Profile: Gabon’s presidential contenders

Posted on Monday, 27 July 2009 00:00

Ali Ben Bongo?, Minister of defence

The man left holding the most powerful cards at the time of his father’s death was able to use his clout to get the nomination of the former single party, the Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG), for the new national elections. A son of former President Omar Bongo Ondimba and Marie-Josephine Kama (now singing under the name Patience Dabany), he has been unable to disarm opponents who chatter that he is ‘not Gabonese’. As a member of the presidential family, he seems most likely to be able to win new elections since his predecessor systematically co-opted and neutralised opposition parties and their leaders. Representing the minority Batéké people of the south-east, Ali Ben would have to face the challenge of convincing the larger ethnic groups, like the Fang and Nzèbi, to back him in order to win the election convincingly. Less ensconced in the Franco-African networks than his father, Ali Ben seems more sympathetic to US and other interests.

Pascaline Bongo, ?Former head of the presidential cabinet

Back-room fixer and keeper of financial secrets, Pascaline plans to enjoy her role as king-maker or spoiler. As Ali Ben’s older sister from another mother, the two familial pillars of the Bongo regime are more suited to competition than cooperation. As such, the post-Bongo future could display the kind of the intra-family struggles which have created instability in Togo. Former wife of current head of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, she is now the partner of foreign minister Paul Toungui, one of Ali Ben’s principal opponents in the PDG. A vice-president of oil company Total Gabon and an executive at BGFIBank, her supporters claim that her business acumen makes her better suited than her brother to be president. Not one to enjoy the spotlight, she has refused to discuss a run for the presidency in public, but her support will be critical in limiting the number of PDG splinter groups.

Pierre Mamboundou, ?Leader of the Union du Peuple Gabonais

As one of the large number of former opposition politicians who allowed themselves to be persuaded that working with former President Bongo was a much more agreeable occupation than challenging him, Pierre Mamboundou’s chances of being successful against a PDG candidate have diminished greatly. He was a supposedly ‘radical’ opponent of the Bongo regime and lived in exile, having returned during the days of national conferences and the end of single-party rule. Even after his return, Mamboundou refused to work with a regime that he regarded as corrupt and dishonest, getting his UPG party to boycott many elections. Having been former President Bongo’s most serious opponent in previous presidential elections, his supporters criticised his 2007 reconciliation with Bongo and his solicitation of funds to improve infrastructure in his electoral fiefdom of Ndende, where he became mayor in 1997. Mamboundou will have difficulty gaining support from outside of his base, especially as this year’s polls will have more candidates representing more ethnic groups than the elections of the past.

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