Coup in Gabon, president deposed after 14 years: who is Ali Bongo

The Head of State arrested and placed under house arrest

A spoiled prince with a passion for beautiful women and funk songs. A man of many faces and controversial since birth, if you listen to the rumors according to which he is not the biologist son of former president Omar Bongo, but was adopted in southeast Niger during the Biafra war. The fact is that Ali Bongo, officially born Alain Bernard Bongo in nearby Congo-Brazzaville in February 1959, followed in his father’s footsteps by right. Remaining in office for 14 years and thus leading his family for 53 years at the helm of Gabon. But there are also those who see him as a reformer, a man seeking to diversify the economy and strengthen Gabon’s international status with an ambitious environmental agenda. In 2021, Gabon became the first African country to receive a payment to reduce carbon emissions by protecting its rainforest.

The fact is that now, after winning the presidential elections again, the military leadership has said enough and announced that the result of the vote will be annulled. Bongo, who is currently under house arrest, was in elementary school and was only 8 years old when his father took power in 1967. “The fact that he attended the best schools in Libreville and didn’t learn the local languages ​​was something that, later , would have been criticized,” French historian Francois Gaulme told the BBC. Indeed, many in Gabon consider Ali Bongo to be ”an outsider” also due to his international education. Namely for having studied at a private school in the exclusive Parisian suburb of Neuilly and for having continued with Law at the Sorbonne.

In 1973 he converted to Islam together with his father, the only two in the family to do so. Thus Alain Bernard becomes Ali and his father Omar. A decision that, according to many, was taken to attract investment from Muslim countries. The fact is that, religion aside, the young Ali cultivates a passion for football and music, the latter inherited from the Gabonese singer Patience Dabany. He also released an album in 1977, ‘A Brand New Man’ produced by Charles Bobbit, the manager of funk legend James Brown. A Real Madrid fan, he made headlines in 2017 by carrying Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi around the Gabonese capital aboard a car.

Only four years later he became interested in politics. Ali Bongo first became foreign minister for three years and then defense minister in his father’s government for 10 years. When his father dies, he is not seen as the ideal candidate to succeed him, but in the end he is elected with 42 percent of the votes. Human rights groups say the Bongo family has turned Gabon into a “kleptocratic regime”, plundering its natural resources, oil wealth and rainforests. Members of the political opposition have long accused members of the Bongo family of misappropriating public money and running the country as their private property. A seven-year corruption investigation by French police into the Bongo family, which revealed assets including 39 properties in France and nine luxury cars, was dropped in 2017.