Page last updated at 04:07 GMT, Sunday, 30 August 2009 05:07 UK

African view: Will the Bongo dynasty continue?

A woman holds up a poster of Ali Bongo Ondimba

In our series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, Zimbabwean Farai Sevenzo wonders if Ali Ben Bongo, the son of Gabon's late long-serving leader Omar Bongo, is the country's guaranteed next president.

As the Gabonese nation prepares to go to the polls, I've been thinking about them and the question of succession in African leadership.

When President Omar Bongo Ondimba entered the earthly departure lounge in a Spanish hospital back in June, his ensuing death threw into motion the need to go back to the goddess of democracy and offer the sacrifice of a vote to choose a new leader.

But when it comes to these questions of years in power, we think that is not really the issue
Ali Ben Bongo

We do this, every now and then, us Africans. We say goodbye to the dead leader and go and choose another one as if the process of choosing is unique and new, like picking out a new car with your insurance money when you've pranged the last one.

But will the vote bring a new car to the Gabonese? Is it the same make of car but a newer model?

I'm particularly fond of my classic Mercedes, which came off the production lines in the year I was born, and I have no wish to trade her in for one of those newer Mercedes with ridiculous names like Kompresser and shiny metal skin that attracts bimbos.

But as you know, old presidents are not like old classic cars - they are not built like a tank with immortal design flair and their skins will sag and death will call on them one day as it calls on all of us - but their successors can certainly be newer models of the same make of car.

Same car, new model

This brings me back to the citizens of Gabon who are seeking a new presidential model to drive their nation and its riches of minerals timber and oil into the post-Bongo era.

Ali Ben Bongo campaign poster
In 2005, his father's posters adorned the city

For this is yet another lowly populated African country with as much oil reserves as Dubai and Gabon's future should look bright.

So who will turn on the lights as Gabon heads to the polls?

Step forward Ali Ben Bongo - that's right, same car, newer model - for Mr Bongo is surely the man to take over his late father's responsibilities?

I was in Libreville during the last election in 2005 which turned out to be the last one for the dapper old lion Omar Bongo.

His image hung from skyscrapers and a hot air balloon floated over the Libreville sky showed his face to us mere earthlings.

Ali Ben Bongo was the minister of defence then and I found him totally charming.

We sat in his office and conducted a film interview in perfect English and you know how rare it is for Francophones to converse with Anglophones as if they come from the same continent.

Oily riches

I noticed too that his personal assistant was not some long-legged model but a no-nonsense man from China who ushered me into the Defence Ministry's air-conditioned calmness.

Mr Bongo junior was all smiles with a full face that seemed comfortable in middle age.

So it's possible that Gabon may skip a generation and be led by an Old Etonian?
Farai Sevenzo

Men in fine suits and Prada sandals stood around him - the embodiment of Gabon's ruling class.

I wanted to know from him if it was justifiable for his father to have been in power for 38 years.

He spoke calmly and deliberately: "We want democracy, and democracy is good for our country, and the Gabonese have returned President Bongo again and again to office in democratic elections," he said.

"But when it comes to these questions you know of years in power, we think that is not really the issue."

I remember his calm command of the English language and he said he went to university in America.

French President Jacques Chirac and Omar Bongo touring Libreville in a official Rolls Royce in 1996
Omar Bongo had close ties to French leaders

So what about his country's traditional allegiance to France, how strong is that?

"We are an independent nation and we are always looking for new partners," he said.

And that perhaps explained Mr Bongo's Chinese assistant.

Mr Bongo junior spoke like a man who was infinitely aware of his country's value.

After all, France the colonial power has never really left.

Money flows from Libreville to Paris. There are 120 French firms in the country including the oil giant Total and a 10,000-strong French community.

France's 6th Marine Infantry Battalion is also stationed there.

It is little wonder then that President Nicolas Sarkozy and former President Jacques Chirac took time out to bury Mr Bongo senior in June.

Production line

We ended the interview on a personal note. "How many children have you got?" I asked.

Ali Ben Bongo and his wife campaigning
Mr Bongo has had the best-financed campaign

"We have two sons and a daughter. And I'm proud to tell you that our eldest son is currently attending Eton College in England," he replied.

Eton College is an exclusive private school that has produced 19 British prime ministers.

Hearing its name in Libreville came as a bit of a surprise. You can go anywhere with oil money.

"Is he really?" I asked. "So it's possible that Gabon may skip a generation and be led by an Old Etonian?"

He found this very funny and wondered why I was always going back to this point of succession.

But here we are four years on and the presidency is within his grasp.

It is no easy ride no matter what car you're driving.

How will Mr Bongo deal with his late father's frozen assets in France?

With the increasingly vocal opposition? Can he let the oil money trickle down to his impoverished people?

If he wins, he may find that he will not have the 42 years his father had to make his mark and it may soon be time to for the third Bongo to roll off the production line.

