|3rd President of Gabon|
16 October 2009 – 30 August 2023
|Prime Minister||Paul Biyoghé Mba|
Raymond Ndong Sima
Daniel Ona Ondo
Julien Nkoghe Bekale
Rose Christiane Raponda
Alain Claude Bilie By Nze
|Vice President||Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou|
Rose Christiane Raponda
|Preceded by||Omar Bongo|
|Succeeded by||Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema (transitional)|
|Minister of Defense|
25 January 1999 – 15 August 2009
|Succeeded by||Jean-François Ndongou|
|Deputy of the National Assembly of Gabon|
|Minister for Foreign Affairs|
|Preceded by||Martin Bongo|
|Succeeded by||Pascaline Bongo Ondimba|
9 February 1959
Brazzaville, French Equatorial Africa (now Congo-Brazzaville)
|Residence(s)||Presidential Palace |
|Alma mater||Pantheon-Sorbonne University|
Ali Bongo Ondimba (born Alain-Bernard Bongo; 9 February 1959), also known as Ali Bongo and Ali Ben Bongo, is a Gabonese former politician who was the third president of Gabon from 2009 to 2023. He is a member of the Gabonese Democratic Party. He is the son of Omar Bongo, who was president of Gabon from 1967 until his death in 2009. During his father's presidency, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1989 to 1991, represented Bongoville as a deputy in the National Assembly from 1991 to 1999, and was the Minister of Defense from 1999 to 2009. After his father's death, he won the 2009 Gabonese presidential election. He was reelected in 2016, in elections marred by numerous irregularities, arrests, human rights violations, and post-election protests and violence.
On 30 August 2023, following the results of the Gabonese general election, the military ousted him from the presidency in a coup d'état due to lack of transparency in the election process and established a junta called the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions.
Early life and career
Ali Bongo was born Alain-Bernard Bongo in Brazzaville, as the son of Albert-Bernard Bongo (later Omar Bongo Ondimba) and Josephine Kama (later Patience Dabany). His mother was 18 years old at the time of his birth. He was conceived 18 months before their marriage and there have been rumors of his being Bongo's adopted son, a claim that he dismisses. Alain-Bernard changed his name to Ali when he and his father converted to Islam in 1973 and, in 2003, they both adopted the Obamba patronymic "Ondimba" in memory of Omar's father, Basile Ondimba.
Education and music career
Bongo was educated at a private school in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and then studied law at the Sorbonne. In 2018, he received an honorary doctorate of law degree from Wuhan University in China. In 1977, as Alain Bongo, he released a funk album, A Brand New Man, produced by Charles Bobbit.
Early political career
After graduating from his law course, he entered politics, joining the Gabonese Democratic Party (French: Parti Démocratique Gabonais, abbreviated PDG) in 1981; he was elected to the PDG Central Committee at the party's Third Extraordinary Congress in March 1983. Subsequently, he was his father's Personal Representative to the PDG and in that capacity he entered the PDG Political Bureau in 1984. He was then elected to the Political Bureau at an ordinary party congress in September 1986.
Bongo held the post of High Personal Representative of the President of the Republic from 1987 to 1989. In 1989, his father appointed him to the government as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, replacing Martin Bongo. He was considered a reformist within the ruling PDG in the early 1990s. In the 1990 parliamentary election (the first election after the introduction of multiparty politics), he was elected to the National Assembly as a PDG candidate in Haut-Ogooué Province. After two years as Foreign Minister, a 1991 constitutional amendment setting a minimum age of 35 for ministers resulted in his departure from the government.
Following his departure from the government, Bongo took up his seat as a Deputy in the National Assembly in 1991. In February 1992, he organized a visit by American pop singer Michael Jackson to Gabon.
Bongo became President of the Higher Council of Islamic Affairs of Gabon (Conseil supérieur des affaires islamiques du Gabon, CSAIG) in 1996. Prior to the December 1996 parliamentary election, a supporter of Defense Minister Idriss Ngari challenged Bongo for the PDG nomination to his parliamentary seat, but Bongo was successful in winning the nomination and retaining the seat. In surviving that challenge, he benefited from the assistance of his maternal uncle Jean-Boniface Assélé, one of his key political allies. After over seven years as a Deputy, Bongo was appointed to the government as Minister of National Defense on 25 January 1999.
