The president of Gabon has not been seen in public for months, leading to speculation about his continuing ability to rule the country.
The president of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, has not been seen in public since he fell ill on October 24, at an economic forum in Saudi Arabia.
Ali Bongo took power in 2009 after the death his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled Gabon since 1967.
Ali Bongo fell ill earlier this year. However, the presidential office did not comment on the subject for over a month.
Gabonese Prime Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet, has travelled to Morocco several times accompanied by senior officials to visit Bongo in hospital.
“The head of state is conscious, he recognises who he is speaking to, he can see well, he speaks well, his voice is good,” Ngondet has told reporters.
State television in Gabon has portrayed Ali Bongo in silent footage or pictures, which has not helped in stemming the speculation on the state of his health.
Official news has also been hard to come by, which has fuelled rumours that Ali Bongo is dead or incapacitated and, for many in Gabon, has brought memories of the secrecy that shrouded the death of Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo.
The supreme court of Gabon in November intervened as it became increasingly clear that Ali Bongo’s absence had constitutional ramifications for presidents that were unable to execute their duties.
The supreme court authorised the prime minister to hold cabinet meetings, a role usually reserved for the president, but the move was condemned by the opposition.
Gabon has been ruled by three people since independence in 1961, two of which are father and son.
Secrecy around other African leaders
Ali Bongo is not the first African leader whose health has been shrouded in secrecy.
The Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has not been seen in public for months and rarely accepts foreign leaders.
Since Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013, he has been rarely seen in public and has been wheelchair-bound, often seen as making little to no movement.
Most recently Bouteflika was unable to meet Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman due to an “acute flu”.
Last year, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari spent more than 150 days on medical leave in London, leading to speculation that he was critically ill. Similar to the Algerian and Gabon presidents, the health of Buhari was shrouded in secrecy, leading to widespread rumours and unrest in the country.
It remains unclear whether Gabon, a country of two million, will be able to achieve a smooth transfer of power.
The Bongo family has remained in power for more than five decades. In 2016, President Bongo was narrowly re-elected, beating opposition challenger Jean Ping by a few thousand votes in polls that were widely marred with allegations of electoral irregularities and violence.