Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Omar who?

Most people draw a blank when asked which African leader has ruled for the longest period of time. Was it Mobutu Sese Seko? No. Colonel Muammar Qaddafi? No. Could it be Robert Mugabe? Not even close.

Give up?

The answer is Omar Bongo, who has ruled the oil rich, former West African French colony of Gabon since 1967. The 71 year old ruler made the news recently by sending a journalist to jail and fining him 250,000 Central African francs for "offending the dignity of the presidency". The offense in question, as you've probably guessed, was writing an editorial which criticized Omar Bongo for monopolizing political power in Gabon.

The unlucky reporter had better get used to a whole lot more of Omar Bongo. Since 2003, the Gabonese constitution has "officially" discarded presidential term limits, the existence of which seemed to be purely theoretical considering Bongo's lengthy tenure at that point. Since winning a thoroughly crooked election in 2006, Bongo was sworn in for yet another 7 year term in office. 2012 is five years off, but already, people are asking: will he run again in 2012? What would life in Gabon be like without Omar Bongo? With a half-dead Fidel Castro officially out of power, Bongo could be poised to make a run at the coveted title of the longest actively reigning leader on earth, having a two year head start on his next closest competitor, the aforementioned Colonel Qaddafi of Libya.

Will he pull it off? Dictators of the World thinks so. Bongo keeps a low profile, but frankly, so did Enver Hoxha, who managed to sneak onto our top 10 list. The sky's the limit, even in relative obscurity, for Omar Bongo.

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