By Tafi Mhaka

Africans love to dance.

The people of Gabon danced to the tune of Omar Bongo’s stifling symphony of misrule for 42 years.

Small in stature, Bongo ruthlessly ruled oil-rich Gabon, earning himself the title “little big man”.

A French observer described him as “a diminutive, dapper figure who conversed in flawless French, a charismatic figure surrounded by a personality cult”.

He lavishly bought out opposition leaders with state funds, leaving him to reign freely.

The kingly 5 feet tall Bongo towered over every facet of Gabonese life.

His self-indulgent political artistry afforded him the finer things in life.

Charmingly affable, Bongo’s debonair style was the hallmark of his look: he strictly dressed in colourful, flamboyant French designer wear.

He spared no expense in his efforts to dress the part of Gabon’s imperial big man by ferrying a plane full of designer wear from France to Gabon every year.

Gorgeous-looking French models, reportedly hired to help Bongo try on the clothes, accompanied the clothes for good measure.

And there’s more.

He lived in a US$800 million presidential palace in Libreville. 

Bongo traveled in style: He had a DC-8 Jet at his disposal for swanky personal jaunts.

The inimitable Bongo put up such a fine performance in his four decades in power, he controversially amassed a small fortune for his family: this included US$130 million held in various accounts by Citibank, and 33 properties in Paris and on the French Riviera worth an estimated US$190m. 

At the time of his death, in 2009, some independent researchers estimated Bongo had stashed away $1 Billion in cash and property.


Dancing along to Bongo’s synchronized symphony of corruption and profligacy were the 53 children he sired.


Bongo had 53 known children.

Two of Bongo’s heirs, Ali Bongo and Pascaline Bongo, have been under the spotlight for varying reasons.

Miss Bongo, a trendy, jet-setting socialite, reportedly wracked up $86 million in air travel bills in 24 months.

Accompanying her were a motley collection of family and friends that included Michael Jackson’s brother, Jermaine.

Word is Pascaline doesn’t want to share her father’s ill-gotten wealth with Ali or the other 50 or so heirs.

“Ali has the power and she has the money. She wants to keep her bit without sharing it either with Ali or the other heirs,” said a family friend.

Ali Bongo, meanwhile, has been trying to convince the world he won the just concluded August 27 presidential election in Gabon.

Election officials claim Ali Bongo won by 6000 votes.

Jean Ping, Bongo’s rival, disagrees.

So does the EU. 

“An analysis of the number of non-voters as well as blank and disqualified votes reveals a clear anomaly in the final results in Haut-Ogooue,” Mariya Gabriel, the head of the EU observing mission in Gabon, said in a statement on Tuesday. “The integrity of the provisional results in this province is consequently compromised.”

A political storm’s brewing in Gabon. There’s violence on the streets. Opposition supporters are demanding a recount.

“In order to restore the confidence of Gabon, I reiterate my call that the Gabonese authorities publish the poll results by polling station in the country, in order to facilitate a possible claim, which remains the way to solve, in compliance with the law, the crisis of confidence in the results,” Gabriel, of the EU mission, said.

How this political upheaval will play out in the future remains to be seen.

What’s certainly clear is: The Bongos have impoverished Gabon for 50 years.

Isn’t it time Gabon danced to a fresh symphony of transparency, hope and equality?