Gabon’s main opposition parties chose former foreign minister Jean Ping as their candidate in an election on Aug. 27 against President Ali Bongo, who is standing for a second term. Ping, aged 74, is considered one of Africa’s foremost diplomats. He has served as chairman of the African Union commission and as president of the U.N. General Assembly. “I understand the gravity of the task I have been given,” Ping told thousands of cheering supporters in Libreville. “I won’t disappoint you.” Ping has an unusual history for an African politician. His father was a Chinese businessman who came to Gabon in the 1930s, married the daughter of a traditional chief and grew rich trading goods including timber and seafood. Ping came to wealth and prominence as an ally and protege of Omar Bongo, the father of Ali Bongo. But he fell out with the son and resigned from the ruling party in 2014 to become a vehement government critic.
He faces an uphill task in a contest with Bongo, who came to power and won an election in 2009 when his father died in office after 42 years in power.
Bongo retains institutional advantages accrued over the decades his family has held power as well as a close connection to France, the country’s former colonial power, which plays a significant role in the country’s economic life.
The opposition says the one-round electoral system also favors the president, who is known locally as “Bongo fils”, or Bongo junior. The government denies this.