Gabon President Demands Retraction, Apology From NY Times

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New York Times falsely alluded that His Excellency Omar Bongo Ondimba, President of The Gabonese Republic, paid $9 million dollars to lobbyist Jack Abramoff for a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush. Abramoff, is under investigation by a Washington grand jury and two U.S. Senate committees. He also faces a Florida indictment on federal charges of fraud.

A November 10th report in the New York Times falsely alluded that His Excellency Omar Bongo Ondimba, President of The Gabonese Republic, paid $9 million dollars to lobbyist Jack Abramoff for a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush. "I have never met Mr. Abramoff, and have certainly never paid any money to him or his company," says President Bongo. "My meeting with President Bush and other US Presidents was arranged through normal diplomatic channels."

Abramoff, a Republican fundraiser, is under investigation by a Washington grand jury and two U.S. Senate committees. He also faces a Florida indictment on federal charges of fraud. The New York Times reported that Abramoff "pushed to sign President Bongo as a client" for $9 million, payable to Abramoff's Maryland-based lobbying firm, GrassRoots Interactive.

Further, the New York Times stated, "[President Bongo's] government is regularly accused by the United States government of human rights abuses." In fact, in a report released by the U.S. State Department on February 28, 2005, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor found that the Gabonese government respected the rights of the accused, and that it protected freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. Further, the Gabonese government acknowledged historical human rights abuses in a 2004 white book. According to the U.S. State Department report, "President Bongo wrote a supportive preface to the book, which sharply criticized the country's past human rights record."

His Excellency's Personal Advisor Mike Jocktane takes umbrage with the New York Times' reportage of Gabon's human rights record. Citing Gabon's work with former South African President Nelson Mandela, global peace and eco-tourism initiatives taken with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Gabon's Jean Ping presiding over the 59th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Jocktane says, "Gabon's current standing and active participation in the international community is an indication of our country's position and commitment to peace via effective and relevant leadership – locally and globally."

Further, President Bongo is calling upon the New York Times to clearly define the "human rights abuses" cited in their article, to issue a retraction, and to apologize to his country and administration. "While doing so," he says, "the New York Times should discuss the extent to which the U.S. has engaged in human and civil rights abuses throughout its history. No country influenced by European culture, including the United States, is without a history of both human and civil rights challenges."

President Omar Bongo recently faced a successful and uneventful re-election for another seven-year term this past November. The Gabonese Republic's democratic process has been advancing and improving under Bongo's tenure.    

"We are committed to ensuring that the democratic process in our nation continues for centuries to come," states Bongo. In an ongoing effort to facilitate peace in the world, Bongo is chairing a US foundation that is hosting a major leadership conference and experience in 2006.

About President Omar Bongo

For almost 40 years, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba has served as President of the West African coastal country of Gabon and is Africa' longest-serving leader. Under his leadership, Gabon has become one of Africa's wealthiest and more prosperous countries fueled in part by the discovery of oil. According to the World Fact Book, Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most nations of sub-Saharan Africa.

About Gabon

Gabon is one of the few countries in Central Africa that has never -- since its independence from France -- been affected by an armed conflict. Gabon, an oil-rich Central African nation, with a population of 1,300,000 and a geographic area of 26,700 square kilometers, is considered one of the most stable in the region.

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Rodney Sampson
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