Suite à l’annonce de la rencontre prévue mercredi 8 juin 2011 à Washington entre Barack Obama et Ali Bongo Ondimba dans le cadre de la prise de Présidence du Gabon à la tête du Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies, la Communauté Gabonaise des Etats-Unis s’est mobilisée pour condamner cette rencontre. La Lettre ci-dessous, écrite par le Comité de Suivi de la Plateforme Citoyenne, a été dispatchée aujourd’hui 7 juin sur les faxes et emails de la Maison Blanche, du Département d’Etat, du Congrès et de certains médias en vue d’interpeller Barack Obama sur ses promesses quant à l’avenir démocratique du Gabon.
The Voice of the Gabonese Community in the United States
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500 June 7, 2011
Re: Urgent Call to Cancel Meeting with Dictator Ali Bongo Ondimba
Dear Mr. President:
Having become aware of your plan to meet with Gabonese despot Ali Bongo Ondimba on Wednesday June 8, 2011, We, the members of the Plateforme Citoyenne (Citizen Platform), write in great urgency to request, in the name of the Gabonese people and of the Gabonese Community in the United States, that you do not meet with the dictator.
Meeting with Ali Bongo Ondimba, Mr. President, would be a slap in the face of the Gabonese people and, at the same time, constitute an unacceptable and contradictory move by the United States. You would basically be condoning the reign of dictatorship in Gabon and the continuation of human right abuses in a country that has been ruled by the same family for 44 years now. You would also be giving legitimacy to an impostor who came to power using arbitrary and illegal means. It is well known that dictators in Africa often seek photo ops with the President of the United States as badges of support that they can then brandish on their national TVs as proof that the United States supports their criminal regimes. As a matter of fact, in 2005, Omar Bongo Ondimba, the father of Ali Bongo Ondimba, paid the now convicted U.S. lobbyist and crook Jack Abramoff a staggering $9 million for the opportunity of a photo op with George W. Bush. He got his photo, and with it, defiantly and arrogantly went on to rig the next election in Gabon. History is now repeating itself under your watch, President Obama. This will be a terrible blow to the Gabonese people.
Mr. President, we urge you to not contradict your own stance on the issues of democracy and governance in Africa. During your Accra visit in 2009, you made history when you stated that Africa did not need strong men, it needed only strong institutions, and you would work only with those leaders seeking to advance the interests of their people through strong democratic institutions. In 2010, you made history again when you received the young leaders of Africa at the white and stated that there could be no development in Africa without democracy and that you were going to stand on the side of the African youth’s aspirations for democracy. Clearly, Ali Bongo is not a representative sample of your stated ideals for Africa. On the contrary, Mr. President, you are basically throwing all those great words down the drain and acquiescing to the status quo of dictatorship in Gabon, and at the same time shattering the hopes for change of the Gabonese and African people. You are also betraying those young people whose dreams of democracy you reignited at the White House in 2010.
The Gabonese people are simply tired of living in extreme poverty in a country that is one of the richest in Africa. The Gabonese people are tired of the 44-year-old reign of the Bongo family. The Gabonese people cringe at the sole idea of potentially living under the despotic rule of the same family for 73 years, which risks happening if Ali Bongo is allowed to rule the country for life the way his father did. Unfortunately, the potential for this happening is now greater than ever after the heir despot amended the Constitution in December 2010 to give himself military powers and the ability to overrule both the Parliament and the Constitutional Court by decree. As a result, the media, the army, the treasury, the parliament and the courts are now more than ever firmly under the firm and personal control of Ali Bongo. This is intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue, especially now that recent revelations in Gabon have provided proof that Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimba used a falsified birth certificate in his bid to become President of Gabon. Using false documents is a crime, and that alone would have been sufficient to lead to his immediate impeachment.
We are sure you know, Mr. President, that Gabon is far from being a democracy. In fact, in its annual reports on Human Rights, the State Department’s own Web site has consistently described Gabon as a country “dominated by a strong presidency and the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), which has held power since 1968.” The reports have further described the country as one in which the “human rights record remained poor,» with “limited ability of citizens to change their government; use of excessive force, including torture toward prisoners and detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; an inefficient judiciary susceptible to government influence; restrictions on the right to privacy; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, association, and movement; harassment of refugees; widespread government corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women, persons with HIV/AIDS, and noncitizen Africans; trafficking in persons, particularly children; and forced labor and child labor.”
