The Crimes of Bongo

Published on 31st August 2009

Apartheid & Terror in Africa's Gardens of Eden


By Keith Harmon Snow 


Keith Harmon Snow is the 2009 Regent's Lecturer in Law & Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, recognized for over a decade of work, outside of academia, contesting official narratives on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide while also working as a genocide investigator for the United Nations and other bodies. He is also a past and present (2009) Project Censored award winner.


...Continued from last week


The markets in Gamba are muddy, dirty, run-down sites of suffering where a scattering of local people peddle bush-meat, manioc, cassava, little packets of salt and sugar, some traditional foods and forest products, bananas and mangos, and whatever manufactured commodities they can get their hands on and resell at a small profit. In the enclave of Sette Cama, a few miles across the estuary and down the beach, the people live by small-scale fishing and farming cassava. But for a few crumbs splashed their way—where the (mostly white) benefactors reconcile their entitlement and privilege behind assumptions that their pitiful charity is further evidence of their goodness and morality—the local people do not benefit from the itineraries and budgets of foreign eco-tourists. Misery is endemic.



Local villages around Sette Cama are run down, dilapidated examples of the parallel  (Apartheid) economies of exploitation and oil seen widely in Gabon, as all across Africa.Photo keith harmon snow, December 2004.

Gabon has been a major oil producer since 1962. Historically, oil revenues accounted for approximately 60% of the government’s budget, more than 40% of GDP, and 75% of export earnings. Despite half a century of production from Sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil reserves, the majority of Gabon’s citizen’s exist in a Hobbesian nightmare where life is nasty, brutish and short.


In a country of approximately 1 million people, only about eight percent (80,000) have access to any kind of running water or electricity. Adding insult to injury, in 1992, the French corporation Lyonnaise des Eaux took control of the state-owned Societé d’Electricté et d’Eaux du Gabon (SEEG): Bongo signed on with the U.S. International Finance Corporation and IFC/Japan to privatize Gabon’s water and electricity sectors, leading “one of the first privatizations of electricity and water services in sub-Saharan Africa,” over a decade ago.102


In 2003, another beltway Maryland (U.S.A) company-Decision Analysis Partners (DAP)-won a lucrative contract ostensibly to map out the eco-tourism infrastructure for five of Bongo’s newly gazetted Gabon parks. But DAP’s deep ties to the Pentagon and intelligence networks suggest that there is, as usual, some hidden military agenda. 103

There are no accurate census figures for Gabon because the Bongo government benefited by inflating population statistics to maximize the regime’s profits skimming off the so-called ‘development aid’ business sector. Infant mortality is very high in Gabon due to malaria, malnourishment, diarrhea and starvation. Malaria, the principal cause of hospitalization, is of epidemic proportions: 40 per cent of children aged 0 to 5 years and 71 per cent of all pregnant women suffer from the disease. Some 64 percent of all households are in communities where waste is disposed of untreated.104 


There are separate schools in Gamba for white expatriate children, and for black African children: Shell and Elf back the expatriate schools. 105  The housing and levels of health and community development are also unequal. Whites hire blacks as maids, nanny’s and housekeepers, and blacks are used for the most grueling and dangerous physical labor. The educational books that are produced in France and sent to Gabon are different for African children than the books for French children of the same ages and developmental levels. “Less content, less substance,” said one French woman. “It is the calculated imposition of ignorance and it’s happening throughout French speaking Africa.”106 


Companies like Shell, Elf and Total are deeply tied into dictating public policy through their control of advertising, schools, arts venues, TV news and wildlife programming—both in Gabon and the USA, Europe and Japan—and funding for all of these: their corporate logos are branded everywhere.


Education is also privatized: Shell is partnered with WWF and the Ministry of Education through the Shell program “L’Ecole Que J’Aime” [“The School I Like”]. Further, the basic commodities (and luxury goods) available to expatriates connected to the oil industry are denied to poor Gabonese, and the black slave sector couldn’t afford them if they were, and there are stores (pools, clubs, etc.) where most blacks are not allowed.


This is Apartheid.  It is also environmental racism.


“It’s family living in an African Paradise,” wrote expatriate Louise Tasker in a Royal/Dutch Shell magazine for expatriates, “Apart from wildlife and beaches, Gamba offers children a chance to really enjoy childhood rather than grow up too fast… Flights in Gabon are very expensive, so you may not have as many visitors as you’d like.”107


Just as there is Apartheid on the ground, you won’t see the average Gabonese flying on Air Gabon: it is an airline for people of the privileged classes—and the black people allowed to join the club.


All air travel in Gabon was for more than 45 years controlled by the so-called “government-owned” national airline whose financial interests were also held by Air France,108 and whose directors included Omar Bongo’s relative Robert Bongo. Journalists in Gabon were jailed and whole publication runs confiscated in March 1997 after they reported that Air Gabon was involved in ivory smuggling.109  In another international scandal, Air Gabon—the airline of the elite in Gabon, tied to petroleum companies and run by the most powerful people in Gabon and France—went belly up in 2005.


