Gabon: Pascaline Bongo Ondimba loses her status in power grab

By Mathieu Olivier
Posted on Thursday, 10 October 2019 13:34

Pascaline Bongo Ondimba has been moved away from the centre of power. ©

Pascaline Bongo Ondimba is no longer a high representative of the head of state, strengthening the position of Brice Laccruche Alihanga, the cabinet director and President Ali Bongo Ondimba's closest ally.

The decision was taken by the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, October 2, and appears to have put an end to her failed comeback attempt.

  • Ondimba was previously chief of staff to her late father, former President Omar Bongo Ondimba, and is half-sister to current President Ali Bongo.
  • The siblings’ relationship has been the subject of much speculation in Libreville’s rumour mill over the past few years.

She represents an older centre of power that has been waning as Alihanga’s younger generation seeks to strengthen their hand in the midst of uncertainty over President Ali Bongo’s health and longevity, following his stroke in October 2018.

The announcement to sack Pascaline Bongo was a simple, laconic one-sentence statement in the final communiqué by the Council of Ministers, which is chaired by the head of state:

“Released back to her original administration: Mrs Pascaline Mferri Bongo Ondimba”.

In other words: the president’s half-sister will no longer be his high representative.

  • “Pascaline”, as everyone calls her, had recently returned to this position in January 2019, when her half-brother was just beginning to recover from his stroke.
  • Many saw it as a return to grace for the former strong woman of the presidency, which she had left in 2016 after the last presidential election.

A return… in appearance

Pascaline Bongo had recovered her status, her diplomatic passport, as well as a presidential office — situated not far from that of the cabinet director, Alihanga. At the time Alihanga seemed to want to make Pascaline Bongo a powerful ally in the clan war that was stirring Libreville after the president’s stroke.

  • While she was able to calm a boiling Bongo family at the beginning of 2019, Pascaline Bongo had not actually regained her former influence.
  • Contrary to what her title may have implied, she hardly represented her brother, not appearing in any official ceremonies abroad since taking office.
  • Many noticed her absence at the funeral of former French President Jacques Chirac, to whom she was close.

An expected eviction

Pascaline Bongo has actually been spending little time in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, where she still has a villa in the upscale Sablière district.

  • In recent months, she has spent time in Singapore and, in recent days, was in Shanghai, China.
  • She returned to Gabon on October 1, without any illusions about her near future. According to our sources, she expected to be evicted “at any time”.

But Pascaline Bongo should not heed the announcement, which states she should return “to her original administration”, to the letter and become an auditor again.

As the first Gabonese woman to graduate from the École nationale d’administration de Paris, she joined the Gabonese administration in 1987, while completing internships at Chase Manhattan Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

She then became Vice-President of oil company Elf Gabon before being appointed Chief of Staff to the President, her father. Her career represents an extraordinary trajectory already.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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