by keith harmon snow
American and European imperialists mourned the recent death of Gabon President Al Hajji Omar Bongo Ondimba, the longtime dictator and servant of western corporations and governments. It is fitting that Paris, London, Brussels and Washington miss him, since Bongo was largely their creation, especially the French secret services. Far from a benign strongman, Bongo and his thugs “have killed a lot of people with no one knowing about it. People just suddenly disappear or turn up dead.” Part One of Two.
The Crimes of Bongo: Apartheid & Terror in Africa's Gardens of Eden, Part One
by keith harmon snow
“For forty-one years Bongo ran the country of Gabon as a private enterprise for himself, his family, his foreign backers and protectors.”
The June death of Gabon’s little ‘Big Man’—President Al Hajji Omar Bongo Ondimba—inspired praise worldwide. Cameroon’s President Biya saluted Bongo’s wisdom while French President Sarkozy called Bongo the “great and loyal friend of France.” Equatorial Guinea declared three days of national mourning and a “saddened” U.S. President Obama lauded Bongo’s role in “shaping” U.S.-Gabon relations for 41 years and his dedication to nature conservation and conflict resolution. “At a continental level,” bemoaned Zambia’s President Banda, “he was a pan-Africanist who tirelessly and tenaciously worked for the unity of the African continent.”
Behind the crocodile tears the news of Bongo’s death saw police and troop reinforcements hitting the streets of Gabon—France’s private Eden in Africa—as the old crocodile’s teethy security apparatus clicked into lockdown. Who are the white secret service agents behind Bongo (See the ancient photo of Gabon’s then new President, Albert-Bernard Bongo, circa 1965.) And then there’s Halliburton, nuclear weapons, secret societies… Who was Omar Bongo really?
In September 2003 the National Geographic unveiled the first in a series of feature stories about the world’s “least spoiled” and “most threatened” tropical forests. The “Saving Africa’s Eden” series showcased elephants walking on white sand beaches, silverback gorillas in lush greenery, and hippos surfing in the salty sea. Omar Bongo—“a self-possessed man with a wide mustache and a warm smile”—was the African hero who created thirteen new national parks literally overnight.
The National Geographic series followed the adventures of the requisite modern day white-skinned Tarzan personified by American biologist J. Michael Fay—the “man who walked across the continent of Africa”—and photos showed Fay trekking through the equatorial jungle, crisscrossing savannahs and, later, surveying the wilderness with the charismatic black-skinned then U.S. Secretary of State—fresh out of a helicopter for a photo op—General Colin Powell.1
It was all so captivating that I got the idea I had to go there. And so I did. Intrigued by the stories in National Geographic—which I recognized as the propaganda of the corporate empire2—in late 2004 I took a “vacation” from the beauty and bloodshed in the big Congo (Kinshasa) and hitchhiked across the (not-so) little Congo (Brazzaville) for a visit to “paradise.”3
“Gamba Complex is a private zone controlled by Shell Oil, with checkpoints and guards, where pipelines, oil barges, well-heads and huge toxic flames burning off natural gas are more visible than the elephants.”
From Libreville I flew to Gamba, in the south of Gabon, took a boat to Sette Cama, and spent Christmas 2004 with my base camp on a bluff some 50 feet above the ocean in Loango National Park, the jewel of Gabon’s largest new protected area, the 1,132,000 hectare “Gamba Protected Area Complex.” It is also the heartland of Shell, Halliburton and Schlumberger operations in Gabon.4
“Blue seas, white sand, elephants, whales, sea turtles, monkeys, bush pigs, unbelievable scenery,” biologist Fay was quoted to say. “Gabon has it all. It has everything that everyone ever dreams about in paradise, as far as I’m concerned.”
J. Michael Fay was right, I said to myself, many times, surrounded by beauty and wildness, warm (90 degree) mists on the ocean and elephants on the beaches, soaring ospreys and chimpanzees falling out of trees, and the peace of the deserted shores of one of the most fantastic enduring wild places on earth.
