Bongo is a frequent visitor to Paris. His family owns numerous properties there.
An article in the French newspaper Libération listed 28 properties, including hotels, luxury apartments, and a mansion of over 5,400 square meters, belonging to the Bongo family (“Gabon: la carte des luxueuses adresses «mal acquises» du clan Bongo à Paris,” Laurent Léger, 8/30/2023). These properties are primarily located in the French capital (21) and have been built since Omar’s time in power.
According to the newspaper, the French justice system is now investigating these properties, valued at a minimum of 85 million euros, but they note that this figure is likely much higher.
The “gifts” from the French to Ali Bongo didn’t stop at cars and mansions. Even the wife Ali Bongo found is a Parisian! It couldn’t have been more perfect: living above the poverty of his own people, Ali Bongo considers himself French.
In 2016, Foreign Policy magazine, an unofficial spokesperson for the so-called U.S. deep state, published an article titled “Meet Ali Bongo Ondimba, Obama’s Man in Africa,” revealing the depth of Bongo’s relationship with imperialism. The article shows that during his government, Gabon became a “pliant diplomatic ally of the United States in a region shaken by instability.”
In 2010, when Gabon held a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Obama administration attempted to garner as many countries as possible to enable its intervention in Libya, which at the time was led by the nationalist leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.
At that moment, the Gabonese government signaled its alignment with the U.S.: in February 2011, Gabon voted in favor of two UNSC resolutions, imposing sanctions on Gaddafi and establishing a no-fly zone over Libya. Later that year, in June, Bongo became the first African leader to publicly call for Gaddafi’s overthrow.
“While other countries on the UNSC were more reserved, Gabon led the way and helped the administration secure African votes for the Libya intervention resolutions,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, another significant organization of imperialism.
Eric Benjaminson, the U.S. ambassador to Gabon from 2010 to 2013, shares the same view as Pham, highlighting the importance of the Central African country in the region. The ambassador revealed in the article that Gabonese government officials “could call any African leader on their private cell phones.” “They knew Gaddafi and they knew his chief of staff quite well, and we were trying to work through the Gabonese to get Gaddafi to step down without military action,” he said.
Although it didn’t work, Benjaminson emphasized Gabon’s importance during the imperialist intervention in Libya. According to the diplomat, Bongo offered Obama substantial amounts of information on private conversations he had with other African leaders. In practice, he was an American spy governing one of Africa’s most important countries.
As if that weren’t enough, the imperialist media outlet makes it clear that Bongo ruled according to the dictates of the United States. Gabonese government officials would check with the U.S. embassy to see if their decisions “fit within the framework of what the other Western members of the Security Council were doing. ‘We would tell them, and they would often modify things,'” Benjaminson said.
Ali Bongo’s collaboration with the U.S. continued even during his father’s government when he was Minister of Defense. In that role, he restructured the Gabonese Armed Forces into what both Pham and Benjaminson, both representatives of imperialism, consider a “professional” force.
Later, according to the U.S. Navy Secretary at the time the article was published, Ray Mabus, Americans even trained soldiers in Gabon, purportedly to combat poaching.
In regard to this, Bongo also followed the United States’ environmental policy. In 2014, 23% of Gabon’s seas and over 10% of its territory were classified as marine and national parks.
Even President Obama himself endorsed the measure, stating he was “very impressed with Ali’s commitment to the conservation and protection of endangered species.” And no wonder, as nearly 40% of Gabon’s territory would be reserved for future exploitation by imperialism.
Furthermore, to get an idea of the anti-people nature of his government, following in his father’s footsteps, let’s consider some of his accomplishments:
The unemployment rate was 30% of the entire active population in 2016; he ordered the arrest of numerous students and union members during protests against his government; he undermined access to healthcare, requiring a deposit of 300,000 CFA francs for entry into a hospital; there is a general deficiency in public services; power cuts are frequent; and more than half of Gabon’s population lives below the poverty line.
According to statements by the military officers who took power this Wednesday, the breaking point was the conduct of this past weekend’s elections. Reports show that the process was tailored for Bongo’s victory, allowing him to continue his family’s nearly century-long rule.
It is clear that Ali Bongo functioned as a political instrument of the United States against governments that had contradictions with imperialism. This was while he acted as a puppet of the French regime, favoring the looting of the African country by imperialist countries.
For the Gabonese people, who lived under the brutal rule of the Bongo family for so long, all that’s left now is to laugh at the fact that Bongo, after suffering a coup, discovered that he wasn’t French. As imperialism is greatly weakened, even his friend Emmanuel Macron hasn’t come to his rescue yet.