Gabon: Two Rival Presidents, One Accused of Embezzlement

This post is part of our special coverage of Gabon Unrest 2011

After spending one month in refuge at the offices of the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) in Libreville, Gabon, self-proclaimed president André Mba Obame and his government finally left the building on February 27. An agreement was reached with the official government of President Ali Bongo thanks to mediation by the UN, but this has not stilled the movement for change in Gabon. The unrest has been ongoing since January 25, when the unofficial president Mba Obame took his oath.

Bongo in trouble at World Bank

As the power struggle continues, Ali Bongo now stands accused of “misappropriation of shares for personal profit” during his time as the chairman of the board of directors of the Office of Ports and Harbors of Gabon (OPRAG). French businessman Jacques Dupuydauby filed a legal complaint on February 22 with the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). According to the news weekly ‘Jeune Afrique’, deals Bongo made regarding two Gabonese ports are under scrutiny (via A bas le masque [fr] ).

(Dupuydauby is a historic rival of another French businessman dealing in maritime trade, Vincent Bolloré, who is a friend of President Sarkozy, and has spoken favorably of Bongo's standing.)

In France, Bruno Ben Moubamba, a Gabonese politician who was appointed minister of foreign affairs in the unofficial government, held a rally on March 7 in front of Ali Bongo's €150 million mansion in Paris. In a speech in front of the property, which is located in one of the city's most luxurious areas, he urged the French government to stop being tolerant of African dictators like Bongo. On March 3, Moubamba posted a video of himself speaking, wondering where the money used to purchase the expensive property comes from (in French with English subtitles):

Has Ali Bongo used OPRAG funds to serve his own interests, for example to acquire this “palace” in Paris: Pozzo di Borgo?

The ICSID already ruled in May 2010 that President Ali Bongo's government should pay €240 million to a Belgian consortium [fr] in an suit related to fraud in railway contracts.

This new trade dispute comes at a time of an already unfavorable context for Ali Bongo.

Uneasy truce as Mba Obame leaves the building

Only one day after Mba Obame left the UNDP building, Bongo's government announced that all members of the unofficial government would soon face “justice”. According to a post by Camarade on the website Koaci [fr], some were already summoned by Gabonese intelligence services for questioning.

Upon Mba Obame's exit of the UNDP building, many supporters offered caustic and suspicious reactions online. LVDPG (‘La voix du peuple gabonais‘ – Voice of the Gabonese people) was one platform where netizens shared their concerns [fr]. Some, like ‘Le Début‘ assume there must be a deal between Ali Bongo and André Mba Obame:

Transparence oblige, il y a forcément une contre-partie, c'est la logique des négociations et du prix à payer pour sortir d'une termitière!!! AH POLITIQUE QUAND TU TIENS!!!
Alors on attend le véritable compte rendu.

Transparency requires it, there must have been some compensation, it is the logic of negotiations and the price to pay to get out of an anthill! AH POLITICS! Let us wait for the real proceedings.

Suspicions like these have only been reinforced by the fact that Mba Obame has not issued any official statements since his exit from the UNDP. Diplomatic rumors aired in Camarade's post [fr] on seems to confirm this theory:

Une source interne au PNUD-Gabon a également affirmé que la sortie d’exil du gouvernement Mba Obame n’est qu’une première étape du processus de décrispation du climat politique gabonais. [Ce] qui expliquerait l’annulation de la déclaration envisagée par les exilés le jour de leur sortie du PNUD.

An inside source at the UNDP-Gabon has also said that the exit of the exiled government of Mba Obame is only a first step in easing the political climate in Gabon. [This] would explain the cancellation of the declaration proposed by the exiles on the day of their release from the UNDP.

For others, like @chrisseminarist on Twitter, Mba Obame is a strategist who put an end to his exile to continue the struggle for revolution:

@chrisseminarist (March 1): André Mba Obame continue le combat pour être reconnu président du Gabon

André Mba Obame continues the struggle to be recognised as the President of Gabon

Revolution ahead

In spite of the alleged incapacity of the Gabonese opposition to lead a revolutionary movement, Charlie M. writes on his blog, ‘Le Gabon Enervant‘ [fr] (The Irritating Gabon) that he is convinced a revolution will happen in the country, no matter what politicians do:

Au Gabon il est clair pour tout observateur averti, que si les tenants du pouvoir n’apprennent pas à servir leurs peuples avec justice et dignité, et non tout le folklore qu’ils font en ce moment, le Gabon aura sa révolution, tôt ou tard. C’est inévitable.

In Gabon it is clear for any informed observer, that if those in power don't learn to serve their people with justice and dignity, instead of the folklore they are currently showing, Gabon will live its revolution, sooner or later. It is inevitable.

This post is part of our special coverage of Gabon Unrest 2011


  • Hi Julie!

    Thanks for the great job you do reporting on the situation in Gabon, when most journalists are not interested…

    I wanted to correct a brie of the information you are giving in your article. In fact, you said:

    “Suspicions like these have only been reinforced by the fact that Mba Obame has not issued any official statements since his exit from the UNDP”.

    It is true that there are suspicions since opposition leaders have deceived people in Gabon before. Just see what is going on with Pierre Mamboundou ( But to the credit of Mba Obame, he has indeed made a statement since he exited from UNDP. His declaration can be found on this blog (March 2, 2011):

    May I add that Gabonese, like most of Africans from Southern-Sahara, suffer from Stockholm disorder. They are just like slaves or prisoners refusing to be set free! In fact, it is well know that some slaves refused to be set free because they thought they were at ease with there masters (place to live, food, clothes). They did not quite understood why someone needed to free them out. Same thing with long term prisoners. This is the consequence of long term slavery, mind torture, oppression, etc. With those atrocities, people tend to believe their situation is Ok, just fine… In Gabon, the most popular expression to sum up this attitude is: “on va encore faire comment?”. What can we do? That’s the way it is!

    This is sad!

    After 43 years under the same corrupt family in power, Gabonese need someone who will lead a movement, not inside, but outside, on the streets, with the people, not only in Libreville, demanding Ali Bongo to leave!

    I believe there is lots of frustration among people in Gabon. The vast majority of Gabonese are fed up with the Bongo family and all the manipulation by France (cautioned by the US for obvious reasons: oil in the region, including Equatorial Guinea). Also, some opposition leaders like Pierre Mamboundou and Mba Abessolo have been bought by Bongo’s family. They all go to the same Lodge of Masonry. Now, people don’t trust opposition leaders and it is one of the main reasons why people are not willing to go to the street and die (yes, the military in Gabon is going to kill even peaceful protesters).

    Nos, most ask in Gabon: people had died in Port-Gentil for nothing. Now, why should anybody dies again? The reality is, Ali Bongo won’t probably go peacefully.

    It is unfortunate to say, but somebody may have to die again before Gabonese are free for real!!!


  • […] crisis has since deepened, with protests from students and recently oil workers, despite of the exit of Mba Obame from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) building where he had sought […]

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.