But J. Michael Fay skipped the dirty details. Fay didn’t mention the poverty and suffering of black Gabonese villagers whose mud-hut and malaria suffering stands in sharp juxtaposition to the swimming pools and golf courses for highly paid white expatriates, sport fisherman or adventure tourists. Or that the Gamba Complex is a private zone controlled by Shell Oil, with checkpoints and guards, where pipelines, oil barges, well-heads and huge toxic flames burning off natural gas are more visible than the elephants. And the medical waste, dumped at sea, that litters the “pristine” beach: one day I picked 48 syringes with 2 inch needles out of the white sand where I was walking barefoot. J. Michael Fay became a personal adviser to Omar Bongo, but he didn’t tell us about the terror Gabonese people live and die with.
“It [‘Saving Africa’s Eden’] is unbelievable,” Marc Ona Essangui told me, in Libreville. It was just like another film about Africa.” In April 2009, Marc Ona received the Goldman Environmental Prize 5 for his selfless grass roots struggle to exposing corruption and human rights violations and protect Gabon’s environment, and he was threatened, arrested and illegally detained by the Bongo government.
“They announced that setting up these new Gabon parks would bring one million tourists a year, but even Kenya couldn’t do that. The pictures in National Geographic suggested that it’s easy to encounter these animals, but it’s not. It would take many days. Even though the whole world may perceive that conservation is proceeding in Gabon, this is not the reality.”
“Why did Bongo create [gazette] these thirteen new reserves? Because of scandals that took place in the past few years, like the financial scandal with FIBA Bank and the fraudulent presidential elections here, and to create tension and play off the United States against France. Bongo needed to find some way to repair relations with the United States.”
“President Omar Bongo was portrayed as the intent listener, the wise philosophical leader, the humanitarian negotiator.”
Welcome to Gabon, a small otherwise unheard of Banana Republic in equatorial Africa. Hippos in the surf… gorillas in the mist… the adventures of the great white Tarzan, National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, J. Michael Fay, “the crazed American, the wild child who footed his way across all those nearly impassable forests and swamps, who sat half-naked atop the Inselbergs, who brought back photos and tales of a Gabon that Omar Bongo himself hadn’t known existed.”6
Now he’s bushwhacking through tropical lianas and serpent filled trees with machete… now’s he wading through leech-filled crocodile swamps… his trusty negro porters and trackers at hand…now he’s being gored by an elephant… Welcome to the state-of-the-art cartography and explorer-conqueror genre: Fay’s private helicopter almost daily dropping supplies in the jungle to the tune of hundreds of thousands of U.S. taxpayer dollars and mom & pop conservation donations…
The coup des grace on all this propaganda was the portrait of Omar Bongo—the altruistic African President more interested in saving the environment than selling it off for the glitter of gold or the bling bang of diamonds or for parquet floors and plywood. President Omar Bongo was portrayed as the intent listener, the wise philosophical leader, the humanitarian negotiator. He was not—according to the spin-doctors of the propaganda system—your usual African dictator who packs people’s severed heads in his refrigerator (Idi Amin) and later has his ears cut off (Samuel Doe).
The National Geographic photos of Eden unveiled were splashed all over cyberspace. Films were made and speeches given to capitalize on the momentum of public interest. Maps and guides were mass produced, DVDs and coffee table picture books, interactive features—even “classroom companion African resources” to properly influence the kiddies. The travel agencies jumped on board. Everyone was echoing the mantra: “Could Gabon be the next ecotourism destination?”
The National Geographic series was a sort of public relations pitch for the big money conservation non-government organizations—Bi(g) NGOs or BINGOs—who get all the funding: corporate entities like World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. But the series also introduced and paved the way for the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), a predatory USAID7 initiative involving some seven African countries, U.S. logging companies, NASA, the Pentagon and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, launched under President George W. Bush.8 In 2002, Walter Kansteiner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, paid a six-day visit to President Omar Bongo to negotiate the CBFP, and “Saving Africa’s Eden” whitewashed the Kansteiner story as falsely as they did the Bongo regime.
“It was all a smokescreen, a blanket of propaganda draped over the primitive realities of the country of Gabon.”
