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Gabon And Niger Coups Are A Wake-Up Call To Confront Kleptocracy In Africa

After a series of coups in West Africa, what will happen to the corrupt systems set up by past rulers — will they endure, or could reform be ahead?

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba behind a glass box.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba visits Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province.

Xinhua via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — In a video captured more than 10 years ago, Cameroonian President Paul Biya can be seen surrounded by other heads of state, complaining to his peers about the so-called "ill-gotten gains" investigation in France.

He accused his opponents and the media of being behind the investigation, which stemmed from complaints that the president had embezzled public funds. He brushed off the allegations as a mere nuisance, if not the work of conspiracy theorists.

The "ill-gotten gains" case originated from a complaint filed in 2007 by non-governmental organizations in France against several African heads of state, regarding real estate properties in Paris allegedly purchased with embezzled funds.

This scene gains new significance in light of the recent coup that toppled President Ali Bongo of Gabon. The Bongo family is central to this extensive investigation launched in France into the origin of the funds that allowed several ruling families in central Africa to acquire real estate holdings in Paris.

Luxury in Paris

Personal enrichment is one of the natural attributes of power, and Central Africa is home to several leaders who were mentioned in the "ill-gotten gains" affair, and who had held power for decades. The fall of Ali Bongo may have serious repercussions among Gabon's neighbors.

The case of Equatorial Guinea, a small neighboring oil-rich country of Gabon and a member of the Franc Zone, is a prime example. In 2021, the son of Equatorial Guinean dictator, Theodorin Obiang Nguema, was ordered by the French justice system to hand over assets estimated at around €150 million, which were purchased with embezzled funds. These assets included luxury cars, jewelry, watches and a building on Avenue Foch in Paris — one of the most expensive streets in the world.

French law stipulates that the state retains the value of seized assets to eventually return it to the people of Equatorial Guinea. The regime was on the brink of breaking ties with France over this matter, even though it was initiated by NGOs, not the French government.

Two other neighbors of Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, under the rule of Denis Sassou Nguesso for nearly 40 years, and Cameroon, led by Paul Biya for 41 years, are also mentioned in the investigations, which focus on dozens of apartments in upscale neighborhoods in Paris.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso during Navy Day celebrations, July 30, 2023 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Alexander Kazakov/Kremlin Pool/Planet Pix via ZUMA

A kleptocracy

With the fall of Bongo, the Gabonese are left to wonder at the extent of corruption. Yesterday, a video showed suitcases of cash seized from a regime dignitary.

And how can one ignore that the situation is roughly the same in other countries?

For a long time, many of the African governments involved in the affair have accused Europe of moralizing or of hypocrisy, arguing that this corruption had accomplices in Europe. But in assessing the Bongo years, how can one ignore this substantial portion of pillaged national resources?

And how can one ignore that the situation is roughly the same in other countries in the region, where power structures are similar, and sometimes interconnected? The daughter of the Congolese President was, for instance, one of the wives of Omar Bongo, the father of the overthrown president.

Two questions arise: will the new rulers merely exploit this system of plundering public funds for their benefit? And what will the people, as well as the militaries, of neighboring countries do, knowing full well that the same "kleptocracy" prevails in their own nations?

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why The U.S. Lost Its Leverage In The Middle East — And May Never Get It Back

In the Israel-Hamas war, Qatar now plays the key role in negotiations, while the United States appears increasingly disengaged. Shifts in the region and beyond require that Washington move quickly or risk ceding influence to China and others for the long term.

Photograph of U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken  shaking hands with sraeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

November 30, 2023, Tel Aviv, Israel: U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/ZUMA
Sébastien Boussois


PARIS — Upon assuming office in 2008, then-President Barack Obama declared that United States would gradually begin withdrawing from various conflict zones across the globe, initiating a complex process that has had a major impact on the international landscape ever since.

This started with the American departure from Iraq in 2010, and was followed by Donald Trump's presidency, during which the "Make America Great Again" policy redirected attention to America's domestic interests.

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The withdrawal trend resumed under Joe Biden, who ordered the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. To maintain a foothold in all intricate regions to the east, America requires secure and stable partnerships. The recent struggle in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Washington increasingly relies on the allied Gulf states for any enduring influence.

Since the collapse of the Camp David Accords in 1999 during Bill Clinton's tenure, Washington has consistently supported Israel without pursuing renewed peace talks that could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While President Joe Biden's recent challenges in pushing for a Gaza ceasefire met with resistance from an unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu, they also stem from the United States' overall disengagement from the issue over the past two decades. Biden now is seeking to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine matter, yet it is Qatar that is the primary broker for significant negotiations such as the release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire —a situation the United States lacks the leverage to enforce.

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