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Salvatore Di Nolfi/AP
Omar Bongo

Gabon May Face Uncertain Future Without Bongo

June 09, 2009 07:30 PM
by Cara McDonough
Now that Omar Bongo, 73, has died, will stability remain or will political unrest develop in the African country? For now it seems too early to tell.

Gabon Mourns Bongo’s Death

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Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong confirmed Bongo’s death in a written statement, saying he had died Monday of a heart attack. According to the BBC, media reports have suggested that Bongo had cancer and died in a clinic in Spain.

Ndong called on the Gabonese people to "stand together in contemplation and dignity.” But the country is also preparing for potential unrest; the defense ministry, headed by Bongo’s son, Ali-Ben Bongo, said it was closing Gabon’s land, sea and air borders, reports the BBC.

Already there is debate regarding who will rule the country next. Under the constitution, Rose Francine Rogombe, leader of the Senate, would take over as interim leader and organize elections. Opposition leaders, however, question if any election could be “free and fair,” reports the BBC, as Rogombe is a Bongo ally. They say Ali-Ben Bongo has been positioned to take over.

The Internet has been cut off in Gabon since his death and state television is playing religious music, according to reports.

Reactions: Bongo remembered

President Bongo’s rule “was tainted by corruption,” wrote Agence France-Presse, but tributes to the leader came in from several countries and groups throughout the region, including the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Morocco and UFR rebels in Chad.

President Barack Obama also paid tribute to Bongo, saying, “His work in conservation in his country and his commitment to conflict resolution across the continent are an important part of his legacy and will be remembered with respect,” AFP reported.

Residents complained about reaction to the death, including disrupted Internet and phone service. Rallies were banned in the country. In an interview with AFP, security worker Ismael Joseph Essono summed up the meaning of the loss to the people of Gabon. "In Africa, when a leader dies, it's desolation," he said. "Think about it: 41 years in power, the people are in mourning."

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Background: Gabon and Bongo’s rule

Bongo ruled the small country of Gabon, located in West Africa, for 40 years. He was the longest-serving nonmonarchial leader in the world. Despite Gabon’s reputation as one of the more stable countries in the region, Bongo did face accusations of squandering money and accepting kickbacks from oil companies; oil is the main source of Gabon’s wealth.

In a May 2008 article, journalist Xan Rice looked at the long reign of President Bongo for the Guardian. The leader has buildings, streets and universities named after him; he has outlasted five presidents of France; and he “ruled largely unchallenged, and mostly without force, despite squandering much of the country's natural wealth and leaving it facing a deeply uncertain economic future,” Rice wrote.

Reference: Gabon’s history

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