For over 55 years, the name “Bongo” has been synonymous with Gabon. Beginning with Omar, who ruled from 1967 to 2009, and succeeded by his son Ali, until his ousting this Wednesday, the Bongo family’s legacy has shaped the nation’s history.
Albert-Bernard Bongo assumed leadership of Gabon at just under 32 years old, succeeding Léon Mba at the end of 1967 with the support of France. This partnership with the former colonial power endured for more than four decades, intertwined with the French system. This bond persisted until the passing of Omar in June 2009 when Gabon joined the organization of petroleum-exporting countries.
Unlike his father, young Ali Bongo envisioned a career as a singer, influenced by his mother Patience Dabany. His venture into funk music with James Brown’s musicians, however, did not meet with success. After completing studies in France, he returned to Libreville, initially working in his father’s cabinet, later in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and subsequently in Defense.
In 2009, Ali was chosen as the ruling party’s (PDG) candidate to succeed his father. In comparison to the party stalwarts, he initially appeared reserved. His narrow reelection in 2016 faced challenges from opposition figure Jean Ping, sparking violent clashes.
Following a stroke in 2018, Ali Bongo spent ten months recovering abroad. During his absence in 2019, a one-day attempted coup took place. In 2021, his name emerged in the Pandora Papers, revealing individuals suspected of hiding wealth in tax havens.
Announcing his candidacy for a third presidential term on July 9th of this year, Ali Bongo faced the opposition’s claims of a “dynastic rule.” In recent months, he attempted to demonstrate his restored health and capabilities, though opponents suspected he was simultaneously grooming a new generation of Bongos for power. Notably, his son Noureddine was among the individuals arrested in the recent coup.
The August 30th coup unfolded with minimal resistance against a family often associated with opulent lifestyles. Their ostentatious living, as evidenced by various cases of ill-gotten assets abroad, has fostered public discontent. The swift overthrow reflects the prevailing sentiment towards a dynasty that the people perceive as out of touch with their concerns.