Gabon’s President Ali Bongo suffered a stroke in October last year. Since then an attempted coup and long absence from power has left many questioning if Bongo is still fit to continue governing the country.
It is not unusual for African presidents to continue clinging on to power despite concerns over ill-health or advanced age. There are several cases where some leaders have continued to cling on to power while receiving medical care outside the continent. Such cases include Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, and Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba who have occasionally been seen oversees for “routine medical examinations”.
Last month (October) a frail President Bongo made his first live public appearance after stroke. Bongo was seen walking with a stick during Gabon’s independence celebrations. President Bongo suffered a stroke in October 2018, and was out of of the public eye for 10 months. His absence led to an attempted coup on January 8, 2019.
President Bongo continues to rule Gabon since taking over from his father, Omar Bongo who ruled the country from 1967. Omar died in 2009 and at the time of his death, he had been Africa’s longest serving leader. President Ali Bongo has been in power since 2009 and just like Togo’s case of Faure Gnassingbé, who took over power from his deceased father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma who ruled the tiny West African country from 1967 to 2005, there has been opposition to his rule.
President Bongo’s case is no different from that of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who also overstayed in power until the military took over.
Looking at various cases, some African presidents have created fertile ground for the military to come back and interfere with democracy.
In 2016, former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said at a forum in Addis Ababa, “If a leader doesn’t want to leave office, if a leader stays on for too long, and elections are seen as being gamed to suit a leader and he stays term after term after term, the tendency may be the only way to get him out is through a coup or people taking to the street”.
Medical tourism where leaders seek medical care oversees continues to plague the continent, but also, overstaying in power is a huge factor that contributes to military and unconstitutional change of governments. In 2016 Annan further said, “I think Africa has done well, by and large the coups have more or less ended, generals are remaining in their barracks, but we are creating situations which may bring them back”.
While Gabonese officials keep covering up the absence of President Bongo from the country, the reality of what a longer absence from power could possibly do is widely known. Algeria’s former President Bouteflika Abdelaziz, serves as a good example. Bouteflika suffered a stroke but the health issue the long-ailing Bouteflika wanted to seek a fifth consecutive term, a decision which provoked widespread discontent, that eventually led to his resignation.