Omar Bongo and his worldly possessions: "[Francophone] Africa without France is like a car without a driver. But France without Africa is like a car without petrol"--Omar Bongo, president of Gabon, who died on 8 June after 42 years in power.

Author:Duodu, Cameron
Position:Under the Neem Tree

It speaks much for the lack of realism in Gabonese politics that even when the country's long-reigning president, Omar Bongo, died on 8 June after 42 years in power, the government he had left behind tried to conceal the death from the populace. In its desire to suppress news of Bongo's death, the government cut the country off from the internet. And two local publications--Ezombolo and Le Nganga--were banned. The government apparently feared that the free flow of information would impede its desire to become God and reverse something that had happened naturally--death.


Even if the government's ambitions did not stretch that high, and the attempted suppression of the news was merely meant to enable it to carry out behind closed doors the inevitable infighting that would determine Bongo's successor, it was an ineffectual measure. For the seriousness of Bongo's sickness was known to all, signalled as it was by the fact that he was flown to a clinic in Spain to receive treatment. Normally specialist doctors would have been flown to Gabon to attend to him.

In African countries with totalitarian tendencies, a ruler's health is the major news item discussed on the radio trottoir (the rumour mill) that thrives wherever a ruling group attempts to control the news. Thus, as soon as Bongo reached Spain, ears would have been pricked on a daily basis to receive news of how he was faring. News of his death would therefore have electrified the bistros of Libreville in the same way that the arrival of a particularly potent consignment of smuggled "hooch" makes itself known, not through speech but by winks and nods.

Let's say it, but Africa has had its share of detestable rulers! One was Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic. He it was who imported special white horses from France to draw a special carriage--allegedly gold-plated and also imported from France--that took him to the hall where he put a special crown (imported from you know where, France) on his own head to proclaim himself emperor. Then there was Mobutu Sese Seko, he who spent an estimated one-third of Zaire's annual revenue on building a "city" for himself in the deep Congo forest called Gbadolite. He built three palaces and a Chinese-style temple there, causing his subjects to wonder, when they looked on Gbadolite, whether it was not supposed to be a land-based version of his luxury yacht, the Kamanyola. Next, there was Houphouet-Boigny, who built...

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