The health of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo has “greatly improved” after the 59-year-old was hospitalised as a result of discomfort and “persistent vertigo”, according to the presidency.
Bongo was in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, to attend an investment summit and speak alongside other leaders but was not seen during the discussion.
Ngouni said the president was transferred to King Faisal hospital and “has received all the needed support”, adding that “he is in the process of “recovering most of his functions”.
“Ali Bongo … continues to carry out his duties. The institutions of our Republic, therefore, function today perfectly in the strict respect of the constitution,” the statement said.
Lack of official news, along with memories of the secrecy that surrounded the death of the president’s father, Omar Bongo, in office in 2009 has led to increased speculation about his health.
Sources have previously told news agencies that Bongo had suffered a stroke, though Gabonese authorities said he was merely suffering from fatigue. One TV station in Gabon has been banned for reporting he had died.
On Thursday, Sylvia Bongo, the president’s wife, thanked well-wishers and said that she and her husband were touched by the public’s concern.
Un grand merci pour vos nombreuses prières et messages de soutien. Le Président Ali bongo Ondimba et moi-même sommes particulièrement touchés par toutes ces marques d’affection. pic.twitter.com/rmKgOdfpND
— Sylvia Bongo Ondimba (@Sylviabongo) November 8, 2018
People in Gabon still remember the news blackout surrounding the final weeks of Omar Bongo’s life, who served as president for 42 years.
In May 2009, the government said Bongo had taken time off to mourn the death of his wife and had gone to Spain to rest.
At the same time, reports by international media that Bongo was stricken with cancer and had been rushed to Barcelona for treatment.
The government persistently denied the reports until, on June 8, it announced that Bongo had died of a heart attack – a day after it had been reported by a French publication.
His son, then a foreign and defence minister, was elected head of state in August 2009. He was narrowly re-elected in 2016 following a presidential poll marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud.
‘Nobody knows what’s happening’
The Gabonese constitution sets down clear procedures if the president is incapable of continuing in office.
The government, Senate or National Assembly must ask the Constitutional Court to confirm a presidential vacancy.
Once this is done, the speaker of the Senate is declared interim president pending elections, which must be held within 45 days.
“Nobody really knows what’s happening,” a source close to Bongo’s circle told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.
A Gabonese political analyst said the centre of power was divided between two groups.
“On one side, there’s the ‘hardline group’, which has several generals and advisers clustered around Frederic Bongo, the president’s brother and head of the intelligence service,” he told AFP.
On the other side is opposition leader Jean Ping, who lost the 2016 elections, which saw violent clashes in the aftermath, to Bongo by a few thousand votes.
On Saturday, Ping – who insists he is the country’s truly elected president – broke a months-long silence to make a “speech to the nation” from his home in Libreville.
He called on citizens to “transcend their divisions and place the nation above our individual ethnic or clan interests”.