Below is comment on the death of Gabon’s President Omar Bongo, Africa’s longest serving ruler, in a Spanish clinic on Monday.
“Bongo’s unexpected departure from office leaves a potentially dangerous power vacuum. Given his highly personalized style of rule, the as-yet unresolved succession question could lead to elite infighting and a political crisis. Increased strategic maneuvering in the close circle around Bongo has been apparent for several months.
The question is whether the players have interests in sticking to the constitution. It will all depend on how the power play plays out within the clan.
Given that Bongo has successfully balanced and minimized potential ethnic and regional tensions, large-scale unrest or violence is unlikely. However, the unresolved succession issue creates some uncertainty given that unconstitutional, or even nominally democratic, family succession has led to significant turmoil in other sub-regional countries, such as Togo.
There does not appear to be an immediate risk of unrest for the moment. Because of years of Bongo co-opting opposition candidates, there is no genuine opposition left that would make people come out onto the streets in protest. But if they go to elections and the family clan is busy fighting each other, a more genuine opposition could emerge.”
“Even though there is no clear successor to Bongo, there are two leading candidates. One is Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba, Bongo’s 50-year-old son and defense minister of Gabon. The second candidate is Vice President Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge. Ndinge has chaired cabinet meetings in Libreville during Bongo’s absence, though he has not assumed an official capacity as acting president. Officials from the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) are likely negotiating who will succeed Bongo, and in the short-term this transition is likely to be smooth, with factions within the PDG working to safeguard their positions.
In the mid- to long-term, the PDG could fray, causing national unrest, with no historic central figure able to impose authority amid competing factions.
Though relations with France under (President Nicolas) Sarkozy are not as extensive as they were during France’s Gaullist era, the Gabonese government post-Bongo will still rely on French military and economic know-how.”
“We have lost a great and faithful friend of France, a great figure of Africa and a head of state who won the esteem and respect of all his peers, notably through his numerous initiatives in favor of peace on the African continent.”