Speaker of the senate in Gabon Madame Rose Francine Rogombe, nee Etomba, has been sworn in as interim president of Gabon, following the recent death of President Omar Bongo. The 66 year-old Madame Rogombe was sworn in at the International Conference Centre in the capital, Libreville, on Wednesday morning, and she has only 45 days to organize elections in the country.
“I swear to devote all my strength to the good of the Gabonese people, with the aim of promoting its well-being and protecting it from all harm, to respect and defend the constitution and a state of law, and conscientiously to carry out my duties and to be fair to all,” Ms Rogombe vowed.
A lawyer by profession and member of the Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG, founded by the Late Bongo), Rose Francine Rogombe has served as the Gabonese Secretary of state on a number of occasions, especially under the government formations of Léon Mebiame (1975-1990). Last February she was elected to head the Senate.
Although there seem to be a general acceptance of Rose Rogombe, critics have said that Gabon’s catch-22 is still ongoing as the longest serving male President is succeeded by a shortlived female President who is widely expected to be succeeded by the late President’s son. According to reports, the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) is contemplating on hand picking the late president’s son, Ali Ben Bongo, to lead the country. Ali-Ben Bongo is currently the Defense Minister.
The Army and the police are keeping a low profile on the streets of Libreville, which are calmer than usual, and the city’s mayor has banned large gatherings and ordered nightclubs and bars to close, while security forces are on patrol.
Reports also claim that the Gabonese government has ordered Gabon Telecom to take Gabon off-line so as to control access to information in the aftermath of the president’s death. The death of the 73-year-old president, who was Africa’s longest-serving leader, was announced on Monday. President Omar Bongo, who had led Gabon since 1967, died of a heart attack, hours after government sources said he was alive and well. His body will be repatriated from Spain where he had been undergoing medical treatment on Thursday.
Late President Omar Bongo led the oil-producing West African state for more than four decades. Many in Gabon saw him as a guarantor of the former French colony’s stability. But critics said his rule was based on violence and corruption, accusing him of amassing a personal fortune from the country’s oil boom. Mr. Bongo’s wealth was a well-kept secret, but he is thought by some to have been among the world’s richest men. His path to power began – as for many future African leaders of the time – in the colonial military.
Several of his political opponents were killed during the 1970s but France which has huge oil interests in Gabon has always played a key role in preventing civil war in the country when the opposition staged violent demonstrations against the government of president Omar Bongo.
As head of state for 35 years, he is outdone only by Togo’s President Gnassingbe Eyadema in terms of longevity of leadership: Not even Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda, who proclaimed themselves as presidents-for-life, ruled for so long.