Africa's longest-serving leader, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, was sworn in Thursday for another term as nearly a dozen past and present leaders from the continent looked on including Liberia's new leader. Bongo won 79 percent of November's vote, handing him another seven-year term after 38 years in office. "I swear to act with all my powers for the good of the Gabonese people and assure their well-being," said Bongo, 69.
Among the guests were Liberian President Ellen Johnon Sirleaf, whose inauguration Monday made her the continent's first elected female head of state. It was her first official overseas trip. Among the globe's current heads of government, Bongo's reign is second only to that of Cuba's Fidel Castro, who has led the communist Caribbean island for nearly 46 years.
There was little doubt that Bongo would win re-election. The longtime leader has won praise for keeping Gabon peaceful in contrast to many war-ravaged African nations over the last several decades. Bongo has been president since Dec. 2, 1967, taking over upon the death of Leon M'Ba, the country's only other head of state since independence from France in 1960.
Bongo, who had been vice president, set up a one-party state. Opposition parties were allowed to run in elections for the first time in the 1990s, when pro-democracy protests swept across Africa following the end of the Cold War.
Oil wealth, the country's top foreign exchange earner, has also helped raise standards of living. Per-capita income, according to the United Nations, is around US$6,000 annually, roughly five to six times that of most African nations, though half the country still lives below the poverty line. Gabon produces about 290,000 barrels of oil a day and boasts sub-Saharan Africa's third largest reserves, around 2.5 billion barrels, according to U.S. government figures, reports the AP. N.U.