|Biographical detail : ||Africa’s longest-serving ruler
Gabon’s president, Omar Bongo, ruled his small West African nation of 1.5 million people for 41 years – longest service in the history of Africa.
A disciple of the first generation of African leaders, Omar Bongo came to power and presided over an oil boom that fuelled an extravagant lifestyle for him and his family. Immensely wealthy in office he served as France’s point man in the region dubbed “Francafrique”.
A former air force officer and senior civil servant, Omar Bongo rose rapidly through the ranks after independence to become one of the continent’s youngest heads of state in November 1967, when his country’s president died.
Being the absolute ruler of his country Omar Bongo curtailed dissent, opposition and the press. However, with the tide of money from offshore oil fields, and his style was to co-opt or buy off opponents rather than crush them outright. But the surge of money did little to lift his country’s downtrodden people out of chronic poverty.
El Hadi Omar Bongo Ondimba, formerly Albert Bernard Bongo, converted to Islam in 1973, was born to a peasant family in south-eastern Gabon into one of smaller ethnic groups. He died at a hospital in Barcelona, Spain, of cardiac arrest.