5 July 2012

Gabon: Opposition Angered By Hollande Meeting Ali Bongo

Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba was due to meet France's new leader François Hollande on Wednesday afternoon on a one-day visit to Paris.

Bongo's opponents claim that Hollande is already backing down on his promise to end Paris's cosy relationship with African dictators.

As well as Hollande, Bongo is to meet Foreign Afffairs Minister Laurent Fabius and Economy Minister Pierre Moscovici.

During this year's presidential campaign Hollande vowed to put an end to Françafrique, the privileged relationship between France and some of its former African colonies that has guaranteed lucrative contracts for French companies and Paris's support for corrupt and authoritarian regimes.

Ali Bongo's father, Omar, ruled Gabon for 41 years and was always the first African head of state to be invited to the Elysée after a French presidential election. In inviting his son, who succeeded his father in a controversial election in 2009, Hollande has disappointed the Gabonese opposition.

"All African peoples who have a peculiar relationship with France considered President Hollande's election as an occasion for new hope when he said that the 6 May [the day of his election] would be good news for democrats and a nightmare for dictators," commented Bishop Mike Jocktane, a member of the banned National Union party.

Gabonese opposition supporters in France joined forces with Jean-Muc Mélenchon's hard-left Left Front on Wednesday to criticise the meeting, branding Bongo a dictator, who has "taken over all the attributes of power".

Last April Hollande declared that the 2009 election "was not within the criteria of what one could be called a democratic election" and his Socialist Party criticised last year's parliamentary election, which were boycotted by the opposition.

Bongo is expected to outline reforms that he has promised between now and 2025 and his spokesperson, Alain Claude Bilié, seemed relaxed about the possibility that Hollande might raise concerns over the way the country is run.

"François Hollande will certainly have the chance to give the French point of view, which is worthy of respect. Gabon will give its point of view. And that will be it," he said before the visit.

France is the largest foreign investor in Gabon with French companies Total, Eramet, Bolloré and Rougier operating there.

A French in 2010, ordered an investigation into corruption allegations relating to the assets of three African heads of state, including Omar Bongo, in France.

On Monday Hollande met Guinean President Alpha Condé. He is to meet Senegal's Macky Sall on Friday.

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