Monday, June 8, 2009

Omar Bongo, 1935-2009. R.I.P.

Omar Bongo, who has been President of Gabon since 1967, died today in Spain of a heart attack. He was 73.

Bongo's departure creates a significant void in an African country that has been about as stable one can find on the continent. He was considered the world's longest reigning head of government after Fidel Castro's departure last year (although Castro is very much active in running Cuba's affairs.)

It is worth noting that Bongo converted to Islam in 1973 but made no efforts to turn Gabon into an Islamic state. In 1993, Bongo opened the doors to multi-party elections. Granted Bongo had no serious competition but he was no Mugabe.

However, 2009 was not a good year for Bongo. Several French NGOs had accused him and several other African leaders of embezzling public funds to buy luxurious properties in France. The French responded by freezing Bongo's accounts. Complicating factors was the death of his much younger wife in March. Last month, Bongo suspended his duties and travelled to Spain to regroup only to never return.

Bongo's term is not set to expire until January 2013. There is no specific provision in Gabon's constitution that sets out a procedure in the event the President is unable to complete his term in office although it does allow for Presidential decrees to be carried out by the Prime Minister or a Prime Ministerial delegation.

Will Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong assume Presidential power? If so will the country be behind him or will Gabon be plunged into a constitutional crisis? If Gabon is plunged into a constitutional crisis would Islamists seize the opportunity to take over a country that has to this point been secular and democratic?

Bongo's death and the void it creates could have implications for not only Gabon but the entire continent.

No comments: