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Let Democracy Reign

Jun 10, 2009, 6:59 AM

We are saddened by the death of the Gabonese leader Omar Bongo at the age of 73. He carried on with his presidential duties until May when he left for overseas treatment. He passed away in Barcelona, Spain. For Gabonese in particular, this is a trying moment that needs to be handled with care and discretion. But in general, the rest of the continent shares the grief of the Gabonese people at the passing away of their national leader.

The late Omar Bongo became the president of the oil-rich Gabon at the youthful age of 31, a position he was to hold for the next four decades. He thus earned the title of Africa's longest serving leader. Whether this is an honour or not is a moot point. But democrats would argue that the democratic tenet of limit of term of office should have been respected.

With his death, the senate leader should step in and take charge for 45 days. During this transition period, he is mandated to organize elections that will usher in a new president to steer the affairs of state. Expectedly, the senate president Rose Francine Rogombe is a crony of the late president. This has given rise to doubts about the authenticity of the elections, especially as the opposition is claiming that Ali-Ben Bongo has been groomed to succeed his father. In his father's administration, Ali-Ben has served as the head of the powerful ministry of defence. So the next 45 days are crucial for the political stability of Gabon. The elections have to be organized in a free, fair and transparent manner so that both winner and loser would gladly accept the results in the spirit of national development and progress.

It is important to observe that Africa is almost imperceptibly sliding into a quasi-monarchy where sons are lined up to take over from their fathers. It started in Togo; it now seems to be gaining currency. This is wrong. It is an insidious way for leaders who do not want to quit power to hang onto power even after their death, as power is kept within the family.

The Gabonese people should ensure that they elect a leader who will work hard to distribute equitably their oil wealth for the common good. Other parts of the world that are rich in oil use their prodigious wealth for the benefit of the people. It is only in Africa that oil wealth has turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing.

Under a well-focused leader operating within the framework of an open society, the enormous wealth of Gabon could and should be harnessed for the good of its citizens who paradoxically live in poverty amidst great wealth.

We sympathize with the Gabonese people at this moment of their national grief, but they should sooner shake off their grief and work for democracy and sustainable development in line with the tenets of an open society.

"I sought the image of democracy, inorder to learn what we have to fear and to hope from its progress"

Alexix de Tocqueville

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