For 42 long years, President El Hadji Omar Bongo Ondimba (pictured above), dominated Gabon as he built close links with successive French presidents, from General de Gaulle to Nicolas Sarkozy. On 8 June, he breathed his last in a hospital in Barcelona, Spain. Anthony Ekanga looks at the colourful life and times of the man described as the "dinosaur of Gabon".
ALMOST 10 YEARS AGO, OMAR Bongo Ondimba, the most Francophile African president that ever lived, published Blanc comme Negre, a book highly critical of France. "Westerners are deceptive and opportunistic," wrote "the dinosaur of Gabon", who has known every French president since de Gaulle and who has been France's strongest ally in Africa for 42 years. On numerous visits to Paris, he would receive in his hotel room French ministers and businessmen eager to seek his patronage. Throughout the 314 pages of the book, he carefully unveils Francafrique's web of shady dealings. He had strong connections with key players in France, from Presidents de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac, through Georges Pompidou, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and Francois Mitterand.
Seeing an arrogant France, which learned nothing from shared failures, Omar Bongo harboured a dark anger against his friends in Paris. He denounced the French attitude towards Africa and Africans in these famous words:
"Do you think, seriously, that I am treated the same way as the heads of state of Germany or Italy? We are treated less well than Vietnam or Bolivia. When an African minister, whoever he is, goes to Paris, he cannot have a meeting with his colleague. He is led to a small head of department, and at best, to the permanent secretary of staff of the ministry. If it comes to discussing money, he is sent to the Treasury where the little chief will give him lessons and talk to him as if he were a stupid Negro. It has always been like that."
In his 42 years at the helm of Gabon, President Bongo endured a lot of criticism. To those who attacked him, he would say: "There are people like Francois Mitterrand and I for whom the critics cause no insomnia." Francois-Xavier Verchav, the author of Black Silence, accused Bongo of what he called "democrature" (or "dictatorship legitimised by election fraud").
It is alleged that the French oil giant, Elf Aquitaine, which has made huge profits in Gabon, helped him to plunder the country's oil resources through...