"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


the last of the big men

The Economist's obituary for Gabonese President Omar Bongo is pitch-perfect. The author managed to accurately summarize his life while wryly covering his excessive spending and frivolity, most of which probably occurred by theft at the expense of the Gabonese people:
"Outside the glamour of Libreville, where the M’bolo hypermarché offered shining shelves of fine wines and best French cheese, a third of his people travelled on back-breaking roads between villages without clinics, subsisting on cassava and fishing. But Mr Bongo brought decades of tranquillity, a rare enough commodity in Central Africa; order, and prosperity for a close and favoured few. So on June 11th hundreds of Gabonese lined up, clutching his portrait, outside the presidential palace where, in a flower-filled chapel, he lay in state, rather small in his coffin, in the country that was his."
Bongo was among the last of his breed, a leader who ruled with near-absolute authority in close conjunction with his former colonizers. His people suffered under his rule, but they respected him, in part because he kept the country stable, and in part because respecting elders and authority is a supreme cultural value, one that, in many countries, extends so far as to suggest that one cannot actually speak of the death of a leader. Journalist Elizabeth Ohene also has a nice reflection on this problem of "respectfully" covering the deaths of Africa's Big Men.


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