National Geographic was selling ecotourism and wildlife protection as a panacea to “save” Africa’s idyllic gardens of Eden. But it was all a smokescreen, a blanket of propaganda draped over the primitive realities of the country of Gabon. The script was written by big business masquerading as conservation: the Wildlife Conservation Society wrote Colin Powell’s speeches, delivered in Johannesburg. Kansteiner was described as a humanitarianism possessed with the need for democracy, health care and peace, but the Kansteiner family profits by exploiting Africa as ruthlessly as King Leopold. Trading in columbium tantalite (coltan) out of the bloody Kivu provinces of D.R. Congo, Kansteiner is also a director of Moto Gold, a company that sprouted out of the genocide in the DRC’s bloody Ituri districts.9
Today the blanket of propaganda is being draped over the casket of Albert-Bernard Bongo, the elfish little man who for forty-one years ran the country of Gabon as a private enterprise for himself, his family, his foreign backers and protectors. Articles that mildly illuminate the corruption of the Bongo government merely serve to distance Western governments and cover for multinational corporations and state sponsored terrorism by blaming everything on Bongo.10
This was not my first visit to Gabon. In 1997 I was focused on the murder of Ken Saro Wiwa and the petroleum genocide in the Niger River Delta.11 I wanted a visa for Nigeria, and I passed through every country around or near Nigeria trying to get one. But the country was closed under dictator Sani Abacha—the butcher—and I was too frightened to enter Nigeria without a visa.12
Ghana was an Anglo-American stronghold, but the others I passed through were all Francophone dictatorships: Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo, Cameroon—and Gabon. It was a wake-up call to the structural violence that enslaves Africa and enriches the West and its comprador class agents like Omar Bongo.13 (Of course, U.S. President Obama’s recent criticisms of corruption and cronyism in Africa are extremely hypocritical, at the very least.)
In Libreville I met Thierry (not his real name). Thierry quietly told me he had worked in human rights until he became a very outspoken critic of the government. He was on the run, living “underground” and existing by moving, one day to the next, through networks of friends. He was an intellectual, and he described a climate of terror in Gabon involving extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture, all run by Bongo’s intelligence operatives and the Deuxieme Bureau, also known as the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE), the French secret service.
The most egregious repression occurred in 1990, Thierry said, when civilians were massacred during the “pro-democracy” protests in Port Gentil. The true human rights situation is hidden, he said, even after numerous letters were sent to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
“President Bongo knows everything that goes on in Gabon,” said Thierry. “Everything. Nothing happens that he does not know about. And there are very sophisticated forms of terror, like torture, disappearing, ritual killings, using plain-clothes operatives, in designer blue jeans or NIKE tracksuits. Bongo knows all about it—he is involved—and they have killed a lot of people with no one knowing about it. People just suddenly disappear or turn up dead.”14
A white woman named Catherine who worked in language translations confirmed the 1990 massacres. “There are a lot of things you can do in the United States that you cannot do here,” Catherine told me, acerbically, “and one is to be politically curious. You just don’t go around asking these kinds of questions here. You would never get away with it but even if there was an attempt to investigate the massacres it would be blocked.”
“Protestors were taken out over the ocean in oil company helicopters and pushed out, alive or dead.”
I also met a white expatriate consulting in the oil sector. He had just come from Port Harcourt, Nigeria but he shuffled around between Cameron, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. “Foreigners who work in Gabon work in wood or in oil,” he said. He confirmed that killings were routine before the mid-1990’s, and that massacres occurred in Port Gentil just as Thierry had said. He said that the stories about protestors being arrested and tortured were true. “It was not just a few people killed,” he insisted. “It was a lot of people. Protestors were taken out over the ocean in oil company helicopters and pushed out, alive or dead. It’s more than just a rumor.”
Togolese and Nigerian refugees in Benin, human rights activists in Cameroon, all have described these terrorist tactics involving petroleum sector helicopters. One Togolese refugee explained that in Togo they didn’t just push people out, they hang them from helicopters and fly low over the “jungle communities” to instill them with terror.15
“Bongo used to just kill anyone he wanted, openly, before 1990,” a local Gabonese man, Maconi, told me in Libreville. Maconi’s family is involved in the timber sector in Gabon, and his mother is French and he moves within the French community. “Bongo would just kill them without trying to keep it quiet. Now  it is different, it is subtle, quiet, you don’t see it, but it hasn’t stopped.”16
From the very beginning, circa 1865, Gabon was the focal point from which France projected its military and economic power across the continent, serving as an intelligence-gathering base much as Burkina Faso has historically served that role for Israel and the Congo (Zaire) has for the USA.
In fact, France forced Gabon’s independence movement to accept France’s full economic control as a pre-condition for “independence.”
