Ruling in Opulence Amidst Poverty: Unveiling the Bongo Family’s Rule in Gabon
The Bongo Dynasty: A Prolonged Reign
The Bongo family, who held the reins of power in Gabon for a staggering 55 years, has faced accusations of exploiting the country’s oil and mineral wealth, while a significant proportion of the Gabonese population lived in poverty. Despite the nation’s abundant oil and natural resources, the country’s infrastructure remains in dire condition, with inaccessible roads, expensive flights, and a monopolized railway system. The recently ousted Ali Bongo Ondimba, who inherited the leadership from his father Omar Bongo in 2009, was known for his lavish lifestyle while much of the nation’s wealth was concentrated among the ruling elite.
The Wealth Disparity
With a population of 2.3 million, Gabon is one of Africa’s wealthiest countries per capita. However, this wealth is not equitably shared, with a third of Gabon’s population living below the poverty line. The ruling class has long been accused of financial mismanagement, with the nation’s wealth concentrated in the hands of a select few. Gabon’s infrastructure, health, and education systems are in a state of disarray. The nation heavily relies on imports and has failed to develop its production or manufacturing sector, despite its rich natural resources.
The New Leadership’s Priorities
The new military leadership, under transitional president General Brice Oligui Nguema, has prioritized addressing these pressing issues. An investigation into public works spending has been launched to detect any irregularity or potential fraud. The Bongo family, too, has been under investigation by French authorities for suspected fraudulent acquisition of a real estate empire.
Oil and Manganese: Gabon’s Untapped Potential
Gabon boasts of abundant oil and manganese reserves. However, the exploitation of these resources has not translated into sustainable and inclusive growth. The country is either the second or third largest manganese producer, depending on the mineral’s concentration. The manganese, used in steelmaking and batteries, is mined almost exclusively by a local subsidiary of France’s Eramet group. Despite its natural wealth, Gabon is grappling with high unemployment rates, with one-fifth of the active population out of work, a figure that rises to one-third for those under 25.
The Bongo Family’s Real Estate Empire
French investigators in 2016 zeroed in on properties owned by Omar Bongo’s family in France. They suspected several of his relatives knowingly benefitted from a fraudulently acquired real estate empire worth at least 85 million euros. The empire includes property in Paris and the Mediterranean resort of Nice, alongside a fleet of luxury cars. Ten of Omar Bongo’s 54 children have been charged with allegedly concealing the misappropriation of public funds. As a sitting head of state, Ali Bongo had immunity.
The Dwindling Oil Revenue
While there is nostalgia for life under the elder Bongo among some Gabonese, experts note that oil revenue has dwindled since 2014 under Ali Bongo’s leadership. Despite the country’s rich oil reserves, the revenues have not trickled down to the populace, further exacerbating the wealth gap and social frustrations. The end of the Bongo dynasty marks a new chapter for Gabon as it grapples with its socio-economic challenges.
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