Monday, May 5, 2008

A few things you need to know about Omar Bongo

Was this photo really worth $9 million? Photo courtesy of White House.

A few things you need to know about Omar Bongo of Gabon.

  • He is the world’s longest ruling leader (who is not a monarch), recently celebrating his fourth decade in power, outlasting everyone from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac.
  • He likes his name. Take for example the Omar Bongo Triumphal Boulevard, the Senate Palace Omar Bongo.
  • He is a political genius, says a political science professor at Omar Bongo University.
  • His rule coincided with Gabon’s rise to becoming Africa’s third largest oil exporter.
  • “Bongo’s rule has been a masterclass in the use of patronage,” says the Guardian. Even African diplomats are impressed. Petrodollars props up the bloated civil service. Important opposition leaders, the Guardian says, are either paid off or brought into the government. One member of the opposition, head of the Bongo Must Go Party, says with its relatively small population and bountiful resources, Gabon should be more like Dubai.
  • Bongo likes to keep it in the family. His son, and probable heir apparent, is the country’s minister of defense. His daughter remains the head of the cabinet. Her husband is the minister of finance.
  • He likes houses. French prosecutors discovered the family owned 33 houses in France alone. His wife, originally the daughter of Congo’s president Denis Sassou-Nguesso, was featured on the U.S.-based reality show Really Rich Real Estate, scouring southern California for a $25 million mansion.
  • Rumors have long swirled that he has accepted millions of Euros in kickbacks from the French oil firm ELF.
  • For all these riches, nearly two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. Gabon has fewer miles of paved roads than oil pipelines. The country does excel at cutting down trees: Since 1957, two-thirds of its forests have been logged, yet the government is planning to set aside 10 percent of its land mass for national parks.
  • He really wanted to meet George Bush. So much, in fact, Bongo allegedly paid disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff $9 million to meet with the President of the United States.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm looking at Libreville on Google Earth (0 26'13.44"N, 9 27'56.71" E). There's a very large estate North of downtown Libreville. It looks like there is a security fence around the perimeter, a number of large houses on cul-de-sacs and something I'm guessing is the Presidential palace. I can't find a decent map of Libreville on the Internet. Where is the palace?