In a continent marked by diverse cultures and persistent challenges, a select few individuals have risen not only as political figures but as living embodiments of extravagance and excess. Among them, Ali Bongo’s recent presidential campaign for a third term captivated international attention for his opulent lifestyle, epitomising the phenomenon of African sartorial dynastic dictators.
Bongo, who was ousted in a coup on August 30 that ended his family’s grip on Gabon, symbolises the mix of luxury and power. During his campaign, he appeared in white suit by Vinci, worth around $200. This amount alone surpasses more than half of the country’s minimum wage when converted to Gabonese currency.
The Bongo family’s reign, spanning over 55 years, started with Ali’s father, President Omar Bongo. He held sway for 42 years, accumulating astounding wealth, including 70 bank accounts and an array of luxurious possessions, such as 39 apartments, 2 Ferraris, 6 Mercedes Benz cars, 3 Porsches, and even a Bugatti in France.
Ali Bongo, the scion of Gabon’s ruling family, has skillfully woven a narrative that intertwines luxury and power. His trademark attire comprises designer suits, often accessorised with silk ties and bespoke elements. This opulent demeanour extended to even the most formal of occasions, such as King Charles’ coronation, where he donned a designer wedding suit, while his wife, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, wore an elaborate ivory skirt suit adorned with silver and gold embroidery.
Bongo’s extravagance is further magnified by his collection of high-end automobiles, which includes rare luxury cars like Mercedes, Maybachs, and Rolls-Royces. Notably, he occasionally appears in public adorned in the expensive Moroccan Jabador attire, typically reserved for affluent individuals in Morocco or Algeria. After the Gabonese military wrested power, Bongo appeared in a traditional African blue attire in the viral “Help us make noise” video.
However, these grand displays of wealth also draw criticism. A striking instance involves Pascaline Bongo, Ali’s sister, who reportedly accrued an $86 million luxury air travel bill within two years. The blatant display of such extravagance, combined with a failure to settle the bill, spotlighted the divide between the dictators’ lifestyles and the stark economic challenges faced by many Gabonese citizens.
Read also: What you should know about Gabon
While Ali Bongo and his clan own substantial real estate in the US, Canada, and France, critics argue that this wealth stands in stark contrast to the country’s poverty, inadequate healthcare access, and educational disparities. These concerns continue to underscore the significant inequality within the nation.
Another heir ready to succeed his father on the Presidential seat, is Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of Equatorial Guinea’s long standing dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. He is currently the country’s Vice President.
Known as “Playboy Theodorin,” the Vice President of Equatoria Guinea has amassed an impressive collection of assets, including a multimillion-dollar mansion in Paris, a fleet of luxury cars, and even a private jet. His lavish life is very visible on various social media platforms. He is associated with parties, hip hop stars, and rare exotic animals showcased in his private zoo.
Global legal scrutiny has also dogged many of his shady dealings. In February this year, a court in South Africa ordered the auction of a super-yacht and two choice properties belonging to the Vice-President as payment for a botched airline deal that resulted in the illegal arrest and torture of a South African businessman.
In 2020, a court in Paris issued a three-year suspended jail term and a 30-million-euro fine to Nguema for allegedly using public funds to acquire a Paris home and luxury cars. This marked a historic moment as the first African leader to be sentenced for ill-gotten gains by a French court. Similarly, assets held in the United States and Switzerland have also been targeted for potential legal action.
Dictators often adopt flamboyant and extravagant styles as a deliberate strategy to distinguish themselves from the general population. According to Peter York, author of “Dictator Style, Lifestyles of the World’s Most Colourful Despots,” this unique approach to attire serves to communicate their supremacy and hierarchical authority. York points out that the eccentric clothing choices, like Gaddafi’s ostentatious white suits adorned with gold braids, symbolise their position as the “top dog” and reflect their desire to impress and intimidate. By examining dictators’ fashion preferences, York suggests we can uncover insights into their operating principles, revealing a bid for both reverence and fear.
He emphasises that dictators’ sartorial choices stand in stark contrast to prevailing fashion trends, deliberately showcasing an individualistic style that disregards conformity. According to York, this aversion to fashion norms reinforces their rejection of external influences, including global conventions such as international law.
In this context, the distinctive and extravagant styles of dictators represent a calculated effort to set themselves apart and wield authority. Such deliberate sartorial choices offer a glimpse into their psychological and strategic mindset, where the pursuit of power, adoration, and intimidation takes precedence over conforming to societal norms or legal regulations.
These tales of opulence underscore complex dynamics that shape political leadership in Africa. The stark contrast between the dictators’ extravagant lives and their nations’ economic and social challenges reinforces the intricate relationship between affluence and accountability. The luxurious lifestyles of Ali Bongo and Nguema Obiang Mangue continue to serve as poignant reminders of the multifaceted nature of leadership within a continent striving for progress and equitable resource distribution.