THE CRIMES OF BONGO
APARTHEID & TERROR IN AFRICA’S GARDENS OF EDEN
keith harmon snow
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.
Forest elephants cross a saltwater estuary at Loango National Park, Gabon, the terminus for J. Michael Fay’s ‘megatransect’ across equatoria.
Photo keith harmon snow, December 2004.
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 empire —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’.
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.
“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 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.”
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.”
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…
Controlled by French companies since 1900, Gabon’s corrupt logging sector is the second largest income earner. One goal of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership is to facilitate U.S. corporate access to Gabon woods to ‘sustainably’ plunder Eden. Over 600,000 m3 of logs are annually exported illegally.
Photo keith harmon snow, Gabon, December 2004.
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 USAID 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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. (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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.’
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. COMUF 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. 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. ,
Controlled by French and North American companies since 1958, Gabon’s (and Niger’s) corrupt uranium sector has poisoned earth and people through radiation and sulfuric acid while fostering atomic terrorism abroad. Gabon’s mines include Mounana (above), d’Oklo, Boyindzi, and Okelobondo.
Photo from Gabon Uranium document.
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. , ,
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%. 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. ) 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.
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. 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.
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. Mitsubishi holds four major petroleum concessions, one in partnership with Tullow Oil, but Gabon was also critical to Japan’s nasty atomic reactor industries.
French President Nicolas Sakozy (2-L) and former French President Jacques Chirac (3-L) pay their respects before the coffin of former President of Gabon Omar Bongo at the Presidential palace in Libreville on June 16, 2009.
Photo by AFP/Getty Images.
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. 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. , 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.
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.”
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.
While reporting that “several people had been shot in the unrest”—official reports today suggest only five dead —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.” 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.
1997 industry map of oil concessions in the Gulf of Guinea and
along the West Coast of Africa. Yellow blocks are ELF (see KEY below).
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). 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.”
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. 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.”
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.”
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 human right in Gabon for extra-judicial killings, torture, corruption and election rigging; Angola was far more grim. 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. 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.
Access to printed matter under African dictatorships is limited: government controlled newspapers are supplemented with pornography, sports and travel trash, titillating tabloids and beauty rags peddling Western decadence and white supremacy; everything is saturated with corporate advertising.
Photo keith harmon snow, Libreville, Gabon, 1997.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. Also 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.”
Seven French soldiers died recently when a French army AS 532 Cougar helicopter crashed into the sea off Gabon during joint military exercises. While the propaganda system is always advertising withdrawals of French troops from bases in Africa, the French contingents in Gabon will certainly remain.
BONGO THE PEACEMAKER
While France was consolidating its control over Gabon it was also arming neighboring regimes: Omar Bongo was their African kingpin.
Under the cover of ‘humanitarian’ flights, the Bongo government shipped weapons from Libreville to the Biafran war in Nigeria 1967-1970, and Bongo imported Biafran rebels connected to secessionist leader Emeka Ojukwu to luxurious lives in Gabon. France also supported the Biafra struggle, where a U.S./NATO/U.S.S.R. blockade led to some 500,000 to 2,000,000 deaths from starvation, disease and war. Shell-British Petroleum and the French state company Société Anonyme Française des Recherches et d’Exploitation de Pétrole (SAFRAP; now Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd.), were centrally involved in the bloodshed and exploitation.
From 1970-1975 France provided over 300 Panhard armored cars to Mobutu in Zaire: this is a footnote in the long history of French arms transfers to dictatorships that served their interests in Africa. President Richard M. Nixon met with Bongo on August 2, 1973. At the time, the SDECE (Service de Documentation Exterieure et Contre-Espionage) and CIA were collaborating against the MPLA (Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola) government in Angola by training and arming UNITA and FNLA guerrillas. Elf Acquitaine backed both the MPLA government and UNITA rebels: Bongo was certainly involved in French interventions. In 1975, the SDECE hired the infamous Congo mercenary Bob Denard and twenty French mercenaries, all paid by the CIA station out of Zaire —Maurice Tempelsman’s gang Lawrence Devlin, Mark Garsin and others—for covert operations in Angola; the SDECE and CIA also worked with Bureau of State Security (BOSS) agents out of South Africa at the height of the Apartheid struggle. Omar Bongo was clearly aware of Washington’s covert terrorist operations in support of UNITA from the 1970’s to 1990’s. Bongo’s government allowed individuals in Gabon to back UNITA rebels in the brutal civil war in Angola, and in 1990’s Gabon was caught red-handed violating United Nations sanctions against UNITA.