Gabon’s first President Leon M’ba—and his early one-party dictatorship—set the stage for the Bongo regime both through sheer corruption and the Gabonese state’s nefarious military and intelligence alliance with the French. A rapid intervention by French Foreign Legion commandoes secured M’ba’s presidency after an attempted coup d'etat in 1964: M’ba was said to be a close friend of Charles De Gaulle. Many of Mba and Bongo’s French supporters considered Gabon their private domain and were threatened by Gabon’s “independence” after decades of French colonial occupation. When M’ba died of illness, Bongo took the reins and with the help of France he consolidated absolute power: one of the fledgling President’s first actions was to immediately dissolve all political parties and replace them with the ‘Democratic Party of Gabon.’
“France forced Gabon’s independence movement to accept France’s full economic control as a pre-condition for 'independence.'”
Charles de Gaulle and his ‘Monsieur Afrique,’ Jacques Foccart directly installed Bongo in 1967. Bongo was the choice of a powerful group of Frenchmen—the Clan des Gabonais—composed of key members of the French government and influential Gabonese in alliance with strategically placed French nationals who controlled the economy of Gabon.17 Foccart maintained French control in the former colonies through the Reseau Foccart, an intricate “network” who collaborated with the French military and major French economic interests to guarantee access to strategic minerals. Former French ambassador and close M’ba adviser Maurice Delauney was a central figure in the Foccart network and the man who handpicked Bongo as Mba's successor.18French mercenaries and legionnaires like Bob Denard were (and remain) members of the Clan des Gabonais, using Gabon as home base for intelligence, covert operations and terrorism from Sao Tomé to Madagascar.19 French soldiers operate within the Gabonese military and French pilots in the Air Force; elite Mirage and Jaguar aircraft from the French air force are based on the military side of the Leon Mba airport in Libreville.
Petroleum exploration in Gabon was begun in the early 1930s by the French national oil company and Gabon was the first African country to host French oil giant Elf in the 1960s, from where Elf operated as a state within a state, serving as a base for French military and espionage activities, and for many decades Libreville remained the French nerve center of covert operations in central and southern Africa.20
Shell Oil entered Gabon in 1960 (Nigeria in 1958). Other oil companies in Gabon today include: AGIP (Italy), Amerada Hess (USA), AMOCO (US), BP (British Petroleum), Occidental Petroleum (USA), Energy Africa Gabon (South Africa), Pan African Energy, Marathon Oil (USA), Exxon/Mobil (and subsidiary Esso Exploration West Africa), Broken Hill Petroleum and Tullow Oil, a U.K.-based profiteer also involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in eastern Congo and Uganda.21 The French oil conglomerate Total acquired Belgium’s PetroFina in 1999 and Elf-Acquitaine in 2000, creating one of the world’s nastiest multinational oil companies.
For almost 50 years, France’s entire international security policy—its classified nuclear weapons strike force (le force de frappe atomique) and atomic reactor complex —revolved around access to uranium from Gabon and Niger. Uranium in Gabon was discovered in 1956 and exploitation began through the Compagnie des Mines d’Uranium de Franceville (COMUF), a consortium involving multinationals like Total and AREVA, in 1958.22COMUF is 68.4% owned by French multinational COGEMA, which is also one of Canada’s largest uranium producers; COGEMA is partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy in the production of nuclear fuel for the U.S. weapons complex. The infamous U.S. multinational Union Carbide, responsible for crimes against humanity in Bhopal, India, was heavily involved in another catastrophe: uranium mining in Gabon. A hospital near the remote Mounana uranium mine has documented the long history of under five children living and dying with disfigured bodies, gynecological tumors, blood and skin diseases, cancers and leukemias, or the epidemics of radiation poisoning that quietly obliterated so many adult miners over 38 years of operations.23 It is the same, ugly story in Niger, only uglier, due to higher populations of Tuareg and Toubou nomads; National Geographic writers who have whitewashed Gabon hide the same ugly imperial realities of uranium.24,25
Also involved in uranium in Gabon are: Motapa Diamonds (U.S.A.); Mineral Services International (Cape Town, Vancouver, London, Gaborone and Libreville); Pitchstone Exploration (Canada, U.S.A.) and CAMECO (U.S.A., Canada)—a DeBeers connected company also tied to the Washington D.C. law firm Winston & Strong.26, 27, 28
“France forced Gabon’s independence movement to accept France’s full economic control as a pre-condition for “independence.”
