alexa Senate head takes over as Gabon’s interim leader - Daily Nation

Senate head takes over as Gabon’s interim leader

Wednesday June 10 2009

A view of Quiron hospital, Barcelona, Spain where Gabon’s President Omar Bongo died. Senate leader Rogombbe was on Wednesday sworn in as Gabon’s interim leader.  Photo/REUTERS

A view of Quiron hospital, Barcelona, Spain where Gabon’s President Omar Bongo died. Senate leader Rogombbe was on Wednesday sworn in as Gabon’s interim leader. Photo/REUTERS 

By REUTERS

LIBREVILLE, Wednesday

Senate leader Rose Francine Rogombe was sworn in as Gabon’s interim president Wednesday.

The swearing-in was first step in the process of replacing Omar Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving head of state, who died earlier this week.

President Bongo’s death left a power vacuum at the head of the central African nation that he tightly controlled for over four decades and, with a well-developed oil industry and a Eurobond, investors are watching carefully for signs of trouble.

“I swear to devote all my efforts to looking after the Gabonese people ... to respect and defend the constitution and the rule of law and to conscientiously carry out my job by being fair to all,” Ms Rogombe said, one hand on Gabon’s constitution.

Rogombe, 66, was educated in France and became Gabon’s first female judge before she was elected to the senate this year.

Advertisement

She was a key Bongo ally in the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party, has served as Secretary of State and has a theology degree.

Gabonese politicians and foreign diplomats attended the ceremony in the oceanside capital, Libreville, which has remained calm since the president’s death.

Authorities have declared a month of mourning and the nation’s land, air and sea borders were reopened on Tuesday.

President Bongo’s body is due to return to Gabon on Thursday.

Gabon’s constitution, which hands power to the head of the senate in the event of the president dying, gives Ms Rogombe 45 days to hold elections to select a new head of state.

But her time in power as interim leader can be extended in case of force majeure, said Marie Madeleine Mborantsouo, who swore in the new president today in her position as head of the Constitutional Court.

After a series of coups elsewhere in Africa over the last year, some had feared President Bongo’s death would spark instability.

But analysts have said that the president’s ruling party was likely to tightly manage the transition and doubted popular unrest.

“Although a power struggle is possible, few analysts expect significant disruption to the course of ordinary business,” UBA Capital said in a research note on Wednesday.

In the run-up to polls, President Bongo’s son and Defence minister Ali Ben Bongo heads a list of possible successors, which also includes Foreign minister Paul Toungui, Jean Ping, head of the African Union, and Vice President Didjob Divungi Ndinge.

Leaders from around a region Mr Bongo dominated for so long were quick to praise the late president for maintaining stability at home and contributing to African peace efforts.

Balance sheet

But the last months of his life were overshadowed by investigations by a French judge into how much money he and his family allegedly stole from the state coffers during his time in power, which has left most ordinary people mired in poverty.

Nonetheless, UBA said Gabon’s outlook was positive.

“A period of high oil prices earlier this decade allowed the government to rebuild its balance sheet; restructuring and then redeeming London Club debt, rescheduling and part-redeeming Paris Club debt, winding down internal arrears and issuing a jumbo Eurobond,” UBA said.

Although oil production has peaked, UBA said Gabon’s image was improving and investments in non-oil sectors had increased.

Total public debt is also estimated to have dropped to 17 per cent of GDP, down from 44 per cent between 2006-7.

“As a consequence, we see little risk of a default on the outstanding Eurobond, under most oil price scenarios,” UBA said.