Why Gabon’s president is promising to give away his inheritance to a youth foundation

Back in office.
Back in office.
Image: AP/Bart Maat
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Gabon’s president Ali Bongo Ondimba has promised to give up his share of the inheritance from his father, who ruled the country for over four decades and whose estate is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’ve decided with the full agreement of my wife Sylvia Bongo Ondimba and my children that my share of the inheritance will be shared with all Gabonese youth because in my eyes we are all heirs of Omar Bongo Ondimba,” he said on Monday (Aug. 17), referring to his father, who presided over the country from 1967 until his death in 2009. “No Gabonese must be left by the side of the road.”

The announcement, which critics are calling a publicity ploy ahead of a presidential election next year, is more evidence of the growing troubles facing one of Africa’s wealthiest political dynasties. Ali Bongo and his political party, Parti Democratique Gabonais, are under fire over the country’s faltering economy, union grievances, and allegations of money laundering and corruption.

Property in Nice, France registered to former Gabon president Omar Bongo in 2009.
Property in Nice, France registered to former Gabon president Omar Bongo in 2009.
Image: Reuters/Eric Gaillard

The historically stable oil-rich country has been hit by falling oil prices—economic growth dropped to 5% in 2014, from 8% in 2013. The dependence on oil revenues has made the government resistant to calls to raise the minimum wage. Meanwhile, human rights groups posthumously accused the former head of state of using government funds to buy luxury cars and homes in France when a third of Gabon’s population lives beneath the poverty line. Intense infighting among family members over his estate has further discredited the family in the eyes of the public. (The former president is believed to have recognized 52 children.)

As a result, support for the opposition is growing—in April, riots broke out after the death of opposition leader Andre Mba Obame, when rumors spread that he’d been poisoned. The president may be hoping to win back some of that support with his donation.

His children will also be giving two homes in central Paris, of the 39 luxury apartments and houses that his father is believed to have bought in that city, to the state for “cultural and diplomatic use.” Bongo’s inheritance will go toward an unspecified foundation focused on youth and education. He did not say when that will happen.