Britain is better for our development than France, Gabon says as it joins the Commonwealth

Written by Javed Iqbal

But the geopolitical shift comes as a surprise in Gabon, where the president’s father and former president, Omar Bongo, had very close ties to France. France supported the regime and turned a blind eye to autocracy in return for loyalty and the chance to secure business interests in the country – a tactic it repeated in large parts of Africa.

François Mitterrand, a former French president, parachuted French troops into Libreville in 1990 to help Omar Bongo put down a rebellion. Officials are quick to deny that the Bongo family has benefited from France, claiming that Omar Bongo did not use the treasury to buy luxury villas and yachts in France.

Many Gabonese hope that the Commonwealth will put pressure on the government to improve its human rights status and hold free and fair elections – although Britain has so far not mentioned these issues.

“We have been with France for a long time and nothing has really happened in terms of freedom of choice,” said the young Gabonese student. “We hope the Commonwealth will put some pressure on the regime.”

The foreign minister of Togo, another former French colony, said on Saturday that membership of the Commonwealth opened the door to 2.5 billion consumers, offered new educational opportunities and revealed a “craze” for English among its compatriots.

“Togo’s membership is motivated by the desire to expand its diplomatic, political and economic network … as well as to get closer to the English – speaking world,” Robert Dussey told AFP.

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Javed Iqbal

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