When Ian Smith’s white supremacist government needed support against the imperialist forces seeking to put a black face on power in Rhodesia, it was Omar Bongo who helped Smith bust the international sanctions by routing through Libreville aircraft ferrying contraband to and from Rhodesia and Europe; networks of organized crime worked through Switzerland and Lichtenstein, and Bongo’s officials in Gabon issued false certificates of origin and other fabricated documentation, while also taking their cut in profits.
Ian Smith, former white supremacist leader
of Rhodesia, at his home in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Photo keith harmon snow, Harare, Zimbabwe, May 2000.
Bongo also maintained relations with Harvard University’s Liberian warlord Charles Taylor; Bongo was known to receive Taylor at his presidential mansion and certainly benefited from the blood diamond cartels Taylor was involved with. ,
The Bongo government was complicit with the successive Nguema dictatorships (1968-1979, 1979-present) and their campaigns of terror and depopulation in Equatorial Guinea (E.G.). Under Bongo’s rule, Gabon violated the territorial sovereignty of E.G. through military occupation of southern E.G. islands and military incursions in the southwest near Rio Muni, all in search of oil and profits.
Before his ascendancy to President by coup d’etat in 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema personally ran the notorious Black Beach prison in E.G.: his regime is today considered one of the most corrupt, ethnocentric, oppressive and undemocratic states in the world. U.S. corporate backing of the Obiang regime involved corruption and profiteering that was exposed in the U.S. Rigg’s bank investigations in 2004. U.S. companies—Exxon-Mobil, Amerada Hess, Chevron-Texaco, Marathon Oil and others—paid for scholarships for children of the country's leaders to attend elite schools like Pepperdine University (CA), formed business ventures with government officials, hired companies linked to Obiang and rented property from government officials and their relatives. Petroleum-connected U.S. officials like Condoleeza Rice have called Obiang a ‘good friend’ of the U.S., while Obiang has for years paid Cassidy & Associates some $120,000 a month to whitewash the regime. While the arrogance of oil wealth caused a small rift between the two dictators, Bongo’s importance to E.G. can be measured by Nguema’s decree of three days of national mourning after Bongo’s death.
Albert-Bernard Bongo is the son-in-law of Dennis Sassou-Nguesso, another dictator who has reigned for two decades, with a gap from1992-1997, sustained with millions of Elf petrol dollars: Sassou-Nguesso’s elite Cobra militia were also trained by French advisers and, like Mobutu, Sassou-Nguesso relied on Israeli security and intelligence for protection. Omar Bongo backed bloodshed in the recent Congo-Brazzaville war (1997-2000) by offloading planeloads of weapons and shipping them across the border to Sassou Nguesso’s home village of Oyo. Bongo’s government was also accused of airlifting Rwandan and Moroccan mercenaries into Congo-Brazzaville, even as Bongo was preparing to lead negotiations between Sassou-Nguesso and Congo-Brazzaville’s more openly U.S.-backed President Pascal Lissouba, and after a ceasefire had been declared in July 1997. All sides were involved in ethnic cleansing. The French military, the Elysée Palace and Elf Aquitaine all actively supported Sassou-Nguesso, who fought his way back to power on October 25, 1997 with the assistance of Chadian troops backed by French logistical support.
Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema attends the funeral
of Gabonese President Omar Bongo, on June 16, 2009 in Libreville, Gabon.
Agence France Presse/Getty Images.
After France, Bongo maintained his closest alliance with Joseph Mobutu’s CIA client state in Zaire.
On the morning of March 3, 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter had a conversation with French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Later in the afternoon President Carter met with Omar Bongo; also in attendance were Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, Assistant for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Bongo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Gabonese Republic and nephew of President Bongo. Less than 10 days after Bongo met with Carter the U.S. and Belgium shipped weapons to Shaba (Katanga), Zaire, and on March 16 Secretary of State Vance appeared before the U.S. Congress to justify the intervention as critical to protect the flow of Shaba’s copper from Zaire, but it was the cobalt of the copperbelt veins, stockpiled by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency and essential to the western permanent warfare enterprise, that the national security apparatus was concerned about. , , Bongo met with Carter again on October 17, 1977, and he thus played a definitive role in backing the western terror apparatus in Zaire, in sharp contradistinction to the propaganda system’s salutations as ‘peacemaker’ on the continent.
