17.08.2020 Europe

Gabon celebrates 60 years of independence, mostly under Bongo family rule

© Présidence de la République Gabonaise via Facebook
LISTEN AUG 17, 2020
© Présidence de la République Gabonaise via Facebook

Gabon celebrates 60 years of independence on Monday, marked by a military parade in the capital Libreville attended by President Ali Bongo. The oil-rich country gained its independence from France in 1960 and has been ruled by the Bongo family dynasty since 1967, when Omar Bongo came to power. 

During a television address on Sunday night, Ali Bongo used the country's anniversary of independence as an opportunity to sum up his performance as president since succeeding his father in 2009. 

“On the political level, despite the trials and tribulations with which we are confronted, Gabon remains united and together," said Bongo. 

Bongo was reelected in 2016 following a vote that was disrupted by opposition leader Jean Ping, a former Gabonese foreign minister and ex-chairperson of the African Union Commission. 

Clashes erupted between opposition protesters and security forces with at least 27 people killed and more than 1,100 arrested in several days of violence. 

“Economically, we can all see progress, although it's certainly insufficient,” said Bongo, in his 60th anniversary address. “Progress isn't fast enough, but it's still undeniable. There's been delay over global factors that hits all countries.” 

Bongo also touched on employment, education, digital services and healthcare, saying Gabon must rely on its past in order to build for the future.

The Gabonese leader has faced a number of challenges in the last few years, suffering from a stroke at the end of 2018 and spending several months receiving treatment in Morocco. 

Bongo effectively ruled in absentia while recuperating in Rabat, appearing in videos recorded in Morocco and making trips back and forth to Libreville in order to swear in a new government. 

During his time in Morocco, Gabon suffered a high-profile coup attempt called “Operation Dignity” led by Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang who took over the state-run television and broadcast a message describing Bongo's absence as a “spectacle” bringing shame on the country.

The opposition

Also speaking to mark independence day, opposition leader Jean Ping talked about the country's healthcare system during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it had been “abandoned” by the authorities. 

Ping recalled 2016 elections and his claims that he won more than 60 percent of the ballot, pledging that he would remain committed to the vote of the people. 

The former African Union chief discussed the government-led crackdown on the opposition, saying they had endured “the same blind and heartless repression” for the past four years. 

Gabon's first president, Léon Mba, did not actually support his country's independence, in fact he preferred for Gabon to become an overseas department of France

For the ceremony marking Gabon's independence, Mba said his thoughts were with “friendly France” towards whom he felt “great gratitude”. 

“To General Charles de Gaulle, champion of the black man and of the Franco-African community, I say thank you from the depths of our soul," Mba added, reported French daily Le Monde.

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