Manganese is essential for superalloys essential to the western aerospace and defense complex: Gabon is the second largest producer behind South Africa and manganese is Gabon’s third largest export earner. U.S. Steel owned 44% of Gabon’s manganese producer, the Compagnie Miniere de l’Ogooue (COMILOG), which U.S. Steel set up with France in 1953; U.S. Steel reportedly sold out in the 1960’s, but 60% of COMILOG was controlled by French and U.S. interests until 1996 when Eramet Group (France) bought 57%, leaving the Gabon government with 27% and ‘other private parties’ (read: U.S. & French businessmen) with 16%.29 COMILOG has a capital value of over $80 billion and its profits soared from US$ 4.2 million in 2003 to US$ 183 million in 2004; about one-third of COMILOGs production is used by Eramet's manganese plants in France, Norway and USA (two-thirds goes to China, India and Ukraine).
COMILOG also controls the TransGabonese Railway—crucial to the massive devastation of rainforest logging. (Due to heavy metals emissions, Eramet Marietta is under fire in Ohio and West Virginia for epidemics of disease.30) Repression in the logging sector in Gabon is widespread: foreign companies penetrate rural areas, dividing and conquering forest people with cash and conflict, bringing alcohol, hunting, prostitution, traffic in endangered species, and direct paramilitary violence. The entire western NGO (e.g. BINGOs like WWF, WCS, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Great Apes Survival Project, Jane Goodal Institute) narrative on the ‘bushmeat trade’ ignores the role of state repression backed by western institutions and the private profits and white supremacy of the BINGOs.31
Directors of the mighty French nuclear conglomerate AREVA also serve on the boards of Lloyd’s of London, Goldman Sacs (USA), Power Companies of Canada, Euro Disney, Total Oil and others. AREVA’s connections to the Belgian establishment include intelligence insider Viscount Etienne Davignon, a man deeply tied to the depopulation of the Congo (DRC) through his long-time directorship of Belgium’s Societé Generale—one of the DRC’s longest and most lasting enemies and the copperbelt giant Union Miniére. Davignon is also an affiliate of Donald Rumsfeld and George Schultz through Gilead Sciences, a U.S. pharmaceutical (read: biowarfare) firm, and he is a director of Kissinger Associates.32 Davignon was Belgian Minister of State during the ‘independence’ transition (1960) and the installation of Colonel Joseph Mobutu. A 2001 Belgian parliamentary enquiry explored Davignon’s role in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, but the enquiry was a political tool from the start and, naturally, exonerated Belgian officials of all but ‘moral responsibility’ in the assassination.33
“French mercenaries and legionnaires like Bob Denard were (and remain) members of the Clan des Gabonais, using Gabon as home base for intelligence, covert operations and terrorism from Sao Tomé to Madagascar.”
Successive government’s of Japan have also supported the corruption and terror in Gabon through mining and oil and direct financing provided by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to the Bongo regime.34 Mitsubishi holds four major petroleum concessions, one in partnership with Tullow Oil, but Gabon was also critical to Japan’s nasty atomic reactor industries.
The stranglehold of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) economic austerity plans led to civil unrest as labor taxed, wages were cut, education and public health sectors, never much to begin with, were gutted. By the late 1980’s Bongo was overseeing a massively oppressive regime predicated on state terror backed by France and, more poignantly, multinational corporations.
With the fall of the Berlin wall and the Soviet Perestroika the veneers of stability in Gabon gave way to deep, festering wounds of decades of state oppression: students, onshore oil workers, civil servants and the general public took to the streets in pro-democracy protests. It was the same story in Burma, South Korea, Indonesia and China, but only Tiananmen Square made the news: China is considered an “enemy state” of Western predatory capitalism, while the others are client states.35 It was the same story in Port Gentil and Libreville, Gabon as in Colonel Joseph Mobutu's Zaire, General Gnassingbe Eyadema's Togo, Paul Biya's Cameroon, and General Ibrahim Babangida's Nigeria: all Western client states which saw massive repression of civil society, with student massacres, 1989-1991. This state orchestrated terrorism occurred at Jos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and in Lubumbashi, Zaire (May 11-12, 1990), and massacres were covered up by the West and its propaganda system; subsequent student-government clashes in Zaire occurred in Kisangani, Mbuji-May, Bukavu, Kinshasa and Mbanza-Ngungu during the communications blackouts, and were never known to the world in any details.36,37 Meanwhile, Dennis Sassou-Nguesso and Omar Bongo collaborated with Mobutu to prevent all news of the Lubumbashi massacre from leaking out. And then, a few weeks later, Bongo had the same problem: corpses needing to be disappeared.