In June 2002, Robert Bongo was appointed as a United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC. Brzezinski is a high level adviser to the International Crises Group, a flak organization promoting peace through war in Sudan, Uganda and Congo, and was advising Barack Obama in 2008. As National Security Advisor under Carter, Brzezinski reportedly commissioned the March 17, 1978 document Presidential Review Memorandum/NSC 46; entitled Black Africa and the U.S. Black Movement, the classified ‘Secret’ document advocated for clandestine U.S. support to (Apartheid) South Africa and called for a special covert U.S. program to “perpetuate divisions in the black movement; to neutralize the most active groups of leftist radical orientation and diminish their influence among blacks; and to stimulate dissension and hostility between organizations representing different social strata of the community…” ,
“For 20 years President Bongo has led his country in an era of stability and progress,” said President Ronald Reagan during an October 2, 1987 meeting with Bongo in Washington. “Under his leadership, Gabon has consistently encouraged the peaceful settlement of regional disputes, siding with reason, dialogue, and moderation over bloodshed, war, and terror.”
Reagan pledged to increase U.S. investment in Gabon—and it happened—and Gabon’s financial programs were subsequently restructured in keeping with western ‘shock doctrine’ economics of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) arranged with and for Bongo’s elite clique. The U.S. media called the deal ‘U.S. Aid to Gabon.’ Meanwhile, SAPs shattered the social fabric and further ruined hundreds of millions of ordinary people’s lives from Gabon to Bolivia to South Korea.
The strategic and corporate alliance with Bongo thrived under every U.S. president who sat during Bongo’s reign—Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H.W Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush—and the imperial relations and structural violence were perpetually whitewashed by the western propaganda system.
Gabon provided military logistical support to the Laurent Kabila government during the second phase of war in DRC (1998), but later and/or simultaneously Bongo backed Jean-Pierre Bemba and his Movement for the Liberation of Congo. Bemba was another Mobutist warlord who was close to Congo-Brazzaville’s Dennis Sassou-Nguesso. Until his death, Bongo was sending $US 20,000 a month to Bemba’s legal fund, along with Sassou-Nguesso, Moamar Gadhafi and a fourth (unidentified) African President (for a total of $US 80,000 a month).”
“Bongo even financed small politicians with no hope,” says one Congolese businessman, “he gave money to everyone, that’s how he maintained access. In DRC, for example, he even gave money to Alou Bonioma Kalokola—a lawyer who has lived his entire life as a hustler. Bonioma was married to [Dennis] Sassou-Nguesso’s step-daughter, and Sassou-Nguesso’s wife is from DRC. Alou knew he would get money from Bongo so he ran for president [in the 2006 elections].”
THE KING OF BLING
Bongo was connected to the Corsican mafia through the French ministers and shady businessmen, including Michel Tomi and son Jean-Baptiste, and Robert Feliciaggi (assassinated in a professional hit in Corsica, March 10, 2006), his son Jean-Jerome and brother Charles. Alleged to run French money-laundering schemes through casinos, lotteries and betting shops in Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon, Jean-Jerome is close to Sassou-Nguesso, and Charles’ business supplies the Presidential Guard of diamond and petroleum magnate Jose Eduardo Dos Santos in Angola; the brothers held the second biggest bank accounts —after Elf-Aquitaine—at France’s now defunct FIBA bank, the conduit for Gabon and Angola’s plundered oil wealth.
Gabon’s wealth was also siphoned off through the BGFI Bank, Gabon’s biggest investment bank. Created in Libreville in April 1971, the Bank was born out of a partnership between private Gabonese investors and the Banque de Paris, under the name “Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas Gabon.” In view of the majority share of capital held by private Gabonese, the Bank took the name of Banque Gabonaise et Française Internationale (BGFI) in April 1996. To reap the plunder of nearby dictatorships, BGFI opened major branches in Equatorial Guinea (2001) and Congo-Brazzaville (2004). BGFI directors include Jean Ping (once married to Bongo’s daughter) and Christian Bongo; director Yves Abouab is also an executive with the Banque Belgolaise in Paris. Christian Bongo is also a director of the Banque Gabonaise de Development.
