- President Omar Bongo of Gabon (73) is fighting for his life in a hospital outside Barcelona, Spain. Spanish authorities confirm President Bongo, Africa's longest-serving ruler, "is very ill".
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos today confirmed that the Gabonese leader had been admitted to the Quirón clinic outside Barcelona after becoming seriously ill. "He is very ill," Mr Moratinos told the media today.
He further confirmed, for the first time, that President Bongo had been at the Barcelona hospital for over two weeks. Neither Spanish nor Gabonese authorities had wanted to comment on this earlier, and the press in Spain interpreted today's statement as a signal that Mr Bongo may now be terminally ill. Also the Quirón clinic so far has denied any comment on Mr Bongo's admission and health situation.
The 73-year-old has held on to power in Gabon with an authoritarian hand since 1967 and is now Africa's longest-serving head of state. Fuelling his state and personal economy with a large oil production, Mr Bongo has been reluctant to enter any real democratisation process in Gabon, though allowing for manipulated elections since the 1990s.
In Gabon, the strongly government controlled press has not been able to report on the President's serious illness. The only indication on Mr Bongo's retirement from power came on 6 May, when government announced that Mr Bongo would be "momentarily suspending his activities," referring to a non-defied mourning period after his wife had died in a Rabat hospital on 14 March.
While both the Spanish Foreign Minister and the Barcelona clinic today confirmed Mr Bongo's illness, government sources in the Gabonese capital Libreville still maintain the President is in good health and only observing his mourning period. The Gabonese government maintained the Spanish reports were "false".
Since Mr Bongo suspended his activities earlier this month, Vice President Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge has been heading cabinet meetings in Libreville. Mr Ndinge however has not wanted to assume the title "Acting President" so far.
In the case of President Bongo's death, the Gabonese constitution foresees that the Head of Senate assumes powers as Acting President for a duration of maximum 90 days, which are to be used to organise elections. The Gabonese Senate is currently headed by Rose Francine Rogombe. Ms Rogombe, if allowed to take on transition powers, would be constitutionally banned from running as presidential candidate.
With a strongly polarised society, an oppressed opposition and decades of hierarchic structures basing all powers on personal ties to President Bongo, it is feared that the leader's death could lead to political instability in the Central African country, not ruling out the possibility of a military takeover.
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