Gabon's long-serving president dies

Published: June 24, 2009

Omar Bongo, Gabon's longest serving president, has died of a heart attack on June 8 in a Spanish hospital at the age of 73. He had been president of the African nation since 1967. He is said to have stopped work in May, checking into a clinic in Barcelona, with reports claiming that he had cancer.

According to reports, the internet has been cut off since June 7 while state television is playing religious music. The government also closed Gabon’s international airport and the nation’s land and sea borders.

His son, Ali Ben Bongo, 50, Gabon's Defence Minister and favourite to succeed him, announced on television: "I am calling for calm and serenity of heart and reverence to preserve the unity and peace so dear to our late father.”

Bongo has ruled in Gabon for nearly 42 years, making him Africa’s longest-serving ruler. He ruled the country as a one-party state, and is rumoured to have built up a personal fortune of billions of dollars from deals made with French oil companies in the 1970s and 1980s, which the organisation Transparency International claims he used to buy real estate in France. 

In late 2007, Gabon issued a US$1bn 10-year Eurobond, which was celebrated as one of the first Eurobond issues from Sub-Saharan Africa. Spreads on the Eurobond held steady following the president’s death, according to Francis Beddington, head of research at Insparo Asset Management. “He had been ill for a while and people were aware of it. Prices were off for a little bit, but not a great deal”, Beddington says.

Rating agency Standard & Poor's affirmed its 'BB-' long-term and 'B' short-term sovereign credit ratings on Gabon with a stable outlook. The ratings agency said it expected “economic policy continuity” in the government despite the president’s death.

Gabon has great capacities for production and export of oil which is its main income. “I think people are waiting to see how the transition goes and what happens next,” says Beddington. “There is a confident situation for oil prices as they are elevated. We haven’t seen much impact, but we have to wait and see. It’s bad politics but good numbers.”