Jean Ping is one of the most powerful members of Bongo’s clan des Gabonaise, and an unapologetic agent for western capitalism’s enterprise of plunder and depopulation in Africa. Ping has played a pivotal role, for example, in furthering the ‘new humanitarian’ [read: same old imperialist] policy doctrine of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’.
Corsican Michel Tomi operates through Groupe Kabi in Gabon, involved in private airlines, communications and gaming, and winning lucrative construction contracts from the Bongo government. An adviser to Omar Bongo in the 1990’s, Corsican Andre Tarallo was boss of Elf-Corsica from 1987-1988, and he funded the anti-Marxist guerrilla movement FLEC in neighboring Angola in the 1980’s. Tarallo managed Elf’s Africa interests for more than 30 years, and he ended up in a French jail (2004) over the Elf petroleum bribery scandals, where he testified about payoffs to Bongo, Sassou-Nguesso and Teodoro Obiang Nguema. , Another member of the ‘Clan Corsican’ at Bongo’s disposal was former French Minister Charles Pasqua, one of Jacques Chirac’s former aides, described as a mafia godfather.
Omar Bongo, Charles Pasqua, Jean-Christophe Mitterand and other officials were involved in Angolagate, the French arms-for-oil scandal involving shady arms merchants, oil executives, intelligence operatives and others in France and Africa. In 1999, the U.S Congress flagged Bongo’s huge accounts at Citibank in a money-laundering probe. Omar Bongo and friends have also bankrolled French politicians: Former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing accused former President Chirac of receiving party financing from Omar Bongo in a 1981 campaign.
The elite ELF-Gabon headquarters along the ocean in Libreville.
Photo keith harmon snow, Libreville, Gabon, 1997.
Gabon received $850,000 dollars in foreign military financing from the Pentagon from 2005 to 2008, with $1,597,000 in International Military Education & Training funds from 2001-2007, and with 192 Gabonese military trained in the US IMET program from 1950-2007; ninety of these Gabonese soldiers were trained in the U.S. between 2000 and 2007. ,
Through the Pentagon’s Gulf of Guinea Initiative, Gabon is involved with the US Navy’s Maritime Partnership Program and the Africa Partnership Station, programs that militarize the Gulf of Guinea to assure and secure U.S. control of oil infrastructure, shipping lanes, offshore sea-bed mining, illegal fishing, toxic dumping and other corporate piracy. Gabon also provides the Pentagon with air naval base access for Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs) and Forward Operating Locations (FOLs). All of these programs are conduits for U.S. covert operations and facilitate the involvement of private military companies and transnational corporations in resource plunder and depopulation.
THE CALCULATED IMPOSITION OF IGNORANCE
Gamba town is the urban centre of the wild Gamba Protected Area Complex, an enclave of white, gated western privilege surrounded by dense forests, impenetrable swamps and deep estuaries where you might see an elephant swimming across open water or ambling across a grassy field. This is Shell country in Gabon, and the only way in is on an expensive Air Gabon flight.
“If I have to describe Gamba to someone,” confided one French expatriate in “Shell’s Best Kept Secret,” a blurb in a Royal/Dutch Shell public relations brochure, “I always say it is a Club-Med in the middle of the jungle. You have the freedom and opportunity to do things you thought you’d only ever dream of and all with an amazing backdrop of jungle and unspoilt beaches and lots of wildlife right on your doorstep! … We are quite a sporty bunch in Gamba. We have our own 18 hole golf course, there is the Yenzi Boat club a sailing club, tennis, football, tae-kwon-do, yoga, fitness, swimming, aerobics & step classes, volleyball, badminton, squash, hockey, rugby and much, much more...not to mention that every so often you can take part in our triathlon!”
In October 2004, paramilitary police in Gamba killed two locals who protested against Shell’s injustices. A survey of local attitudes revealed a climate of fear seething beneath the surface. Locals reported routine oil spills where Shell and contractors Halliburton and Schlumberger have for years and years burned off oil spills as a form of remediation.