The violence in Gabon reached a local peak in March, April and May of 1990. Pressured to declare the “end of one party rule,” Bongo and his one-party state set about to neutralize all significant opposition. The people protested fearlessly. The state terror apparatus clicked into action after foreign oil sector executives (e.g. Shell Gabon's director André-Dieudonne Barre) complained.38
On May 21, 1990, France sent in several hundred elite paratroopers. Dubbed “Operation Requin” (Shark), the rapid intervention forces of the French Foreign Legion 2nd Paratroopers Regiment (REP: 2eme Regiment Etranger des Parachutistes)—the elite of the world’s elite soldiers—were sent to support the French Foreign Legion Infantry Regiment (REI: 2eme Regiment Etrangere d'Infanterie) troops permanently based in Gabon. The REP was known to attach U.S. covert operatives on missions and is described as “some of the most skilled and dangerous soldiers on earth.”39
“Key opposition leaders were assassinated or disappeared.”
From May 21-30 some 500 French troops were dispatched to the luxury oil city of Port Gentil. Bongo, furious, arrogant and absolute, declared a “state of siege” throughout the coastal province of Ogooue-Maritime, the only significant population center in the country. Quite literally overnight, key opposition leaders were assassinated or disappeared.But the French troops collected all French nationals at the Elf Corporation compound in Port Gentil and together with the Presidential Guard they battled with “rebel forces” [read: civilian protestors]. The Presidential Guard was “credited” with the killing and not the French troops —it is always black Africans who are credited with massacres in partnership with foreign troops.40
While reporting that “several people had been shot in the unrest”—official reports today suggest only five dead41—international media also reported that the Presidential guard crushed civilian barricades “deploying tanks, automatic weapons and grenades” and, in the last days, finally “began to round up demonstrators” amidst “continued intermittent gunfire.”42 But people in Gabon report that at least 500 to 600 civilians (some say 2000), many of them students, were massacred on the streets of Port Gentil—from May 21 to May 31, 1990—by the orders of President Omar Bongo.43
The appearance of tolerance for any “opposition” in the country was provided by a faux opposition connected to Bongo's and France's multinational corporate competition: any true opposition was bought off by Bongo and/or compromised by their participation in secret societies (like the Freemasons).44 The intelligence networks and terror apparatus targeted anyone unable to be silenced by bribery or blackmail. The long arm of Omar Bongo’s assassinations squads even reached outside Gabon: in 1996 one opponent of Bongo was assassinated in France on the orders of Libreville.45
All so-called “elections” that have occurred in Gabon (Cameroon, Togo, Nigeria, post-1994 Rwanda, etc.) are demonstration elections meant to legitimize nasty dictatorships serving western capital.46 Of course, President Omar Bongo Ondimba always won—in 1993, 1998 and, most recently, 2005—and Bongo’s foreign patrons characteristically whitewashed elections violence.
Meanwhile, Bongo visited the White House, and its counterparts in France, England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Canada, Germany, China and Saudi Arabia.
Military relations between the U.S., Canada, France, England and Israel on the one hand, and the dictators like Bongo on the other, continued throughout their decades long tenures, no matter their brutalities: under the Clinton Administration, for example, the Pentagon sent U.S. covert forces to train General Eyadema and Paul Biya’s elite killers under a new program, the Africa Crises Response Force (“Force” was later changed to “Initiative” to soften it, transforming ACRF to ACRI); troops also trained at the Pentagon’s Special Operations School at Fort Hurlburt, Florida.47
Bongo meddled in weapons and money-laundering: one of Bongo’s private arms dealers, Frenchman René Cardona, fell out with Bongo and was imprisoned in Gabon in 1996: a corruption investigation in France found that Cardona’s son paid 300 million CFA francs into Bongo’s personal account to buy his father’s freedom.48
“The offshore petroleum industry was designed to operate as an independent state.”
