Real Leadership — Stability In A Sea Of Change
Civil war in Africa. This simple four word phrase seems to sum up the perception of most outsiders throughout the world when asked about the state of affairs on the African continent, the birth place of mankind. In the last 40 years twenty countries, or almost 50 percent of all nations south of the Sahara, have experienced at least one period of civil war. This state of affairs has stereotyped Africa as a doomed continent rife with ethnic and tribal conflict.
Though many attribute the source of these various conflicts to ethnic and tribal differences, researchers at The World Bank concluded, after a careful study, that failure at both a political and economic level are at the root cause of most civil conflicts. Ibrahim Elbadaur and Nicholas Sambanis wrote that political and economic development can effectively reduce or eradicate political violence in Africa.
Enter Gabon, which seems to be at the eye of this tumultuous African storm. Gabon is one of the few countries in Central Africa that has never — since its independence from France — been affected by an armed conflict. Gabon, an oil-rich Central African nation, with a population of 1,300,000 and a geographic area of 26,700 square kilometers, is considered one of the most stable in the region.
For almost 40 years, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba has served as President of the West African coastal country of Gabon. Under his leadership, Gabon has become one of Africa’s wealthiest and more prosperous countries fueled in part by the discovery of oil. According to the World Fact Book, Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most nations of sub-Saharan Africa.
Critics attribute much of Bongo’s success to his strong arming of the political system and his use of patronage throughout his own political party. It is hard to argue with his success however in keeping Gabon out of armed conflict with rival factions within the country.
Bongo rose quickly within the leadership structure of Gabon. He entered civil service in 1958, was promoted to Minister of Information and Tourism in 1966, and was named Vice-President in 1967. He took over the office of President a year later at the age of 32 after Leon M’ba, the country’s first president, became ill and died suddenly.
Despite the troubles in the headlines of papers throughout the world concerning Gabon’s neighbors like Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, and Zaire, Gabon has been a rock of stability. Although the country was initially constituted around a one party system in the early 60’s, Bongo prodded the country to a multiparty democracy by 1990. Although it would have served him to maintain the single party system, Bongo legalized opposition parties at that time and Gabon has been a model for the rest of Africa since. Many have attributed the success story of Gabon’s unprecedented peace, stability and economic status to Bongo’s experience and leadership.
In the upcoming elections, in 2005, there has been some controversy about the nature of the election process itself. The opposition, headed by a former ally of President Bongo, Zacharie Myboto, has been critical of the two day election process. He points out that the military will be voting first, alluding to the fact that this could somehow sway the general electorate. However, the mere fact that the opposition can speak out against Bongo, without fear of recrimination, is a testament to budding democracy that is forming in Gabon under President Bongo’s political leadership. Bongo is quick to remind his detractors that it has taken the U.S. over two centuries to develop a legitimate election process. He also points out that many Americans still have concerns over the fairness of both statewide and national elections.
President Bongo has not solely focused all his efforts on political change. He has also been a true early adopter where the rights of women in his own country are concerned. Due to the actions of Gabon’s President real social reforms have occurred focused on equal opportunity for women. Bongo institutionalized the observance of women’s rights and parity. He instituted compulsory schooling of all girls age 6 to 16 years. He created a Ministry for the Family, child welfare and promotion of the woman, and the protection of widows and the orphans. “Where the men have failed the women must succeed”, stated Bongo on many occasions.
The President of Gabon has also been credited for his efforts to restore peace and stability throughout Central Africa, in particular the Republic of the Congo, Chad, the Central African Republic and Sao Tome and Principe. In October 2001, the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, serving as mediator in the political and ethnic crisis of Burundi, entrusted Bongo with the mission to pursue negotiations with the armed movements of Burundi. Mr. Mandela has great respect and appreciation for President Bongo as Bongo was one of the few who supported him financially during his exile.
Recently Bongo, co-chaired the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, alongside Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, which was held in September, 2005. Bongo opened the event with an appeal for worldwide action to prevent conflict and genocide. Bongo also focused his efforts on the plight of Africa, seeking more support for the promotion of human rights and conflict resolution. The 38 year president of Gabon, echoed the sentiment of Sweden’s Prime Minister, calling on the Summit to “act together to give our future generations a better world.”
The leader of Gabon has always had a strong interest in the welfare of those of African decent who now reside in the United States. Bongo, though a practicing Muslim, sought the assistance of Rodney Sampson CEO of The Intellect Group and founder of the World Christian Times , to develop a presence in the US whereby the Gabonese President could effect change in the lives of many Americans. The Living Legacy Foundation, a US non-profit organization based out of Atlanta and chaired by Bongo, has now been launched to train and raise up one million young leaders in the US, Africa and around the world.
The announcement of the organization has received broad support from a number of world leaders in politics, faith and business, including Bishop Mike Jocktane of France and Gabon and Bishop Carlton Pearson of the US. “After I was approached by President Bongo’s senior advisor Bishop Mike Jocktane, about representing and advising the President in North America and Gabon, my firm conducted extensive due diligence on both President Bongo and his country.”, states Sampson. “Simply put, Bongo gets things done and facilitates real change. This global leader doesn’t just talk a good game, he delivers – locally and abroad. That is refreshing when talking about any head of state”.
Living Legacy will target the pop and hip hop culture within the US. “We will accomplish our goals and objectives through a number of high profile international events, “train the trainer” training techniques, organizational partnership and strategic outreach,” said Rodney Sampson. “Our first major event, Leadership 2006, will be held next year in Atlanta.”
In direct contrast to how President Bongo’s political opposition in the upcoming election portrays him, Bongo’s inaugural event for the Living Legacy Foundation, LEADERSHIP 2006 is a major highly progressive global leadership event bringing together prominent leaders in business, politics, religion and government from all faiths, creeds and disciplines. Some dignitaries, celebrities and other prominent figures that have been invited to participate are: Former South African President Nelson Mandela; former US President Bill Clinton; Reverend Jessie Jackson; The Honorable Minister Lewis Farrakhan; Rick Warren; John Maxwell; actor Chris Tucker; Bono; and Kanye West. This divergent group will converge in Atlanta to exchange, contribute and plan the execution of real ongoing activities for cultivating tomorrow’s leadership.
Despite criticism from his opponents, it seems that President Bongo’s growing legacy is one of “stable change for the better”. It is not always the loudest in the group that gets the most done. Sometimes the person who has been around the longest is the one who can get results in the real world. That about sums up Gabon and the leader of this Island of Tranquility, Omar Bongo.
Press Direct International
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