If you would like to comment on this column, send us your views using the postform below.

Thanks for your comments. Here's a selection of what we received:

What is wrong with Ali Ben Bongo running for presidency? He has not been installed the president for Gabon, he is seeking the mandate from the Gabonese. If he is elected fairly it will be the will of the people. Let us not be quick to rebuke others. Ben Ali has a democratic right just like the other contestants. What we should be on the lookout for is the management of the electoral process, if it is free and fair then the hue and cry about 'royalism' in Gabon will be merely hypocritical
David Owino, Nairobi, Kenya

Ben Bongo will definitely follow his fathers footsteps whether he is elected democratically or not. he should not be given a chance. give Africa a new face.
Bella, Nakuru, Kenya

The writer sounded like soliciting for Mr Ali but truth is that his response came when election campaign was over so that may exonerate him from canvassing for him. As someone living in Gabon I think that it was not Ali who opted to run for the office but his party that gave him the go-ahead order. It would amount to extra ambition if he had opted to run if his party did not give him the green light as was the case with many of those who pulled out from the party when they did not get an approval from the party. The issue I find distasteful is the use of word DYNASTY Bongo is not from any dynastic line. That he was fortunate to be Africa's longest ruling head of state is because he could be likened to The One eyed man is the country of the blind and or that he knew his onions too well as to be able to manage (manipulate) his people or to be fair to him Lets say he was just lucky So it is not a matter of dynasty but a matter of someone trying to contribute his fair share towards! The development of the poor masses So if at the release of result it happens that Ali emerges as winner All efforts should be made to help him succeed and not to remind him of Who and or What his father was. If by God's grace any other person enters what we all look out to is how to ensure that the more than extra resources that nature endowed on Gabon gets to the masses. Lets disabuse our mind of certain terminology that make ridicule of us the Africans. The age of Kingdoms are gone and have been overtaken by democracy.
Gaspar Obinna, Libreville, Gabon

What is going on in Africa from father to son and son.......Is this what we called democracy? We need to start thinking on the word with special reference to Africa
Michael, Freetown, Sierra Leone

I think the young man Ali Bongo did well as a defence minister. I have live in Libreville since 1998. Gabonis should understand the devil they know is far better than the angel they don't know. Ali knows this is the time for development and employment. I hope he wins the election.
Malachy, Libraville, Gabon

God, I did not see this before the election but please BBC help us where the French failed. We don't want a monarchy after 42 years of a cunning dictatorship. This small piece of land called Gabon deserves alternating leaders to assess public affairs management.
Kabele Abumanguya, Souba, Gabon

The Bongos shouldn't make Gabon a family business.
Mooya Ng'andu, Luaska, Zambia

I have always had my predictions right as father-son-grandson dynasty will rule most of Africa. A few countries like Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania will be exceptional. But roll out Africa and see. Togo, a Junior Gaddafi waiting and probably disturbed by Senior's longevity, Mubarak, Morocco, Swaziland (defended coz of monarchism?), DR Congo, the list is endless. Good thing with this is peaceful transition with minimal political and economic disturbances. We would have saved lives in Kenya if Moi handed over to Gideon or Obote to Akena in case of Uganda. So the Junior Bongo will have no problem to ascend to the Gabonese throne. Gabonese may then sing "long live the King" as the Etonian Crown Prince awaits his turn.
George Lukwago, Kabale, Uganda

I liked how the author of this article weaved in talking about the most possible leader of Gabon, Ali Ben Bongo along with buying a new car. I was asking myself if his father, Omar Bongo was a good leader, and whether if his soon will be any good. If he isn't elected, there might be a new path for Gabon.
Spencer Mitchell, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI, US

I don't see the reason why Bongo Jnr should run 4 the leadership of Gabon. Others should be given a chance too. Is not a family business.
Benedicta, Jos, Nigeria

The sad thing about African leaders is that when they are initially elected, they claim it is a democracy. But soon after their usual 'victory', they turn the system into a monarchy, some kind of an 'unroyal royal' family. Luckily, in Zimbabwe the 'unroyal royal' family of Mr Mugabe does not have a son old enough to be on the current royal production like. But we never know, the Zimbabwean constitution is changed as often as one changes his\her underclothes. Many years ago the little baby prince was shown on TV in full military uniform inspecting, together with his royal father, a military guard of honour at the airport. Surprises never cease!
Chenjerai Hove, Stavanger, Norway/Zimbabwe

Never mind the poor people as far as Mr Bongo and of course France, get their "fair" share of Gabonese oil money. Long live democracy!
Yohannes, Eritrea

You've got to be kidding me. Did the BBC write so fondly of Mobutu, Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe??? 42 years of rule, then the son takes over, and the BBC thinks all is good in this little world?? Is this a monarchy? Would the British accept Tony Blair's son so easily? I want to puke!
Frederic Ngoma, Libreville, Gabon

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