Omar Bongo was Gabon's president for 42 years and Africa's longest-ruling head of state when he died in 2009. His death caused controversy as his son (Ali Bongo) was set to assume power as head of the ruling political party in the constitutionally mandated election after his death.
Ali Bongo Takes Power
Ali Bongo won and was inaugurated as Gabon's third president on October 16, 2009. He was one of 18 candidates that ran for president. His win sparked weeks of riots and unrest even as he made deals with other powers to consolidate rule. Other Gabonese rulers took power with claimed wins. Eventually, Ali Bongo emerged as the sole leader.
A History of The Bongos
With only three presidents in its 65-plus-year history as an independent nation, the early history of Gabon cannot be told without the Bongos. Omar Bongo was the Vice President when the first president died in 1967. Except for 163 days, a Bongo has ruled Gabon ever since. That roughly 6-month time between the two Bongo rulers stands as a boundary between autocratic Gabon and the progressive nation that would one day join the British-dominated Commonwealth of Nations.
Omar Bongo’s Legacy
Before Omar Bongo became the head of a powerful political party, he was nothing short of a dictator with a dismal humanitarian record. Bongo became one of the richest men in the world because he exploited his country's natural resources, specifically oil and timber. He gave very little of his wealth back to the people, as the world would discover in the 70s and 80s. Most of the Gabonese people lived way below the poverty line. Meanwhile, he continued building his wealth by making oil deals and selling Gabon oil for his own pockets.
As he died, the elder Bongo would not let the world know he was ill, even as word did get out. Defiant to the end, he held onto power until his dying breath.