With a certain arrogance that comes with white society beliefs about entitlement, French expatriates have considered Gabon their private property since the colonial era, and Gamba is one of their hideaway playgrounds. One French expatriate in Gamba, Louis Rigon, runs a high-end sport fishing and ‘ecotourism’ business, with private luxury camps and powerboats in the bush. He also provides a logistic base for oil exploration when companies like Transworld Exploration Gabon—a Houston Texas oil company—arrive in Gamba (2006) for seismic testing in Loango National Park. It is families with names like Louis Rigon and Pierre Goods—a Transworld director based in Port-Nice, Gabon—who float their 4-WD safari land rovers from Sette Cama, across the estuary on a barge, off-load in Loango National Park, and casually joy-ride some 50 kilometers down the pristine beach—as they did when I was there. This is their version of ‘ecotourism’—another buzzword and the cutting edge of the white, western, corporate invasion of wilderness.
Oil exploration in the Loango wilderness was not the only reality I found incongruent with the slick propaganda about “Saving Africa’s Eden.” The western diamond firm Southern Era was prospecting in the newly designated Lope Reserve—J. Michael Fay’s newly ‘discovered’ Eden in northeastern Gabon—and all the BINGO conservation groups involved in the Congo Basin Forest Partnership knew this. None had said a word.
Royal/Dutch Shell controls the Rabi oil fields of the Gamba Complex but local Gabonese who live in and around the concessions have received zero benefits from decades of oil exploitation and export.
Photo keith harmon snow, Sette Cama, Gabon, December 2004.
Southern Era began prospecting in Gabon in 1999 and when the CBFP came along—and Bongo created the new parks—they were issued permits for the Lope region from the Bongo regime. Southern Era is a fully owned subsidiary of Mwana Africa—another secretive mining company involved in the blood-drenched mining operations in eastern Congo (also Angola and Botswana’s blood diamond areas)—connected to the U.S., U.K. and South Africa.
Tracking elephants in the Loango reserve turned up the remains of a research camp in the savannah. My local guide and WWF-paid ranger Robert (not his real name) took me to the place where the Smithsonian Institute set up a massive animal and plant collection operation; teams of researchers descended on the Loango wilderness and began catching, counting, cataloging, categorizing, and collecting species and genetic material. Claiming a universal benefit to all humanity—and to the people of Gabon, of course—the Smithsonian’s Gabon Biodiversity Monitoring and Research Program involves U.S. universities and scores of western researchers and tens of millions of dollars in funds; it is also backed by Shell Oil Corporation. These funds cycle to and from western economies bringing little benefit to Gabonese people like Robert, and nothing of benefit to the average Gabonese citizen. Smithsonian scientists reported that they have ‘recorded’ over 2019 species of trees and thousands of species of birds, reptiles, snakes and amphibians, but they didn’t merely ‘record’ these species, they collected them. “Voucher specimens were injected with formaline (5%), then preserved in 70% ethanol, and will be housed in several scientific institutions.”
“They paid us 6000 CFA (US $12) per day to collect birds, snakes, lizards,” says Robert, “They killed them and packed them up in jars and boxes. We worked hard, setting traps and checking nets, all day and night sometimes. It wasn’t much money.”
Robert was hired because he knew how to catch birds, where to hang nets, where bat species might be found, the habitat of rare snakes—you know, simple stuff, like where a rodent will hide—but based on years of painstaking study and intimate knowledge of the local environment for which Robert has dedicated his heart and soul all his life. Robert didn’t know anything about genetic engineering, cloning, or intellectual property rights, and that’s why it was easy for the Smithsonian to come in to Gabon and steal Robert’s intellectual property and pay him approximately one dollar and fifteen cents (sic) an hour.
Biodiversity in the Gamba Complex Protected Area is of value to corporations for pharmaceutical products, unethical genetic engineering, and huge inequitable, white economy ‘research’ programs predicated on Empire and support for the military-industrial complex, but operating both obliviously and knowingly under false presumptions, innocence, humanitarianism, science and progress.
Photo keith harmon snow, Loango National Park, Gabon, December 2004.
Robert was hired as a grunt for an exclusive western program that offers the perfect example how white supremacy operates in Africa: lucrative contracts, travel perks, capital equipment budgets, romantic interludes in paradise for whites; hard labor, theft of expertise, downward mobility, obtuse explanations for blacks. It’s all about access. People like Robert will always be collecting dead birds, while someone else will be flying in and out of Gabon, presenting papers at conferences, getting PhDs, ostensibly saving the earth, murdering wilderness as fast as they are murdering the truth.
