Three presidents in 60 years for Gabon

17 August 2020 | International



Since gaining independence 60 years ago the central African country of Gabon has had just three presidents, including more than five decades under the Bongo family.

Gabon becomes independent from France on 17 August 1960, with nationalist Leon M'Ba elected president the following February.

Three years later he is ousted in a coup, before being reinstated following a military intervention by France.

M'Ba dies in 1967 and is succeeded by his deputy, Albert-Bernard Bongo, installed with France's help.

Bongo sets up a one-party state, ruling with an iron fist and benefitting from oil exploitation.

He converts to Islam in 1973, changing his name to Omar Bongo.

As sole candidate, he is elected president in 1973, 1979 and 1986.

Multi-party system

A multi-party system is introduced after social unrest and riots in 1990 but Bongo nonetheless wins the elections in 1993, 1998 and 2005.

Bongo dies from illness in June 2009 and, after a controversial election that August, one of his sons, Ali Bongo, is sworn in as president in a ceremony boycotted by the opposition.

Despite a challenge, the constitutional court approves the election results but there is deadly post-poll violence.

The opposition slams Bongo's “authoritarianism” and “autocratic leadership”.

In 2010 French prosecutors open a probe into the property in France owned by Bongo and other African heads of state.

Violence breaks out in 2014 between supporters of the opposition and security forces during a banned demonstration calling for Bongo to stand down.

In 2014 Ali Bongo is plunged into a controversy triggered by a French journalist's claim his birth certificate is forged and he is originally Nigerian, adopted by Omar Bongo during the Biafra war in the late 1960s.

Vigorously denied, the scandal is used by Bongo's opponents to dispute his eligibility for office, and it leads to legal proceedings in France and Gabon.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the opposition again tries but without success to use the scandal to call for the invalidation of Bongo's candidacy.

The 2016 vote takes place in a tense domestic climate.

The government is battling various fronts, with work strikes, budget problems and plummeting oil prices.

Bongo's main rival is opposition leader Jean Ping, a veteran diplomat who once headed the African Union Commission and held senior posts at the United Nations.

When the electoral commission announces Bongo has won, a massive wave of post-election deadly violence breaks out.

Hundreds are arrested, the national assembly is set ablaze and security forces storm Ping's headquarters. Several people are killed.

Bongo falls ill in October 2018 while in Saudi Arabia to attend an economic forum.

He is transferred to Morocco for treatment and his convalescence lasts several months.

Coup attempt

On 7 January 2019 renegade soldiers carry out a coup bid, profiting from Bongo's absence.

In February a scandal breaks out over the smuggling of precious timber, resulting in the blockage of wood exports and a government reshuffle.

In November Bongo's powerful former chief of staff Brice Laccruche Alihanga is sacked following a massive anti-corruption probe.

On 5 December, Bongo's eldest son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, is named “coordinator of presidential affairs”.

Ping says Bongo is turning the country into a monarchy.

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