Amongst the greatest causes of sickness in Gabon and its neighboring countries are unregulated corporate mining and pollution from extractive industries: gas flaring, uranium and manganese mining, all contribute to toxic environments. Gas-flaring by Royal/Dutch Shell, alone, in Africa, alone, is a leading cause of global warming.110 Yet, looking at the fancy public relations of the Shell Oil Foundation, we find that the corporate perpetrators of violence and destruction are blaming the victims for their own suffering. “More than half the world’s population uses open fires or traditional biomass-burning stoves to cook in their homes,” reads the disingenuous propaganda, where Shell wields a World Health Organization statistic. “There is also growing evidence that this pollution contributes to global warming.” 111


Does the World Health Organization challenge Shell, Elf, Total or Mobil for the massive and devastating carbon footprint of gas flaring? No. Of course, next to Shell’s support for dictatorships where petroleum flows are insured through rape, torture, and murder—the case of the Niger River Delta offering the most thoroughly documented example—Shell’s gas-flaring is perhaps one of the less troublesome aspects of petroleum operations in Africa.112  Meanwhile. In 1999, Shell flared some 25.6 million standard cubic feet of gas per day, in the Gamba complex Rabi concession alone—and this in a year where Shell—as supposed evidence of their benevolence—reported ‘reductions’ in their flaring footprint from 30 mmscf/d in 1998. 113 On this basis, and given the past six decades of their operations, Shell’s contribution to global climate mayhem is unimaginable.


The evidence that multinational corporations and their government, academic, scientific and ‘philanthropic’ partners are decimating cultures and landscapes is overwhelming.114 What is underwhelming is the extent to which the general public—U.S., Canadian, European, Australian and Japanese citizens, ostensibly concerned about human rights and the environment, for example—are unable to recognize and name these rich-man poor-man relationships for what they are: genocide.115 An agent of predatory western capitalism, Omar Bongo played a major role in that, too. Gabon offers a perfect example of how the propaganda system covers for the western terrorist apparatus, always maximizing profits for the white-based economies of permanent warfare, depopulation and elite control.


On the cutting edge of this massive project of conquest over people and places of color are people like J. Michael Fay, with their mega-transects and mega-flyovers,116  and their Pentagon connections, and the agendas they serve, even as they deny that they are in any ways involved and peddle the new white power projects of saving the earth, protecting human rights, defending wilderness, and securing the biodiversity that is, supposedly, everyone’s world heritage. This is the nature of white supremacy, with all its attendant obliviousness, and assumptions of innocence, and this is the true face of the globalization of terror.117  The history of Gabon is the history of slavery, alive and well in Africa’s gardens of Eden.


The End




102 “Lyonnaise to Manage SEEG,” Africa Intelligence, December 10, 1992.

103  “decision/analysis partners Awarded National Park Transportation Development Study for Gabon,” PR Newswire, September 14, 2004,; and DAP, .

104 Draft Country Programme Document for Gabon (2007-2011), United Nations Development Program, May 1, 2006.

105 Kees Cline, Tracey Cripps and Terry Boyle, “Schooling in Camp Yenzi, Gabon,” Destinations, a Royal/Dutch Shell public relations expatriate magazine, Issue 39, Vol. 11, No. 2, June 2006, p. 7:

106 Interview in Libreville: Elaine Muerat (Responsable Librairie), SOGAPRESSE, Libreville, Gabon.

107 Louise Tasker, “Family Living in an African Paradise,” Destinations, a Royal/Dutch Shell “OUTPOST” public relations document, Issue 39, Vol. 11, No. 2 June 2006, p. 13:

108 Flight International, March 29, 1986.

109 Committee to Protect Journalists, Country Report: Gabon, December 31, 1998.

110 Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas, Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil, Verso, 2003.

111“Breathing Space,” Shell Foundation web site,

112 Documentation of Royal/Dutch Shell involvement in repression and genocide in Nigeria is extremely well documented.

113 Royal /Dutch Shell statistics, 1998, 1999.

114 See, for example: Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas, Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil, Verso, 2003; Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon, Harper Collins, 1995; Max Liniger-Gourmaz, Small is Not Always Beautiful: The Story of Equatorial Guinea, 1988; and Bruno Manser Fonds,

115See: Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, City Lights, 2001.

116 See: David Quammen, “Views of the Continent,” National Geographic, September 2005; and J. Michael Fay, “Ivory Wars: Last Stand in Zakouma,” National Geographic, March 2007.

117 See: keith harmon snow, Towards an Anthropology of White Man in Africa: A Call to Explore the Militarized White Project of Dark Continentalism, Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, December, 2007.

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