President Ali Bongo Ondimba / Photo: Reuters

By Sylvia Chebet

The current political crisis in Gabon erupted as Ali Bongo Ondimba, 64, was declared winner of the August 26 presidential election as he sought a seven-year third term in office.

Bongo defeated his main rival Albert Ondo Ossa in a single round of voting, amassing 64.27% of the votes, according to results from the electoral body.

The politician was seeking to extend his family’s 55-year political dynasty in Gabon. Bongo came to power in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who had ruled the country for 42 years since 1967.

But after 14 years as president, Bongo's third term hangs in the balance. Some soldiers announced early morning on Wednesday that they seized power.

Rise to power

After the death of his father in 2009, Bongo won a subsequent presidential election in 2011 amid allegations of fraud. A vote recount still put Bongo in the lead with 41.79% of the votes. In 2016, he won his second term by a narrow margin amid violent protests.

As Bongo sought a third term in office in last week's election after a constitutional change allowing him to do so, the opposition united in favour of his main challenger, economics professor Albert Ondo Ossa.

During his father's reign, Bongo served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1989-1991 before representing his hometown Bongoville as an MP in the National Assembly for eight years from 1991-1999.

Afterwards, he was appointed into yet another ministerial post, in charge of the defense docket, where he served for 10 years from 1999 to 2009 when his father died.

Bongo family

His family converted to Islam in 1973, a change that altered their names. He was born Alain Bernard Bongo, on February 9, 1959, in Congo Brazzaville then became Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Ali Bongo Ondimba was born Alain Bernard Bongo but changed names after converting to Islam. Photo: Others

His father’s name was initially Albert Bernard Bongo but later changed to Omar Bongo Ondimba. His mother, Patience Dabany is a former musician and beauty queen.

When Bongo was nine years old, he was sent to a private school in Neuilly, France.

In 1978, Bongo recorded a funk album entitled A Brand New Man, produced by Charles Bobbit, manager for James Brown, and with background vocals and music by Brown’s band. The lead single from the album was “I Wanna Stay With You.”

Bongo studied law and graduated from the Pantheon-Sorbonne in Paris in 1978, and received his doctorate from Wuhan University in China in 1980.

Bongo married his first wife Sylvia Valentin, a French citizen, in 1989, and the couple has four children.

He married his second wife, Inge Collins, of Los Angeles, California, in 1994 but Collins filed for divorce in 2015.

Long journey

Ali Bongo became involved in politics in 1981 when he joined the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). In 1983 he was elected to the PDG Central Committee, making him a member of his father’s cabinet.

He soon became his father’s personal representative and held the post of High Personal Representative of the Republic from 1987 to 1989. A constitutional amendment that set a requirement of age 35 for ministers resulted in his departure.

While serving as Bongoville representative in the National Assembly, he became the President of the Higher Council of Islamic Affairs of Gabon in 1996, and Minister of Defense in 1999.

Bongo suffered a stroke in October 2018, while attending an international forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Ali Bongo suffered from a stroke during stint as Gabon's president. Photo: AFP

Shortly afterwards in January 2019, he suffered yet another setback. A coup d’etat was staged against him but failed. He went on to announce that he would run for re-election in 2023.

The elections were held on August 26 and the electoral commission declared him winner on August 30. But soldiers announced they cancelled the results, seized power and placed him under house arrest.

TRT Afrika