Entries in Gabon (2)


Gabon Activists Praise 'Nightline' For Highlighting Controversial President

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Citizens of Gabon hailed an ABC News report for helping draw attention to allegations of corruption in their West African nation, and for pushing the White House to explain why President Obama had agreed to meet with Gabon's controversial president, Ali Bongo.

As detailed in this week's episode of Brian Ross Investigates, Gabon activist Marc Ona called the Nightline report an important documentation of the Bongo family's beahvior and said "Gabonese civil society congratulates you."

"We continue to work in Gabon for good governance and the struggle against corruption," said Ona, who was jailed by Ali Bongo's late predecessor – and father – President Omar Bongo.

The Nightline report, which aired the night before Ali Bongo's Oval Office meeting with Obama, noted that the Bongo family has ruled oil-rich Gabon for more than 40 years, and has been accused of taking bribes, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, and presiding over a system rife with corruption while a third of the country's population lives on two dollars a day. A criminal complaint in France has tallied more than 30 Bongo-owned properties in the country and questions whether the family used embezzled money to purchase them. The family also owns multiple million-dollar mansions in Beverly Hills.

Brian Ross Investigates shows White House Press Secretary Jay Carney conceding to Jake Tapper of ABC News that Gabon's president has a "less than sterling" record, but saying that Gabon was an "important partner" in national security and that the meeting was a gesture of support for Bongo's reform efforts.

After the meeting with Bongo, and the release of pictures showing the two leaders sharing a laugh, the White House issued a statement emphasizing that President Obama had urged the Gabonese leader "to take bold steps to root out corruption and to reform the judiciary and other key institutions to ensure the protection of human rights." Another Gabonese viewer thanked ABC News for the report in an email to the Blotter's tip line, saying it gave the Gabonese people a voice that they otherwise would not have.

"You highlighted most of the frustrations and violations [we] have been subjected to since 1968. In September 2009 I wrote to the White House about the [Gabon] election and the fraud that was about to take place. I did not receive a response. The reply from the White House press secretary is an example of what we have come to expect from the international community."

"I was in Gabon in February to see my family," wrote the viewer. "I can tell you the situation is getting worse and nobody is safe in Gabon anymore."

President Bongo has adamantly denied he is a thief, or that there is widespread corruption in his country.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Invites Controversial African Ruler to White House

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The family that has ruled the African nation of Gabon for decades has been accused of taking bribes, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and presiding over a system rife with corruption, but that hasn't stopped President Obama from inviting President Ali Bongo of Gabon to the White House Thursday.

White House press secretary Jay Carney conceded to ABC News on Wednesday that President Bongo has a "less than sterling" record, but said that it was "very important" for President Obama to grant Bongo the coveted Oval Office meeting anyway.

"First of all, the president of Gabon is making reform efforts, which we support," said Carney.  "Secondly...Gabon has been an important partner in some of the issues that are very important to American national security."

Jack Blum, a United Nations consultant and expert on offshore banking, said that the invitation sends a disturbing message.  Blum estimates that in years past the Bongo family and its cronies have "siphon[ed] off 25 percent of the gross domestic product of the country.  And it's made them incredibly rich."

"There's absolutely no shame," said Blum.  "I would say that the people who are running the country are guilty of grand theft nation."

The Bongo family, as detailed in an ABC News investigation that aired on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline Wednesday night, has ruled the oil-rich but underdeveloped nation since 1967.  After the death of his father Omar Bongo two years ago, Ali Bongo was himself elected president, and now presides over not only Gabon, but a family empire, allegedly the product of corruption, estimated by U.S. investigators to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Omar Bongo and now his son Ali Bongo have for more than 40 years run a regime in Gabon which diverts their country's wealth for their family's personal use," Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Michigan, told ABC News.  Sen. Levin said that a 2010 Congressional report on foreign corruption from an investigative committee that he chairs "shows how the Bongos misused U.S. financial institutions to carry out suspicious transactions involving millions of dollars."

The Bongos have literally dozens of luxury homes worth millions of dollars everywhere from Beverly Hills, where they own three homes, to the French Riviera.  After a criminal complaint filed by a human rights group, authorities in France found that the family had more than 30 luxury properties in that nation alone, including a $120 million, 14-bedroom townhouse in Paris that Ali Bongo bought just last year.

During a 2006 shopping spree in Malibu captured by VH1, Ali Bongo's then-wife Inge turned up her nose at a $25 million mansion.  "I need something really big, really, really, really big," she said.  "I would think for that amount of money, I would expect a bit more grandeur."

"I've tried to downsize, but it's just not in my character," concluded Inge.

The Bongos' lifestyle is a stark contrast to how most people live in Gabon, a French-speaking West African country the size of Colorado that is home to 1.5 million people.  Oil revenues make Gabon one of Africa's most prosperous countries, but it is also a place where some families are still forced to pick through garbage to eat.  One third of the population lives on $2 per day.

The U.S. says there have been improvements under the new President Bongo, but according to the State Department's most recent report, Gabon is still a place of "widespread government corruption" marked by the "use of excessive force by police," where even taking picture of the Bongos' many palaces is against the law.

President Bongo refused repeated requests by ABC News for an interview to discuss allegations of corruption.  One of his top aides said no reputable news agency would ask such questions, and he accused ABC News of conducting a smear campaign against the president.

In Gabon, people can go to prison for criticizing the ruling family.  That's what happened to Marc Ona, a polio victim who is one of the few people in Gabon to criticize the Bongo family's continued rule publicly.  He was briefly sent to prison for it by Bongo's father.

Asked if he thought that by talking to ABC News he was exposing himself to the possibility of fresh trouble with the government, Ona said, "Yes, but I don't care."

Ona said he had to evade secret police to meet with ABC News late at night in a hotel in the capital of Libreville, but that he wanted Americans to know that corruption and impunity are still rampant under President Bongo.

President Bongo has used his money to travel the world in style and make lots of important friends.  In New York last year during a United Nations meeting, he rented an entire museum to throw a party in his honor, where he was praised by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for his work in protecting the African environment.

His entourage all stayed at one of New York's most expensive hotels, with such celebrities as comedian Chris Tucker dropping by to visit.

When ABC News dropped by for a visit and a few questions, the reaction was very different.  "You're coming here with a biased approach," said a Bongo aide, who put his hand on an ABC News camera and ordered, "Get out of here, get out of here."

A spokesman for President Bongo insisted to ABC News that he is a reformer who is working to fight corruption in the country.  The spokesman offered no explanation to ABC News, however, as to how Bongo's family has been able to amass such a great fortune. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio