Omar Bongo, who has died aged 73, was the longest-serving president in African history, leading Gabon for 41 years and shamelessly looting the country's oil wealth.
A diminutive, dapper figure, who conversed in flawless French and alternated between pomposity, courtesy and cruelty as required, Bongo treated Gabon as a self-obsessed landlord treats his private estate. He considered everything inside its borders to be his personal property and elevated corruption to a method of government.
Bongo amassed enough wealth to become one of the world's richest men. His great political achievement was to ensure that the revenues from Gabon's 2.5 billion barrels of oil reserves guaranteed his grip on power. He carefully allowed just enough oil money to trickle down to the general population of 1.4 million, thus avoiding any serious unrest. Meanwhile, he offered his domestic critics a bargain they could not refuse: drop your opposition in return for a modest but glittering slice of the nation's oil wealth. By this method, he bought off every opponent and became the most successful of all Africa's francophone tyrants, comfortably extending his political dominance into a fifth decade.
The largest share of the oil money was, of course, reserved for Bongo himself, his family and the aristocracy of his own Bateke tribe. Earlier this year, Transparency International began investigating him for embezzlement. Few were surprised when it emerged that Bongo owned 33 properties in Paris and Nice with a combined value exceeding 125 million pounds. The American authorities turned up 86 million pounds in accounts in New York.
These discoveries were probably only the tip of the iceberg: Bongo's fortune certainly ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars and may have reached the billions.
Some of the oil money was used for great public works – and slavish glorification of the leader became de rigueur. Thus Gabon acquired Bongo University, Bongo Airport, numerous Bongo Hospitals, Bongo Stadium and Bongo Gymnasium. The president's home town, Lewai, was inevitably renamed Bongoville.
Occasionally, Bongo would boast of his great benevolence. One American ambassador was summoned to the presidential palace in the capital, Libreville, to hear the president proclaim that he intended to make a multi-million dollar donation to charity. "And will this sum come from your personal funds or from state funds?" asked the diplomat. Bongo was genuinely bewildered by this question. The two men quickly agreed that such fine distinctions were meaningless in Gabon.
Omar Albert Bernard Bongo was born on 30 Dec 1935 in the town of Lewai near Gabon's eastern border, into one of France's smallest and most placid African colonies. The youngest of 12 children, he was an intelligent and ambitious young man and chose the only career open to young blacks under French rule: a junior clerical job in the colonial administration followed by a place in the armed forces. Bongo was a lieutenant in the air force when Gabon won independence in 1960.
He was fortunate to receive the patronage of the country's first president, Leon M'Ba, who gave him a series of junior cabinet posts. In 1966, M'Ba promoted Bongo to become vice-president, probably judging that the young man, who was barely 30, posed no political threat. But M'Ba became gravely ill and died the following year, allowing Bongo to succeed him as president on 2 Dec 1967 at the age of only 31.
This was an era when France made no effort to disguise its direct influence in former colonies and, by the same token, African leaders did not pretend to conform to democratic norms.
Bongo, an ardent Francophile, was happy to strike a favourable bargain with the old colonial power. He gave the French oil company, Elf-Aquitaine, privileged rights to exploit Gabon's oil reserves while Paris returned the favour by guaranteeing the young president's grip on power for the indefinite future.
France kept its military bases in the country and a contingent of paratroopers underwrote Bongo's rule. The president trusted no-one but the French and his own family. Bongo duly made his son, Ali-Ben, defence minister and his daughter, Pascaline, foreign minister and then chef de cabinet.
He spent as much time as he could in Paris, revelling in his friendship with a succession of French presidents, particularly Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac.
Bongo behaved like an ageing sybarite during these long sojourns. An Italian fashion designer has testified that he kept Bongo supplied with prostitutes. When an international beauty contest was held in Libreville, Bongo took a shine to Miss Peru, who found herself ushered into the presidential bedroom. The terrified young woman managed to flee.
When the Cold War ended, the old bargain between Bongo and Paris required modest adaptation. The president legalised opposition parties in 1993 and allowed a series of supposedly fair elections. In fact, all his opponents had been bribed and suborned.
According to Gabon's prime minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong, Omar Bongo, who converted to Islam in 1973, died in hospital in Barcelona yesterday afternoon. Ndong's statement came after furious official denials of Bongo's demise, which was initially reported on Sunday. As late as yesterday morning, Ndong was insisting that Bongo was "alive and well".
Bongo left a divorced wife, Patience, two daughters and a son. Another wife, Edith Lucie, predeceased him.
【重要人物】 哈吉·奧馬爾·邦戈·翁丁巴：總統。1935年12月30日生於加蓬上奧果韋省弗朗斯維爾附近的萊科尼縣。巴太凱族。1958年畢業於布拉柴維爾市技術學校貿易專業。同年入法國空軍服役。加蓬獨立後入外交部任職。1962年3-10月任總統辦公室副主任、主任。1963年2 月-1964年4月負責新聞和旅遊部工作。此後負責國防工作。1965年9 月-1966年11月先後任總統府負責國防的部長級代表和新聞部長。1967年11月任政府副主席。1967年3 月當選爲共和國副總統，11月繼任總統，1973年2月正式當選總統。1979年、1986年、1993年、1998年和2005年連任。1968年創建加蓬民主黨，任總書記，1986年改任主席，1990年辭去主席職務。1974-2008年間11次訪華。已婚，多子女。