PREDICTABLE confusion has begun in Gabon, where Bongo Ben Ali, son of Omar Bongo, has been declared winner of the country’s presidential election. Ali’s father ruled Gabon for 42 years until his death last June 8. He was the world’s longest serving dictator.

His long stay suppressed opposition, ensured there was no successor, except for his son, Ali, who was propped up over the years, with his latest portfolio being Defence Minister.

Official results declared him winner with 42 per cent of the votes. The opposition claims the election was rigged for Ali. According to the opposition, France, the country’s former colonial master, supported Ali, wh0 France expects like his father, would keep the excellent relations the two countries have.

Bongo was one of Africa’s most brutal and despotic leaders. He cornered Gabon’s abundant oil wealth for himself and his family, maintaining semblance of prosperity for his country, but the reality was different.

His regime excluded those who were not linked to his family.

The challenges Gabon faces are not new. Other African countries that had the misfortune of despotic leaders, who ruled as if they would live forever, include Guinea still reeling from the death of Lasana Conte, Cote d’Ivoire that descended to civil war after the death of Felix Houphouet-Boigny whose 28-year rule did not envisage a successor.

With all his personal wealth, Bongo died in a Spanish hospital, unable to build a befitting medical facility in his own country that could cater for his needs. He suffered the same fate as the Beninois Étienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma who died after 38 years in power from a heart attack.

Eyadéma died in an aircraft on his way to France for medical attention. His son Roi succeeded him, ignoring protests from the feeble opposition.

Africa is replete with such leaders who have decimated the opposition in their countries and whose death is certain to throw their countries into turmoil. The international community watches, especially if leaders serve their interests.

The list includes Mummar Gaddafi of Libya (40 years), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (29 years), Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (28 years) Paul Biya of Cameroun (28 years). Ali Bongo’s brother-in-law Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo has been ruling for 25 years. Their countries do not know democratic elections and the opposition is stifled.

Gabonese rage against the dynasty succession cannot succeed since the French with more than 1,000 troops in the country, would come to the assistance of Ali Bongo, if he needs help.

France considers Gabon of such strategic importance that when the former Bernard Bongo became Omar, on converting to Islam, it did not mind, so long as the change in religion did not hurt French vast interests in Gabon. These interests cover oil and gas, the mainstay of the Gabonese economy, tourism and real estate.

If other African leaders learnt from the disasters that followed dictatorships elsewhere, new cases like Gabon would have been avoided. The global community should help Gabon return to democratic rule.


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