Gabon leader wants Obama to spotlight Africa

AP News
Posted: Jun 09, 2011 5:05 PM
Gabon leader wants Obama to spotlight Africa

The president of oil-rich Gabon said he hopes a meeting with President Barack Obama late Thursday will encourage the U.S. leader to keep the spotlight on Africa and launch the partnerships with African countries that he promised in 2009 to promote a better life for millions on the continent.

Ali Bongo, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, said America and the world have an "historic opportunity" to connect with Africans and inspire government, business and civil society "to focus as one on the development and well-being of the people of Africa."

Recalling Obama's speech to Ghana's Parliament in 2009 when he said the U.S. wanted to build strong partnerships in Africa, Bongo said his central African nation wants "these partnerships to begin and flourish."

He told the Associated Press in an interview and in response to written questions this week before heading to Washington to meet Obama that he also supports the president's call "for strong and sustainable democratic governments in Africa."

The son of Gabon's late dictator, who ruled for 41 years until his death in 2009, Bongo won a contested presidential election several months later that was deemed flawed, even fraudulent, by many observers and triggered widespread violence.

The president insisted that his government has strong institutions and is building a democratic system.

"It is imperfect, but it is headed in the right direction," he said. "We are fighting corruption and all illegal activities and building a culture of transparency and ethical governance."

Bongo said he wanted to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled this year so that all Gabonese could get identity cards with biometrics to ensure "fair and transparent elections." But he said the Constitutional Court refused, saying there were no grounds for postponement, so "for sure, elections are going to take place this year" _ with or without biometric identity cards.

On Bongo's agenda for the meeting with Obama are global issues including the conflicts in Syria and Libya, the fight against AIDS and climate change.

As the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, Gabon contributes to the fossil-fuel burning blamed for the rise of heat-trapping atmospheric gases that cause global warming.

But Bongo has pronounced fighting climate change a priority, in part because of the tropical rainforests that cover four-fifths of the nation.

While oil production peaked some years ago, the president said "we have reserves, and exploration is still important in Gabon ... and even our companies think there's still more to be discovered."

But Bongo said his main concern is diversifying the economy so that the 1.5 million Gabonese people don't one day "wake up and there's no more oil."

A goal, he said, is development of forestry and mining industries. Bongo said the government also is trying to promote tourism.