Sep 04 2009

Goodnight Gabon

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:43 PM

The election results are official: Omar Bongo’s son is the new president of one of Africa’s most beautiful, resource-rich and least-densely-populated countries.

The victory by Ali Ben Bongo is being greeted by protests in Gabon’s second-largest city, Port Gentil. Bongo’s father ruled for decades and on his death earlier this year could boast to being the African ruler with the longest tenure. Might Ben Bongo, only 50 years old, hold power for decades as well?

Civil society is almost non-existet in Gabon. France maintains about 1,000 soldiers in Gabon, whose aim is to keep order, which in Gabonese terms means the continuation of the Bongo dynasty.

France’s attachment to the Bongo family is beyond utilitarian explanation. The government France, and the French corporations it promotes, do not receive enough material benefits to justify the cost of doing business in Gabon. Therefore France’s attachment to the idea of a Gabon loyal to France is beyond calculation. France’s attachment to the Bongo family — to Gabon as a stage in which to play out French fantasties of omnipotence — is beyond rationality. It is a kind of leap of faith, a kind of religion.

The people of Gabon, in the terms and mentalities of the religion which governs this central African country, do not exist. There are no citizens of Gabon. There are only “interests.”

Ben Bongo is a self-styled reformer who failed to achieve 50 percent of the vote. Under election rules, he didn’t need a majority, and opponents of the Bongo dynasty could not unify behind a single candidate. Bongo now faces the task of consolidating power. If the past is any guide, once backed by the machinery of the Gabonese state, Bongo may find — through a combination of patronage and economic liberalization — could move the country out of France’s political-economic orbit. Popular animus toward symbols of French hegemony in Gabon — notably the French oil company, Total — give Bongo an opportunity to reach out to a wider range of international investors. Whether more diverse foreign ownership of Gabonese assets will produce broader economic benefits, for a population still consisting mainly of have-nots, is the looming question.

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