In the December 2001 parliamentary election, Bongo was elected to the National Assembly as a PDG candidate in Haut-Ogooué Province. At the PDG's Eighth Ordinary Congress in July 2003, he was elected as a vice-president of the PDG. During the 2005 presidential election, he worked on his father's re-election campaign as Coordinator-General of Youth. Following that election, he was promoted to the rank of Minister of State on 21 January 2006, while retaining the defense portfolio.
Bongo was re-elected to the National Assembly in the December 2006 parliamentary election as a PDG candidate in Haut-Ogooué Province. He retained his post as Minister of State for National Defense after that election, although he was subsequently reduced to the rank of ordinary Minister on 28 December 2007. At the PDG's Ninth Ordinary Congress in September 2008, he was re-elected as a vice-president of the PDG.
Election and presidency
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 in June 2009. Some press reports predicted a power struggle, however, suggesting that a "fierce rivalry" existed 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".
Bongo was one of ten candidates who submitted applications to become the PDG's candidate in the early presidential election, scheduled for 30 August 2009. PDG Deputy Secretary-General Angèle Christine Ondo announced on 16 July that the party leadership had chosen Bongo by consensus as the PDG candidate, although this decision still needed to be formally confirmed at a party congress. An extraordinary PDG congress accordingly designated Bongo as the party's candidate on 19 July. On that occasion, he thanked delegates for their choice, saying he was "aware of the legitimate concerns" of the people; he vowed to battle corruption and "redistribute the proceeds of economic growth" as president.
Despite standing as a presidential candidate, Bongo was retained as Minister of Defense in the government appointed on 22 July 2009. Rogombé urged calm and called for the candidates to be "worthy" of the votes they would receive. The opposition strongly protested Bongo's continued inclusion in the government. After Interim President Rose Francine Rogombé said that Bongo would be replaced so that all candidates would be on an equal footing for the election, Interior Minister Jean-François Ndongou was appointed to take over from Bongo as Minister of Defense in an interim capacity when the election campaign officially began on 15 August 2009.
A few days after the election on 30 August 2009, it was announced that he had won the election 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 largest 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. Various African presidents were present for the ceremony. Bongo expressed a commitment to justice and the fight against corruption at the ceremony and said that fast action was needed to "give back confidence and promote the emergence of new hope". He also alluded to his father's governing philosophy of preserving stability through regional, tribal, and political balance in the allocation of power, while also stressing that "excellence, competence and work" were even more important than "geographical and political considerations". Later in the day, he announced the reappointment of Paul Biyoghe Mba as Prime Minister; he made the announcement personally "to underline the importance of this moment". According to Bongo, Biyoghe Mba had the necessary experience and managerial competence "to lead us through the next stage", and he said work would start "immediately".
The composition of Biyoghe Mba's new government was announced on 17 October; it was reduced to only 30 ministers, thereby fulfilling Bongo's campaign promise to reduce the size of the government and thereby reduce expenses. The government was also mostly composed of new faces, including many technocrats, although a few key ministers, such as Paul Toungui (Foreign Minister), Jean-François Ndongou (Interior Minister), and Laure Olga Gondjout (Communications Minister), retained their posts.
On 17 August 2015, Bongo announced that he planned to donate everything he inherited from his father to the young people of Gabon, in the form of "a foundation for the youth and education". Explaining his decision, he said that "we are all heirs of Omar Bongo Ondimba" and that "no Gabonese must be left by the side of the road".
Gabon's economy continues to be based on a rent strategy, being entirely devoted to the production and export of natural resources. Many difficulties persist in addition: unemployment rate around 30% of the active population in 2016, expeditious arrests during student or union demonstrations (numerous since January 2016), deterioration of access to health care, deficiency of public services, recurrent electricity cuts. More than half of the population is below the poverty line.
On 24 October 2018, Bongo was hospitalized in Riyadh for an undisclosed illness. On 29 November 2018 Bongo was transferred to a military hospital in Rabat to continue recovery. On 9 December 2018 it was reported by Gabon's Vice President Moussavou that Bongo had a stroke in Riyadh and has since left the hospital in Rabat and is currently recovering at a private residence in Rabat. From 24 October 2018 to 1 January 2019, Bongo was not seen in public, leading to rampant speculation about the possibility that he may have died or otherwise become incapacitated. On 1 January 2019, Bongo gave his first public address via a video posted to social media since falling ill in October 2018 quashing rumors of his death. Despite this, many anti-Bongo activists living abroad questioned the legitimacy of the video with some claiming that the man giving the address was not Bongo, but a body double. In August 2019, Bongo made his first public appearance since his stroke. He has appeared in public using a wheelchair on several occasions since his stroke.