“Under Bongo life is hard,” Robert told me. “Many people are malnourished, many people are poor. There is no work. It’s terrible.”
The Smithsonian proceeded with the support of President Omar Bongo, the Pentagon, U.S. State Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA and other predatory agencies. Massive physical, economic and intellectual (property) thefts are underway, and it occurs on the backs of eager, willing, hopeful, yet unfreedomed Africans.
The markets in Gamba are muddy, dirty, run-down sites of suffering where a scattering of local people peddle bush-meat, manioc, cassava, little packets of salt and sugar, some traditional foods and forest products, bananas and mangos, and whatever manufactured commodities they can get their hands on and resell at a small profit. In the enclave of Sette Cama, a few miles across the estuary and down the beach, the people live by small-scale fishing and farming cassava. But for a few crumbs splashed their way—where the (mostly white) benefactors reconcile their entitlement and privilege behind assumptions that their pitiful charity is further evidence of their goodness and morality—the local people do not benefit from the itineraries and budgets of foreign eco-tourists. Misery is endemic.
“SUFFERING PROVIDES GOOD COUNSEL”
Local villages around Sette Cama are run down, dilapidated examples of the parallel
(Apartheid) economies of exploitation and oil seen widely in Gabon, as all across Africa.
Photo keith harmon snow, December 2004.
Gabon has been a major oil producer since 1962. Historically, oil revenues accounted for approximately 60% of the government’s budget, more than 40% of GDP, and 75% of export earnings. Despite half a century of production from Sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil reserves, the majority of Gabon’s citizen’s exist in a Hobbesian nightmare where life is nasty, brutish and short.
In a country of approximately 1 million people, only about eight percent (80,000) have access to any kind of running water or electricity. Adding insult to injury, in 1992, the French corporation Lyonnaise des Eaux took control of the state-owned Societé d’Electricté et d’Eaux du Gabon (SEEG): Bongo signed on with the U.S. International Finance Corporation and IFC/Japan to privatize Gabon’s water and electricity sectors, leading “one of the first privatizations of electricity and water services in sub-Saharan Africa,” over a decade ago.
In 2003, another beltway Maryland (U.S.A) company—Decision Analysis Partners (DAP)—won a lucrative contract ostensibly to map out the eco-tourism infrastructure for five of Bongo’s newly gazetted Gabon parks. But DAP’s deep ties to the Pentagon and intelligence networks suggest that there is, as usual, some hidden military agenda.
There are no accurate census figures for Gabon because the Bongo government benefited by inflating population statistics to maximize the regime’s profits skimming off the so-called ‘development aid’ business sector. Infant mortality is very high in Gabon due to malaria, malnourishment, diarrhea and starvation. Malaria, the principal cause of hospitalization, is of epidemic proportions: 40 per cent of children aged 0 to 5 years and 71 per cent of all pregnant women suffer from the disease. Some 64 percent of all households are in communities where waste is disposed of untreated.
There are separate schools in Gamba for white expatriate children, and for black African children: Shell and Elf back the expatriate schools. The housing and levels of health and community development are also unequal. Whites hire blacks as maids, nanny’s and housekeepers, and blacks are used for the most grueling and dangerous physical labor. The educational books that are produced in France and sent to Gabon are different for African children than the books for French children of the same ages and developmental levels. “Less content, less substance,” said one French woman. “It is the calculated imposition of ignorance and it’s happening throughout French speaking Africa.”
Companies like Shell, Elf and Total are deeply tied into dictating public policy through their control of advertising, schools, arts venues, TV news and wildlife programming—both in Gabon and the USA, Europe and Japan—and funding for all of these: their corporate logos are branded everywhere.
Education is also privatized: Shell is partnered with WWF and the Ministry of Education through the Shell program “L’Ecole Que J’Aime” [“The School I Like”]. Further, the basic commodities (and luxury goods) available to expatriates connected to the oil industry are denied to poor Gabonese, and the black slave sector couldn’t afford them if they were, and there are stores (pools, clubs, etc.) where most blacks are not allowed.
This is Apartheid. It is also environmental racism.