Gabon grew to become an unprecedented example of the success of the national security client state, where the offshore petroleum industry was designed to operate as an independent state, with its own private communications, transport, and supply chain infrastructure thus making offshore oil operations immune to onshore civil strikes or public protests. The oil operations grew to become islands of stability staffed by foreign expatriate labor and management, supplied by independent shipping and aviation, protected by elite networks of the foreign and domestic security apparatus.
DIALING FOR DICTATORS
For some forty-one years the Elf-ish Albert-Bernard Bongo ruled Gabon. Was Bongo the international humanitarian and peacemaker that the propaganda system has universally portrayed him as? Why do so many people know so little about the realities of life and death in Gabon?
In his widely lauded 2004 book, A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa, Howard W. French, the former New York Times bureau Chief for Africa from circa 1993-1998, had only this to say of Gabon: “It has long been said that even tinier, oil-rich Gabon next door [to Congo-Brazzaville] was the world’s leader in per capita champagne consumption.” 49
However, back in 1995, Howard W. French reported that Bongo and friends patronized lavish prostitution scandals run by Europeans; one Italian fashion designer who ended up in a French court admitted to personally furnishing Bongo with French call-girls charging $15,000 a visit in exchange for $600,000 tailoring contracts.50 French also reported: “the French engineered a partly successful boycott of an international investors conference in Gabon this year because it was organized by an ex-American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen.”
“One Italian fashion designer admitted to personally furnishing Bongo with French call-girls charging $15,000 a visit.”
What the New York Times forgot to add was that Herman Cohen, who worked in the George H.W. Bush administration, was a lobbyist whose firm Cohen & Woods (C&W) was paid $300,000 to present Gabon as a “politically stable and economically successful country” and to “generate awareness of President Bongo and his national and international accomplishments,” including the “very concrete process of democratization and democratic reforms.” 51
C&W also whitewashed the crimes of another blood-drenched client near Gabon, the government of Eduardo Dos Santos in diamond and oil-studded Angola. While C&W were peddling influence for Bongo and Dos Santos, the U.S. State Department was flagging humans right in Gabon for extra-judicial killings, torture, corruption and election rigging; Angola was far more grim.52 It was the tip of the iceberg on the brutal dictatorships and plunder of the oily Gulf of Guinea.
It was Herman Cohen and James Woods that convinced African countries to participate in the Pentagon’s ACRF, the precursor to the current Africa Contingency Operations Training Program (ACOTA), two programs training killers under a “peacekeeping” smokescreen: Gabon has participated in both. C&W were also pimping for Military Professional Resources Inc., the private military company out of Virginia; MPRI and LOGICON, another Pentagon contractor, advanced the ACRF/ACOTA cause, and benefited from it.53 One of the primary architects of ACRF was Susan Rice, Barrack Obama’s foreign policy adviser and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. since January 2009.54
Over the past two decades the Bongo regime has been publicly whitewashed by public relations agencies connected to power in Europe, Japan and to both political parities in the USA. These included Cohen & Woods, Cassidy Associates, Powell Tate, and Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand in the USA, and UK-based Shandwick Public Affairs.55 PR firms also sanitized the French language markets with customized propaganda. Cassidy & Associates spent between $20-30 million lobbying Congress between 1998 and 2009.In 2000 and 2001, Gabon also hired the public relations firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips.
The son of Jacques Foccart’s affiliate Mahmoud Bourgi, French lawyer Robert Bourgi is considered Foccart’s francafrique successor. As an example of media censorship and postcolonial control, his brother Albert Bourgi is the editor of Jeune Afrique, Francophone Africa’s popular news publication coming out of Paris since 1964, but a disinformation front billed as the “number one Pan-African magazine.” Robert Bourgi was one of former President Joseph Mobutu’s most intimate security advisers and an intimate adviser and lawyer to Omar Bongo.56 On September 27, 2007 at the Palais de l’Elysée, French President Nicolas Sarkozy honored Robert Bourgi with the Medal of the Knight's Insignia in the National Order of the Legion of the French Republic; Bongo’s daughter was also in attendance.57 According to Robert Bourgi, Omar Bongo had President Sarkozy’s overseas-aid minister Jean-Marie Bockel removed due to a “bold” speech denouncing patronage and corruption.58
Gabon also maintained a three-year-old relationship with Jacqueline Wilson, the ex-spouse of senior U.S. diplomat and Gabon Ambassador Joe Wilson, who received tens of thousands of dollars for special projects and reports to President Omar Bongo’s daughter, Pascaline Mferri Bongo.