On 7 January 2019, soldiers in Gabon launched a coup d'etat attempt. The coup attempt failed, and the government successfully re-asserted control. The coup may not have actually happened though, as has been reported by critics, and could have been used as a tactic by the government to gain support.
As a result of Bongo's medically induced absence from politics, Gabon has witnessed the proliferation of official corruption targeting foreign-owned businesses.
In early January 2020, the Senate and National Assembly passed a constitutional reform that would allow the president to appoint one-third of senators in place of elections, among other changes.
2023 election and overthrow
In January 2018, both houses of the bicameral Gabonese parliament voted in favor of creating a two-round electoral ballot system, which would replace the single-round, first-past-the-post system used for previous presidential and parliamentary elections in the country. This was later reversed in April 2023, nearly five months prior to the Gabonese general elections, following political consultations in February. Other changes agreed to by the Gabonese government include five-year terms for all elected officials in the country, as well as the abolition of re-election limits.
Roughly one month before the elections, which were scheduled to be held on 26 August, the Gabonese Center for Elections announced a last-minute change to the ballot system that requires voters to support a parliamentary candidate from the same party as their preferred presidential candidate. The leading opposition candidate, Albert Ondo Ossa, is an independent, thereby making it impossible for Gabonese voters to simultaneously vote for him and a parliamentary representative of the multi-party Alternance 2023 opposition coalition, which chose Ossa as their joint candidate.
Foreign media outlets and independent observers were reportedly prevented from entering Gabon on the day of the election. Delays were reported at several polling stations, with people waiting in line for hours before getting the chance to cast their ballots. In the evening after voting took place, the Gabonese government restricted internet access and media broadcasts from French news outlets, and a curfew was imposed.
Just two hours before the polls closed, Ondo Ossa denounced "fraud orchestrated by the Bongo camp". He had already claimed victory and urged Bongo to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power based on his own purported vote count. The official election results were announced in the middle of the night on state television without prior notice. The country was placed under curfew and internet access was cut off throughout the nation, measures implemented by the government to prevent the spread of "false news" and potential violence.
In the early morning of 30 August, Bongo's re-election was declared by the Gabonese electoral commission with 64.27% of the vote. Minutes later, the military seized the Presidential Palace in Libreville and around a dozen military personnel announced the end of Bongo's regime, with a military spokesperson claiming to be speaking on behalf of a "Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions", citing his "irresponsible, unpredictable governance" that had led to "a continuous degradation of social cohesion, risking pushing the country into chaos." They also announced the annulment of the recent election, the dissolution of state institutions, and the closure of the country's borders. Among the officers seen during the announcement were army colonels and members of the Republican Guard.
The junta later announced the arrest and home detention of Bongo and his eldest son and adviser Noureddin Bongo Valentin, adding that the two were with family and doctors. Also arrested by the junta were several of Bongo's presidential aides. The junta said that they were facing charges that included treason, embezzlement, corruption, falsifying the president's signature and drug-trafficking. Despite his detention, Bongo released a video on social media in which he appeared distressed while pleading for help in English, calling on his friends and supporters both in Gabon and around the world to "raise their voice" and "make noise" in response to the coup. He was released on 8 September 2023.
Brice Oligui, his cousin and commander of the Republican Guard, was later installed as interim president by the military junta. A week after the coup, Oligui authorized Bongo's release on medical grounds, saying that he was free to leave the country for treatment. Following his release, Bongo moved to his private residence in Libreville.
Ali Bongo married his first wife, the French-born Sylvia Valentin, in 1989; she is the daughter of Édouard Valentin, CEO of the Omnium gabonais d'assurances et de réassurances (OGAR) insurance company. Édouard Valentin's wife Evelyne works in the secretariat of the presidency, and Édouard is Chargé des affaires sociales at the Gabonese Employers Confederation (Confédération patronale gabonaise, CPG). In 1994 Ali Bongo married his second wife, American Inge Lynn Collins Bongo, from Los Angeles, California; at the time of Ali Bongo's election as president, Inge Bongo was living on food stamps in California; she filed for divorce in 2015.
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