Ten months after his stroke, President Ali Bongo Ondimba will attend Saturday the military parade for the National Day, a rare public appearance that Gabonese are eagerly awaiting to judge for themselves whether he can still run the country, contrary to what claim his opponents.
"We want to see it with our own eyes," says Jean, a 38-year-old Libreville police officer who prefers to deliver only his first name. "I have not yet had the opportunity to see him, it's not normal, the political situation worries us, that's why we'll go with my family," he says.
Since his stroke in October 2018 in Saudi Arabia, the head of state, now 60 years old, has abandoned mud baths and press conferences. He could take advantage of these ceremonies to make his return in public.
On Thursday, he appeared in front of the press for a tribute to the first Gabonese president, Leon Mba, during which he was filmed and photographed outside the presidential palace, but in front of a parterre of personalities handpicked.
The president also delivered a speech on Friday evening of about 11 minutes, recorded and broadcast on Gabonese television, as he had already done in early June.
Apart from these millimetric messages and some words spoken on his arrival at the airport when he returned to the country in March, the Gabonese have not had the opportunity to hear their president since his return from a long convalescence in Morocco. .
"It is this uncertainty that makes the rumor swell," says Florence Bernault, historian at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and specialist in Gabon.
The presidency prefers to saturate social networks with images taken by him in his office. Photographs of the "boss", as it is called in Libreville, are published almost daily.
His entourage also relies on diplomacy. Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Chad ... Since March, the Allied Heads of State have followed one another at the Palace of the Seaside. Giving place, here too, to official images, without sound.
- Medical tests? -
"We were used to seeing him make speeches," said AFP political analyst André Wilson Ndombet, who believes that this official and silent communication of a former head of state "prolix" feeds the doubt.
Since the stroke, rumors even claiming that the president was no longer alive had gained momentum, including by union officials. The less radical opposition questioned the president's ability to continue performing his duties. Ten opposition figures filed a lawsuit in late March to demand that he submit to a medical examination. An appeal hearing is scheduled for August 26.
The parade will already be "the opportunity for the average citizen to make his own opinion," summarizes Jean-Gaspard Ntoutoume Ayi, one of the ten signatories of a "Call to Action" claiming these medical tests. And he calls the Gabonese to go en masse Saturday at the ceremonies of the 59th anniversary of independence. "You can see if a person is moving, know if he is able to sign or not a document," he adds.
In recent weeks, the interrogations of the opposition have resumed, while the head of state has dried several traditional appointments. His absence in early August to the National Flag Day, a ceremony he created in 2009 and presided at each edition, was highly commented in the national press.
A few days earlier, the president's family had also hit the headlines.
Conquered by Jean-Boniface Assele, Ali's uncle and former close friend of his father Omar Bongo - whom the president succeeded in 2009 at the head of the country - the maternal family had stationed himself in front of his residence demanding that he see, criticizing the close entourage of the president.
A boon for opposition newspapers, who accuse the first circle of manipulating it. In their columns, the attacks accumulate against the chief of staff Brice Laccruche Alihanga and against the first lady, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba.
For Florence Bernault, these rumors owe their survival to the "fear of forgery" Gabonese, who still have not digested the victory of Ali Bongo in the 2016 elections, challenged by the opposition and part of civil society. "It's a president with very weak legitimacy," she says.
© 2019 AFP