In another well-publicized case, lobbyist Jack Abramoff was the supposed mover-and-shaker behind the 2003 meeting between Bongo and George W. Bush—a meeting where President Bongo pledged support for the Pentagon’s “war on terror” and signed an “open skies agreement” between the two countries. Abramoff, who was also a Washington lobbyist for President Joseph Mobutu in Zaire (DRC), sought $9 million for his services for the Maryland public relations firm GrassRoots Interactive. 59 Abramoff also reportedly worked with Bongo through David Safavian, a former business partner, former White House budget official and a registered agent in Washington for President Bongo, and also through another of Bongo’s paid influence peddlers in Washington named Joe Slavik, a mysterious insider who is apparently also very close to Bongo’s eldest daughter, Pascaline Bongo who also served as her father’s principal secretary, and is reportedly a director for several large French firms operating in Gabon, including Total Gabon.60 President Omar Bongo left the White House and later attended a lavish dinner organized by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), the public relations wing of the world’s most negligent and destructive corporations in Africa, as everywhere; later still he showed up in Houston as a guest at the Baker Institute. The CCA chairman at the time was diamond magnate and Democratic Party financier Maurice Tempelsman, the United States’ equivalent of France’s “dirty tricks” operative Jacques Foccart.
“Bongo had President Sarkozy’s overseas-aid minister Jean-Marie Bockel removed due to a 'bold' speech denouncing patronage and corruption.”
Tempelsman’s role in interventions in Africa and his networks of organized crime involved in diamonds and cobalt are legendary, but wholly hidden by the bling bling of the propaganda system. One of Tempelsman’s stellar roles was serving as a broker for the Oppenheimer and De Beers diamond cartel—another friend of the Bongo regime. Given the blood diamond wealth in the nearby countries—Angola, Namibia, the two Congos—there is no chance De Beers would overlook Gabon.
Years of prospecting in Gabon by the De Beers cartel led to the development of a cartographic minerals database based on 13,513 sq. kms of terrestrial surveys and 36,580 km of airborne magnetic surveys. One company affiliated with De Beers in Gabon is the Canada-based SearchGold Corporation, which is licensed to exploit 7,865 sq. kms of concession in partnership with the U.K. company Zambezi Gold and its Luxembourg subsidiary Arc Mining and Investment. 61Also mining Gabon is Cluff Mining, a shareholder in Banro Mining Corporation—the Canadian powerhouse that is plundering and depopulating eastern Congo; Anglo-American Corp., the Oppenheimer/DeBeers conglomerate, is a majority shareholder in Cluff.
“Gabon was the only one of France's former African colonies to vote to become a French department, or administrative district, on the eve of independence in 1960, a request that President Charles de Gaulle turned down,” Howard W. French wrote. “Since independence, however, as the extent of the Gabon's oil, forest and mineral wealth has become known, France has fought ferociously to keep the influence of other Western powers in the country to a minimum.” 62
Seven French soldiers died recently when a French army AS 532 Cougar helicopter crashed into the sea off Gabon during joint military exercises.63 While the propaganda system is always advertising withdrawals of French troops from bases in Africa, the French contingents in Gabon will certainly remain.64
Next week: Part II
keith harmon snow is an independent (non-corporate) freelance journalist and investigator whose work revolves around truth, freedom and equality. Entirely dependent on individual donations and voluntary contributions to sustain this work, he has lived under the poverty line for over a decade, while continuing to work as a volunteer for three non-profit humanitarian organizations. On his missions to Africa, keith has provided food, medical supplies and basic health necessities to many, many indigent and suffering people. He is a believer in direct action, non-violent social protest, and civil disobedience. Without your support, he cannot continue to do this important, unique, independent and insightful work. He can be contacted through his web site, All Things Pass.
64Africa Research Bulletin, Vol. 45, No. 3, March 2008, p. 17479.