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Gabon: Bongo Indulges With Football Match Against Brazil

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

1,000,000 BRL ($570,000 USD): that is the price paid by the president of Gabon, Ali Bongo [pt] to gift himself a football tie against the Seleçao [national football team] of Brazil according to the Brazilian news site Folha.

Excessive spending is nothing new for the Bongo family. The satirical French newspaper ‘Le Canard Enchaîné’ revealed [fr] on November 8, 2011, that Omar Bongo, the former president of Gabon went on a purchasing binge for suits worth 344,000 EUR in Paris in 2007. His son, Ali Bongo,  the current president also spent 88,000 EUR in 2010 for the same type of purchase. These expenses are in stark contrast with the harsh reality of the everyday lives of the Gabonese population.

Ali Bongo, President of Gabon by the World Economic Forum on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Ali Bongo, President of Gabon by the World Economic Forum on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A large proportion of the population remains poor

According to the CIA Factbook, “Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most Sub-Saharan African nations, but because of high income inequality, a large proportion of the population remains poor.”

It is this large proportion of impoverished citizens that the Brazilian national football team witnessed during its stay which began on November 7 upon their arrival in Libreville.

On the online platform Le Post, Gabonese activist and blogger Jean-Pierre Rougou describes the visit as follows [fr]:

Alors que l'équipe brésilienne foulait le sol gabonais pour le match amical à se tenir le 10 novembre sur le terrain inachevé et en mauvais état du stade de l'amitié que la Chine a fait don au Gabon, les joueurs ont pu observer à travers les vitres de leur autobus, le spectacle dévastateur des destructions de quartiers du gouvernement de Ali Bongo

When the Seleçao set foot on the Gabonese soil for the friendly match to take place on November 10 in the unfinished and damaged Stadium of Friendship that China gifted to Gabon, Brazilian players could witness through the windows of their bus the devastating spectacle of the destruction of some neighborhoods by the Ali Bongo's government

The stadium was built by a Chinese company in exchange for lucrative mineral exploitation contracts.

To illustrate his comment, Rougou shared a YouTube video posted by user VeioRJ on November 8. It was shot from the inside of the Seleçao's bus while they traveled in the streets of Libreville:

The video caused strong reactions among many Gabonese netizens. On a Facebook group named ‘Infos Kinguélé‘ many shared their point of view on the video and on the Brazilian team's visit:

Citoyen libre Gabon writes [fr]:

Les Brésiliens n'ont fait que réagir comme tout être humain normal ferait en se rendant dans un pays supposé être riche de pétrole, manganèse, bois, etc., avec seulement 1,5 million d'habts!

Brazilians only reacted the way any human beings would have reacted when visiting a country that is supposed to be rich with oil, manganese, wood, and so on, and on top of that with only 1,5 million inhabitants!

Ningmultimedia Ningworld adds [fr]:

ces brésiliens viennent prendre leur agent au Gabon et par la suite ils continuent de se moquer de notre sale vie

those Brazilians come to get paid in Gabon, and at the end of the day, they will still make fun of our miserable lives

Brazil vs Gabon: A complete flop?

Brazilian sports news site ‘Globo Esporte’ reports that the stadium built by Chinese contractors  where the game is scheduled is in poor condition [pt]:

De longe, lembra o Engenhão, no Rio de Janeiro. Porém, de perto, a história muda de figura. (…) Além disso, a pista de atletismo, no entorno do gramado, ainda está sendo finalizada.

From afar the stadium looks like Engenhão of Rio de Janeiro. But when you look closely, the story is different. (…) Holes and uneven surface areas are easily spotted. Moreover, the running track which surrounds the field is still not completed yet.

The defense player of the Brazilian team, Luisao, shared with the AFP about the contrast he witnessed during his visit:

“On sait qu'ici le gens ont leurs problèmes et arriver ici et voir les gens sourire au passage de la Seleçao, la joie dans le stade, c'est une fierté.” Le défenseur du Benfica commente aussi la pauvreté aperçue et les dizaines de maisons détruites par les autorités lors d'une opération de lutte contre les constructions anarchiques le long de la voie menant au stade.

“We know that people here have their problems, but it is a source of pride for us to come here and make the people smile when they see the Seleçao.” The defense player of the Benfica football club also noted the poverty around him and the dozens of houses destroyed by the authorities during an operation launched to fight against illegal constructions on the side of the roads

According to this article on Folha.com, the journalist explains that the 1,000,000 BRL paid by Ali Bongo was initially intended for a special practice match played by members of the Brazilian national team in front of thousands of selected Gabonese VIP officials:

O número certo de “amigos do presidente” –como um alto executivo do governo chama o grupo– no evento é uma incógnita. Militares afirmam que Ali Bongo convidou de mil a até 15 mil aliados.

The exact number of  the “president's friends” – as coined by a high leader of the government – is unknown. Military officials stated that Ali Bongo has invited up to 15,000 allies.

However, when the managers of the seleçao saw the poor condition of the Stadium, they refused to let their players practice at the ‘Friendship Stadium’. The journalist adds that the Technical Committee of the Brazilian team (CBT) ignored that the practice match was organised by Ali Bongo himself.

The match against the Gabonese national team nevertheless took place on November 10, 2011. The beginning of the game was delayed because of an electricity outage. ‘Brasil x Gabao’ (Brazil vs Gabon) was even trending worldwide on Twitter:

Brazilian netizens shared their views on the event. Lucas ironically writes [pt]:

@Sou1nerd: Brasil x gabão = zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And Jairo Costa adds [pt]:

@Jairo_Costa: R$1.000.000,00 de suborno n eh suborno,eh Brasil x Gabao…um absurdo!!

R$1,000,000.00 of corruption, Brasil vs Gabon… absurd!

Gabonese blogger Rougou conludes his post by saying [fr]:

Le match amical du Gabon contre l'équipe B du Brésil est une occasion pour Ali Bongo de tenter d'endormir le peuple en essayant de lui faire oublier ses problèmes de vie quotidiens. Mais que le gouvernement de l'incompétence et de l'improvisation se révise, le peuple n'est pas dupe!

The friendly match of Gabon vs the B team of Brazil was an opportunity for Ali Bongo to try to numb the people's attention  and make them forget about their daily challenges. But it would behoove this government driven by incompetence and improvisation to think twice about it, the people cannot be fooled all the time!

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

  • Pour “seulement” 272 millions de FCFA, on dirait que les Brésiliens se sont fait avoir! Ils auraient dû demander à R. Kelly et son agent de leur dire comment obtenir au moins 1milliard de FCFA, comme il l’avait eu pour inaugurer les statues et les maquettes à Nkok près de Libreville…

    Pendant ce temps, les gens meurent à la tonne dans les hôpitaux-morgues partout au Gabon! Sans compter les mal logés, les infrastructures calamiteuses, ceux qui fouillent dans les poubelles pour se nourrir.

    Retenons encore que 2% de la population contrôle 80% des richesses du Gabon! Les autres 20% sont encore partagés entre les pauvres Gabonais et les amis étrangers…

  • What is all the “wreckage” in the video? Result of demolitions?

    • Unfortunately yes. The decision to build new infrastructures for inhabitants of Libreville is a good one… but the main question is what are the rehousing solutions given to all these homeless people? It seems that no proper choice has been given.

  • Good article. I saw the first half on TV and the field was in terrible condition.

    Just one correction, the final score was not a tie, but Brasil won 2-0.

    • Thanks for your correction Eduardo. This match was not so successful for Gabonese.

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