Gabon president in Morocco to convalesce

Ali Bongo (File: AFP)
Ali Bongo (File: AFP)

Gabon's President Ali Bongo arrived in Morocco on Thursday to convalesce after a month's treatment at a Saudi hospital for an illness that has not been officially revealed.

The 59-year-old leader of the oil-rich West African state had been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since October 24 when he fell ill at an economic forum.

After his arrival in Rabat, Bongo was taken to a hospital in the Moroccan capital to pursue his convalescence and rehabilitation, a Moroccan diplomatic source said.

His transfer was "in accordance with the wishes of his excellency President Bongo, in agreement with the constitutional institutions of the Gabonese Republic, and in accordance with the opinion of the doctors," the Moroccan foreign ministry said in a statement.

After an extended period of silence, the Gabonese presidency eventually admitted earlier this month that Bongo was "seriously ill" and had undergone surgery, but said he was on the mend.

His recovery would take weeks, or even days, according to a source in the presidency.

No pictures were released to show Bongo's arrival in Morocco nor since his hospitalisation in Riyadh, sparking concerns in Gabon over his health.

A lack of official news - along with memories of the secrecy-shrouded death of Bongo's father Omar Bongo in 2009 after decades at the helm - had sparked numerous rumours, including speculation he was incapacitated or even dead.

The Bongo family has governed Gabon for five decades.

Ali Bongo was elected head of state after his father's death.

He was narrowly re-elected in 2016 after beating opposition challenger Jean Ping by a few thousand votes following a presidential poll marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud.

 Domestic crisis 

Over the past month, the Gabonese presidency has released only two statements on Bongo's health.

In the first, several days after his hospitalisation, presidency spokesperson Ike Ngouoni said that Bongo was "suffering from severe fatigue".

Then on November 11, Ngouoni admitted the president was "seriously ill" and had undergone surgery.

Following discomfort and "persistent vertigo... the first tests revealed bleeding which justified medical surgical care in a highly specialised sector," the spokesperson said quoting a medical bulletin from doctors treating Bongo.

Earlier this month, a foreign source close to Bongo and his French-born wife Sylvia Bongo Ondimba told AFP the Gabonese president had suffered a stroke.

But at no time did the Gabon presidency reveal the nature of Bongo's illness.

It was his wife who announced his departure from Riyadh to Morocco on her Facebook page.

She said he was able to travel due to a "very significant improvement" in his health and that his recovery in Morocco would be "brief".

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba also said that her husband would use his stay in Morocco to work on "top priority dossiers" concerning Gabon and would summon presidential aides to help him.

Her remarks led the Gabon review website to write on Thursday that the "management of the president's health has put the spotlight on his very powerful" family and "shows proof of the impotence of the state apparatus".

The crisis surrounding Bongo's health prompted Gabon's Constitutional Court to modify in mid-November the country's basic law to address the president's "temporary incapacity".

The court also authorised Vice President Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou to chair a cabinet meeting for the first time since Bongo's absence.

Opposition figures and civil society have denounced the court's move as illegal.

On Thursday a Gabon trade union coalition, Dynamique Unitaire, called for a general strike on December 10-12, saying Bongo's absence is depriving the country of a necessary interlocutor to solve problems linked to austerity measures taken recently by the government.

It also said it would organise a peaceful march on December 18 to denounce "the illegal modification of the constitution".

The African Union has warned Gabon to respect "constitutional order".

The Gabonese president and Morocco's King Mohammed VI have had a close relationship since their youth.

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