In an attack which left two Nigeriens and six French nationals dead on 9 August in Kouré, the terrorists targeted a symbol: the country’s decision to prioritise developing tourism over investing in a full-fledged security apparatus.
Seydou Kane: the most Gabonese of Mali’s businessmen
Seydou Kane is originally from Mali, but made his fortune in Gabon. As powerful as he is discreet, the businessman avoids the media like the plague.
However, that did not keep his foundation from garnering headlines at the start of the coronavirus pandemic by helping Libreville’s most impacted residents.
We have compiled a list of 10 key facts to know about him.
1. A child of Nioro
Born in Mali 57 years ago in Madina-Alahary, near Nioro du Sahel (close to the border with Mauritania), Seydou Kane has not forgotten where he came from. He goes back to visit on a regular basis, travelling aboard his private jet, and he is often welcomed by several hundreds of people who take pride in the success of their fellow countryman.
2. Libreville, his city of predilection
He emigrated to Gabon in 1985. He was 22 years old at the time and wanted to try his luck in the country with a thriving economy. Since then, he has obtained Gabonese citizenship. He lives and works in the second arrondissement (borough) of Libreville.
Now that he has become a high-profile figure, he is at times criticised for a supposed “lack of patriotism”. His response to his critics is that he is Gabonese because he “loves the country” and not on account of “any sort of opportunism”.
The entrepreneur says that his great grandparents on the Kane side of the family were Fula. Originally from Senegal, they came to Mali during the great Muslim conquests. They ended up settling in the semi-desert plateaus of Nioro.
The Malian branch of his family continues to maintain ties with the part of the family that stayed behind in Senegal and the country’s President, Macky Sall, granted Kane a diplomatic passport along with the title of Ambassador-at-Large.
4. Concrete king
Right after arriving in Gabon, Kane launched a retail business and went on to become a diversified importer with a preference for electronics. Later on, he extended his business reach to the construction sector by founding the firm Consortium International des Travaux Publics (CITP).
His company built the gymnasium and boarding facilities of Libreville’s Prytanée National Militaire school, as well as the FC 105 sports complex in Owendo, not to mention a host of other projects, including housing for the Republican Guard in the capital’s Ondongo neighbourhood, the Bikélé technical college and the Augustin Monédan de Sibang stadium.
5. A people person
The entrepreneur is not involved in politics, but he does have a number of friends in the political sphere. In Gabon, he is known for having ties with the Bongo family. He is also an active member of Gabon’s influential Muslim community, primarily led by none other than the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba.
In Senegal, Kane is close to Abdoulaye Sally Sall, Minister Counsellor to President Macky Sall. In Mali, he knows virtually everyone in the political community, from President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, who was recently abducted.
6. Under investigation
In November 2015, Kane was placed under formal investigation by the French judiciary, under suspicion of “corruption of a foreign official, abuse of corporate assets, money laundering in an organised group, handling stolen goods, forgery and the use of forged documents”.
The investigation covered presumed questionable practices between a French military equipment company, Marck, and CITP. One of Kane’s close associates was also implicated: Maixent Accrombessi, who was serving as the Gabonese president’s chief of staff at that time. The investigation is still pending at the Nanterre prosecutor’s office.
7. Mali remains close to his heart
In his native region, a poor, arid area, Kane built a dam to help farmers irrigate their crops. He has also overseen the construction of schools, a community health centre and a water supply network.
Created in 2015 in Gabon, the Fondation Seydou Kane for innovation and social welfare has been active during the lockdown brought on by the coronavirus epidemic. It contributed 30 million CFA francs (€45,735) in aid to the government and distributed food kits to people living in low-income areas in the country’s capital.
9. A lucky man
On 2 November 2015, he walked away from a Senegalese army plane crash unscathed. The crash occurred 30 minutes after the plane took off from Nioro, while en route to Dakar. The Fokker 27 aircraft’s engines failed and the plane, carrying more than 10 people, crashed in a forest but there were no casualties.
10. Low profile
It is Kane’s golden rule, as he prefers to keep his private life far from the spotlight. When he stays in his palatial residence in his favourite neighbourhood, the eighth arrondissement of Paris, he is careful to receive his visitors in a dark living room. In Mali, where abductions for ransom are common, he maintains an even lower profile.