Gabon’s government has moved to reduce rising tensions in the capital Libreville, a day after three people reportedly died in a demonstration against President Ali Bongo Ondimba.
- Hundreds of Gabonese had gathered on Saturday at Libreville’s Rio Intersection for a rally that had been outlawed by the interior ministry
- A 30 year-old male student had reportedly died following clashes with security forces the previous day
- The country’s interior minister told a news conference that the student “had died outside the scene of the protests”
- The protesters were chanting, “Ali, get out! 50 years is too long!” – an obvious reference to the fact that the Bongo family has ruled Gabon for almost 50 years
The public protector said on Sunday that one person – a 30 year old male student had died – contradicting an opposition coalition’s toll of three deaths following clashes with security forces the previous day.
Guy Bertrand Mapangou, the country’s interior minister, told a news conference that the student “had died outside the scene of the protests”.
“An investigation has been launched by the prosecutor of the Republic to determine the circumstances of this tragedy,” he said.
The opposition claims that in response to a peaceful demonstration, the head of state mobilised special units of the gendarmerie and the police and directed the weapons of the republic against peaceful, unarmed Gabonese.
Hundreds had gathered on Saturday at Libreville’s Rio Intersection for a rally that had been outlawed by the interior ministry the day before.
“Ali, get out! 50 years is too long!” the crowd chanted.
Security forces were out in large numbers to prevent hundreds of demonstrators from gathering at the intersection.
The opposition coalition accused the government of mobilising special units to squash the demonstrations.
Omar Bongo died at a Spanish hospital on 8 June 2009. Ali Bongo appeared on television that night to call “for calm and serenity of heart and reverence to preserve the unity and peace so dear to our late father”.
Having been appointed to key positions by his father, it was widely considered likely that he would emerge as his father’s successor following the latter’s death. Some press reports predicted a power struggle, however, suggesting that a “fierce rivalry” exists between Bongo and his sister Pascaline, who was Director of the Presidential Cabinet. The degree of support for Ali Bongo within the PDG leadership was also questioned in the press, and it was argued that many Gabonese “see him as a spoilt child, born in Congo-Brazzaville, brought up in France, hardly able to speak indigenous languages and with the appearance of a hip hop star”.
He had in February 1992 organised a visit of American pop star Michael Jackson to Gabon.
Bongo was officially designated as the PDG presidential candidate at an extraordinary party congress on 19 July, 2009.
A few days after the election on 30 August 2009, it was announced that he had won with 42% of the vote, and that result was promptly confirmed by the Constitutional Court. The opposition rejected the official results, and riots broke out in Gabon’s second city, Port-Gentil. In response to allegations of fraud, the Constitutional Court conducted a recount before again declaring Bongo the winner with 41.79% of the vote on 12 October 2009; he was then sworn in as President on 16 October.
Ali Bongo Ondimba has two wives and four children. His first wife is American Inge Lynn Collins Bongo, from Los Angeles, California. His second wife, Sylvia Najma Valentin, is the daughter of Édouard Valentin, CEO of the Omnium gabonais d’assurances et de réassurances (OGAR) insurance company.