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Late Gabon Leader Remembered as Hero of Stability Not Freedom


Gabon's Senate leader Rose Francine Rogombe will be sworn in as acting president Wednesday, following the death this week of President Omar Bongo, Africa’s longest serving president.

The head of Gabon's constitutional court, Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, said Tuesday that Rogombe will take the oath of office during a ceremony in the capital, Libreville.

The move is in line with Gabon's constitution, which the government has said it will respect during the post-Bongo transition. The constitution gives Rogombe 45 days to organize elections to replace Mr. Bongo, who led Gabon for more than four decades.

African political writer Ali Mazrui and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton said the late Bongo was not a hero of freedom but a hero of stability.

“As you know he had been around for so long that sometimes one forgot he was still around. But that was good news because he did succeed in establishing stability so we were not experiencing terrible news from his country. So that is to his credit. He’s a hero of stability, not a hero of freedom, but a hero of stability,” he said.

Yet Mazrui said Bongo’s political longevity might not have necessarily led to democratic participation and economic development for Gabon.

“In his case, there could have been more development with the resources that the country has and the relative smallness of the population. But there was some positive change over the years,” Mazrui said.

He said the late Bongo was fairly good at rallying opposition parties toward some kind of national consensus.

Mazrui hoped Gabon would be spared the successor difficulties that plagued Ivory Coast following the death of founding President Felix Houphouet Boigny and Guinea-Conakry after the death of President Lansana Conte.

“One of the big questions hanging over Gabon is whether Bongo established enough consensus for the country to reach agreement on a successor without turmoil,” Mazrui said.

He expressed optimism the month-long mourning period would give the Gabonese people enough time to put together a more stable transition.

Mazrui said he does not approve of what seems to be a trend nowadays by some African leaders to change their constitutions in order to prolong their stay in power as was the case recently of President Mamadou Tandja of Niger.

“In general I think we should cultivate the humility that was shown by Nelson Mandela (of South Africa) when he stepped down even after one term by recognizing the infirmity of his age and the need to recognize term limit

Mazrui said changing constitutions to remain in power was bad for democracy in Africa.


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