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Who is Gabon's President Ali Bongo?

World

President Ali Bongo

10 months ago
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To some, he is a spoilt, playboy prince who sees ruling the oil-rich Gabon as his birthright; a one-time funk singer who stepped into his father's shoes to continue his family's 50-year rule.

To others, he is a reformer - a man who, they would argue, was voted into power democratically by the masses.

But his recent ill health has pushed tensions to the surface in this country of just more than two million people. On 7 January, a group of soldiers tried - and apparently failed - to take control.

Among their stated reasons was an attempt to "restore democracy" following the 2016 election, which Mr Bongo narrowly won amid accusations of fraud and acts of violence.

Gabon's outsider

Ali Bongo was born Alain Bernard Bongo in neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville in February 1959.

But even his birth was controversial. Rumours, which he has always denied, have persisted for years that he was adopted from the Nigerian south-east at the time of the Biafran war.

The young Alain Bernard was still in primary school when his father Omar Bongo took control of Gabon in 1967. Already, however, the groundwork was being laid for criticisms which would haunt him later in life.

"He wasn't born in the presidential palace, but almost. He was about eight when his father became president," François Gaulme, a French historian and author on Gabonese politics, told the BBC.

"The fact that he went to the best schools in Libreville and didn't learn local languages was something he would get criticised for later on."

At the age of nine, Ali Bongo was sent to a private school in the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly, and later, to the Sorbonne where he studied law. This international upbringing led many in Gabon to view him as an outsider.

Ali Bongo is married to French-born Sylvia, pictured here with their four children

source: BBC