What You Never Knew About Ali Bongo, Scion Of Gabon’s Ruling Family
Ali Bongo Ondimba, who is now facing an announced ousting by rebel officers, took office in 2009 as the successor to his father Omar, who had ruled Gabon for over four decades.
Prior to the recent upheaval on Wednesday, Bongo’s tenure was characterized by contested elections and a stroke that raised questions about his fitness for office and sparked a minor attempted coup.
The 64-year-old leader aimed to silence doubts as he campaigned for a third presidential term in the elections held last Saturday. He conducted an extensive national tour, engaged in high-profile international visits, and presented Gabon as a guardian of its forests.
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Following a vote contested by the opposition, the national election authority declared Bongo the winner with 64.27% of the vote early on Wednesday. However, a short while later, a group of army officers appeared on television, announcing the termination of the current regime, dissolution of Gabon’s institutions, and voiding of the election results.
From “Monsieur Fils” to Political Figure
Bongo began his life in stark contrast to the upheaval he now faces, growing up as the carefree heir to the wealthy ruling family. Born to Josephine Kama, a teenage girl, in the Congolese city of Brazzaville, which was still part of France’s diminishing colonial empire, he was often known by his initials ABO, or Ali B, and less favorably as “Monsieur Fils” (Mr. Son).
Initially aspiring to be a funk singer, Bongo even recorded an album in 1977 with renowned musicians, though he later transitioned into politics with the guidance of his father, adopting the name Ali Bongo and converting to Islam.
Influence of Oil Wealth and FrancAfrique
Bongo’s father, who came to power in 1967, was known for his immense wealth derived from Gabon’s oil industry. He was a central figure in the “FrancAfrique” strategy, through which France maintained ties with its former African colonies, often mired in cronyism, corruption, and human rights abuses.
Bongo followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as a key envoy during the era of the oil boom. However, his critics found him lacking the charm and communication skills of his father. He studied law in France, attended prestigious schools in Brazzaville, but did not learn the local languages, which proved to be a disadvantage.
He grappled with rumors about his foreign birth and adoption due to his birth circumstances. Lavish spending on luxury cars also drew criticism in a nation of economic disparity between oil wealth and widespread poverty.
Political Journey and Renewal
Bongo’s ascent within politics was marked by appointments, including foreign minister in 1989, defense ministry in 1999, and later the presidency in 2009 after his father’s passing.
He faced opposition within the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party but ultimately secured re-election in 2016, narrowly defeating opposition candidate Jean Ping amid allegations of fraud and violent clashes.
As leader, Bongo positioned himself as an agent of change, pledging renewal and innovation to a nation accustomed to his family’s rule. A stroke in 2018 and a brief unexplained attempt at power by soldiers prompted a reassessment of his image. He emphasized discipline, aimed to root out corruption, and championed economic diversification and environmental preservation.
Bongo married Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, a French national, in 1989, and they have four children together.
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