Ali Bongo himself is as corrupt as his father was. As a matter of fact, he was recently implicated in various corruption scandals, including recent February 2010 report and findings by the United States Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (https://levin.senate.gov/senate/statement.cfm?id=322089). The Senate found that, in 2006, Mr. Ali Bongo had given $25 million of Gabon’s money to his now former wife Inge Collins Bongo for the purchase of a $25 million mansion in Malibu, California. In 2006, Mr. Ali Bongo and his father Omar Bongo also “hired a U.S. lobbyist, Jeffrey Birrell, to buy U.S.-made armored vehicles and to obtain U.S. government permission to buy six C-130 military cargo aircraft from Saudi Arabia to support his regime.” This report echoes the 1999 investigation by the same Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which had found that Omar Bongo was depositing huge amounts of Gabon’s money (some $130 million) in accounts held at the Citibank of New York. These sums were for personal use and had apparently been illegally siphoned out of the country’s treasury. Various other inquiries have determined that Omar Bongo often illegally allocated himself close to 10% of the Gabonese budget annually, and was receiving annual bribes of 50 million Euros ($68 million) from the French oil company Elf-Aquitaine. And not too long ago, Ali Bongo bought himself a $130 million private hotel in Paris.
The U.S. Senate’s 2010 report is not, therefore, mincing its words when it describes Ali Bongo and his deceased father in the following terms: “Omar Bongo, President of Gabon for 41 years until his death last year, and his eldest son, Ali Bongo, Minister of Defense until he took his father’s place as President of the country […] are notorious for accumulating massive wealth while in office in a country known for poverty.” The system of corruption and money laundering which Ali Bongo inherited from his father is still pretty much intact. Worse, Gabon is an oil-and-minerals-rich country with a per-capita income which the CIA World Factbook rates at close to $14,000 (many times higher than those of China and India), yet 60% of the population still lives under the poverty line, and the country lacks basic infrastructure in the form of decent hospitals and roads. Meanwhile, the Bongo family owns 39 properties in France worth $200 million, including 70 bank accounts and million-dollar collection automobiles. This is just in France alone.
Furthermore, the close to 300 WikiLeaks documents recently leaked that feature American diplomatic cables concerning Gabon provide clear and convincing evidence that the United States does not really believe in the legitimacy of the Ali Bongo regime. For instance, in Cable No. 1473 of November 2009, an American Ambassador charges that France has had a hard time implementing Sarkozy’s “rupture” policy whenever crises related to issues of governance have erupted in its former colonies, such as Mauritania, Gabon, Madagascar, Niger and Guinea Conakry. According to the cable, France has tended to favor the status quo to the detriment of the noble principles of democracy and human rights. In Cable No. 215456 issued by the American Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Mr. Ali Bongo and his deceased father Omar Bongo are shown to have directly benefited from, and plotted, the misappropriation of close to $36 million from the coffers of the Banque des Etats d’Afrique Centrale (BEAC). The Gabonese governor appointed by Omar Bongo had also fraudulently diverted some 500 million Euros of the bank’s money into risky investments in France whose primary aim was to make such funds available to the President of Gabon’s family and political friends in Paris.
We believe the above descriptions summarize in very poignant fashion the main facets of the Bongo regime in Gabon: its political survival for 44 years has been based only on rigged elections, rampant corruption, despotic rule, and use of military force to coerce the People into submission.
It is time, Mr. President, America upheld the principles you yourself have set forth in your stated policies towards Africa. The Gabonese people simply cannot understand why you would ask for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who was overthrown by his people, and forcefully demand, in the case of Côte d’Ivoire, the departure of Laurent Gbagbo following an unconstitutional decision to stay in power, and not support the Gabonese people.
We ask, Mr. President, that you refuse to lend legitimacy to the Ali Bongo regime. Tell Ali Bongo, Mr. President, that you will meet with him only after he has returned Gabon back to, at least, the 1991 constitution, and free and fair elections are held that will bring to power a president really chosen and democratically elected by the Gabonese people.
Interim Managing Committee