“It’s family living in an African Paradise,” wrote expatriate Louise Tasker in a Royal/Dutch Shell magazine for expatriates, “Apart from wildlife and beaches, Gamba offers children a chance to really enjoy childhood rather than grow up too fast… Flights in Gabon are very expensive, so you may not have as many visitors as you’d like.”
Just as there is Apartheid on the ground, you won’t see the average Gabonese flying on Air Gabon: it is an airline for people of the privileged classes—and the black people allowed to join the club.
All air travel in Gabon was for more than 45 years controlled by the so-called “government-owned” national airline whose financial interests were also held by Air France, and whose directors included Omar Bongo’s relative Robert Bongo. Journalists in Gabon were jailed and whole publication runs confiscated in March 1997 after they reported that Air Gabon was involved in ivory smuggling. In another international scandal, Air Gabon—the airline of the elite in Gabon, tied to petroleum companies and run by the most powerful people in Gabon and France—went belly up in 2005.
Amongst the greatest causes of sickness in Gabon and its neighboring countries are unregulated corporate mining and pollution from extractive industries: gas flaring, uranium and manganese mining, all contribute to toxic environments. Gas-flaring by Royal/Dutch Shell, alone, in Africa, alone, is a leading cause of global warming. Yet, looking at the fancy public relations of the Shell Oil Foundation, we find that the corporate perpetrators of violence and destruction are blaming the victims for their own suffering. “More than half the world’s population uses open fires or traditional biomass-burning stoves to cook in their homes,” reads the disingenuous propaganda, where Shell wields a World Health Organization statistic. “There is also growing evidence that this pollution contributes to global warming.”
Does the World Health Organization challenge Shell, Elf, Total or Mobil for the massive and devastating carbon footprint of gas flaring? No. Of course, next to Shell’s support for dictatorships where petroleum flows are insured through rape, torture, and murder—the case of the Niger River Delta offering the most thoroughly documented example—Shell’s gas-flaring is perhaps one of the less troublesome aspects of petroleum operations in Africa. Meanwhile. In 1999, Shell flared some 25.6 million standard cubic feet of gas per day, in the Gamba complex Rabi concession alone—and this in a year where Shell—as supposed evidence of their benevolence—reported ‘reductions’ in their flaring footprint from 30 mmscf/d in 1998. On this basis, and given the past six decades of their operations, Shell’s contribution to global climate mayhem is unimaginable.
The evidence that multinational corporations and their government, academic, scientific and ‘philanthropic’ partners are decimating cultures and landscapes is overwhelming. What is underwhelming is the extent to which the general public—U.S., Canadian, European, Australian and Japanese citizens, ostensibly concerned about human rights and the environment, for example—are unable to recognize and name these rich-man poor-man relationships for what they are: genocide. An agent of predatory western capitalism, Omar Bongo played a major role in that, too. Gabon offers a perfect example of how the propaganda system covers for the western terrorist apparatus, always maximizing profits for the white-based economies of permanent warfare, depopulation and elite control.
On the cutting edge of this massive project of conquest over people and places of color are white people like J. Michael Fay, with their mega-transects and mega-flyovers, and their Pentagon connections, and the agendas they serve, even as they deny that they are in any ways involved, while peddling the new, old white power projects of conservation and humanitarian intervention in Africa. Meanwhile, the Hollywood dimension of modern day genocide involves such reality TV productions as Survivor Gabon—Earth’s Last Eden.
“I’d be more than happy to meet a couple of cute girls on the island,” says Survivor’s arrogant tarzan-stud Marcus Lehman, who thinks the ‘remote Gabon coast’ is an island. “It is Earth’s last Eden, so I’ll be Adam, she can be Eve, and see what goes on.”
Such is the nature of white supremacy, with all its attendant obliviousness, and assumptions of innocence, and power relations, and subliminal sexuality, and this is the true face of the globalization of terror. The history of Gabon is the history of slavery, alive and well in Africa’s gardens of Eden.
See: David Quammen, “Views of the Continent,” National Geographic, September 2005; and J. Michael Fay, “Ivory Wars: Last Stand in Zakouma,” National Geographic, March 2007.
“CBS reveals the castaways of 'Survivor: Gabon—Earth's Last Eden’,” Reality TV staff, 8/27/08, www.realitytvworld.com.
See: keith harmon snow, Towards an Anthropology of White Man in Africa: A Call to Explore the Militarized White Project of Dark Continentalism, Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, December, 2007.