Press Release — Why Is Atlantic Council Honoring the Dictator of Gabon?


Next week the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C.-based policy organization, will celebrate the dictator of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, by presenting him with a prestigious award previously bestowed on Robert DeNiro and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.

According to a document obtained by Human Rights Foundation (HRF), Atlantic Council president Frederick Kempe invited top donors to a dinner on September 19, 2016, where Ali Bongo will be honored. Bongo will receive the Atlantic Council’s annual Global Citizens Award for “his life of public service and efforts to improve the lives of the people of Gabon.” HRF sent an urgent letter to Kempe, informing him of Gabon’s appalling human rights conditions, widespread corruption, and violent repression, and calling on him to reconsider. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi are to receive the identical award during the same ceremony.

“By giving Ali Bongo this prestigious award, you ultimately assist his domestic propaganda apparatus by presenting him alongside democratically-elected leaders like Shinzo Abe and Matteo Renzi and providing him with photo opportunities,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “As the Atlantic Council should know, this type of legitimization is highly prized by dictators as they seek to whitewash the crimes of their regimes and normalize their status in the international community,” said Halvorssen.

Ali Bongo has ruled Gabon since 2009 after succeeding his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, in a fraudulent election which secured dynastic succession. The Bongo family has exerted almost complete control over Gabonese politics, the economy, and civil society since 1967. They have embezzled most profits from the country’s exploitation of Gabon’s vast natural resources, oil wealth, and rainforests, keeping the funds in dozens of foreign bank accounts and investing it in real estate holdings around the world. Even with a per capita income four times that of most sub-Saharan African nations, a third of the Gabonese population suffers below the poverty line and unemployment exceeds 20 percent.

Kempe states that the purpose of the Atlantic Council’s event is “to honor exceptional individuals whose actions capture the essence of Global Citizenship.”

“HRF was surprised to learn that the Atlantic Council plans to give the award to Ali Bongo specifically for his ‘consistent campaign to preserve Africa’s natural treasures.’ Literally, your award is on target inasmuch as Mr. Bongo and his father have ‘preserved’ the profits from the sale of Gabon's vast natural resources in bank accounts and real estate holdings around the world. The Bongo family has used Gabon as their feudal state for almost fifty years. Is the ‘consistent campaign’ to increase their personal wealth what you are celebrating?” asked Halvorssen.

Two weeks ago, Ali Bongo was “reelected” for a second seven-year term as president in elections marred by allegations of fraud. Upon the announcement of the results, the Gabonese people took to the streets to express their frustration. The violence that erupted in the capital has caused five deaths, the arrest of 1,000 Gabonese citizens by the police, and a government-orchestrated internet shutdown.

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a New York-based nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Read HRF’s letter to the Atlantic Council here.