A year and a day ago, on 8th June 2009, Omar Bongo Ondimba, the former president of Gabon, died in Barcelona. Some people say that he had died up to a month before that day, others gossip that while he was dying, his family was on a shopping spree in the most expensive boutiques in the city. Regardless of the details, it was this date, 8th June 2009, that marked the history of modern Gabon. On this day the country lost its Papa Omar, who had ruled for 41 subsequent years. Things were about to change for ever.
Today the city is covered in posters. There is hardly a hoarding board or a street lamp which is not decorated with a picture of Omar. Omar shaking hands with Jaques Chirac, Omar patting Kofi Annan on the back, Omar being patted by the Pope, Omar sitting sheepishly next to Michael Jackson... The minute president (he was indeed incredibly short!) is everywhere, and so are his overpowering quotes (L'inérêt de la nation passera toujours avant celui de tel ou tel, quelle que soit sa place...). Gabon remembers. We half-expected yesterday would be a holiday.
On every step we are thus reminded that Omar is no longer with us. The inevitable question comes to mind: And..? What has changed? Not much, it seems. Following some skirmish with the opposition, Ali Bongo was elected president - just as planned, no surprises (I must admit it seems slightly less ridiculous now that Poland has a twin running for president after his brother's death). After he became the country's new democratic leader, Ali'9, as he was called throughout his campaign, introduced some small popular adjustments, such as the continous work day or cuts in the number of civil servants. However, normal people have felt no difference. The roads still need some serious travaux. The Gabonese are in great need of decent hospitals. Schools are still terribly crowded (apparently, there may be even 100 students in class!). There are still more civil servants' salaries paid every month than there are civil servants (which simply means some salaries are doubled... or tripled). Some people still have champagne while others make do with palm wine. And I still need a visa de sortie to go home in July (90 euros). Same old, same old.
Papa Omar's death definitely spelled the end of an era. Too bad we are still waiting for the new era to begin.
More pictures here.