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What you need to know about Ali Bongo whose family ruled Gabon for 56 years

Ali Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo, ruled Gabon from 1967 to 2009. In the early hours of Wednesday, August 30, 2023, military officers in Gabon seized power and announced the removal of President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

In their announcement, the junta said the Central African country is now “on the road to happiness.”

The coup plotters said the President is no longer physically and mentally capable of ruling the country.

Bongo became the President of Gabon in 2009 after serving as the country’s defence minister under his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country from 1967 to 2009.

Omar, who was the second president of the country, ruled Gabon for almost 42 years and died in office in 2009.

Before he became the President of Gabon, Omar had served as a young official under Gabon’s first President, Leon M’ba, whom he later deputised following his election as Vice President in 1966.

In November 1967, M’ba died in France and Omar became the President of the country.

Omar’s administration was riddled with intense opposition as he ruled the country with iron fists. But despite the opposition, he won elections back-to-back on the platform of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), the party he created in 1968.

The PDG was the sole political party in the country until 1990 when public pressure forced the president to introduce a multi-party system into Gabon politics.

After his death at a Spanish hospital in 2009, his son, Ali Bongo, who had served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence, became the country’s third president.

Bongo, who joined his father’s party in 1981 became the President of the oil-producing country at the age of 50.

Like his father, Bongo has been winning elections since he became President because there are no term limits in Gabon. The Saturday, August 26 presidential election he controversially won was his third re-election.

Bongo’s reign was marred with corruption, as opposition party members in an interview with Aljazeera accused him of impoverishing the country.

In Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, Gabon ranks 124th out of 180 countries.

According to Aljazeera, the Bongo family has been involved in a series of major scandals, including the recent indictment of five of the president’s siblings in a French investigation of embezzlement and laundering of public funds.

In 2018, Bongo suffered a stroke during an official trip to Saudi Arabia. His ill health thereafter prevented him from carrying out official functions for several months. The political instability occasioned by the president’s incapacitation led to an attempted coup in 2019.

Despite his incapacitation, Bongo contested for re-election in 2019 and was declared the winner of the election.

Hundreds of thousands of Gabonese have not known another leader outside the Bongo family.

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