- This is not exactly direcctly related to Gabon, but with a little
journalistic liberty, I can make it stretch. We will headline it with
“Database includes Tow Missionaries to Gabon.”
I have been working on a database for the last 15 months that has grown
to some 225,000 individuals related by birth or marriage. It includes a
significant number of individuals prominent in our history, ranging from
Ulysses S Grant and Robert E Lee to a number of titled individuals in
Europe to the two I am using as an excuse to send this message; Robert
Hamil Nassau and Albert Schweitzer.
There are perhaps 2 or 3 thousand names that can be found in most decent
world histories and that means that there are some 220,000 plus you have
never heard about, people like Lafayette Bullard who died in the Civil
War prison camp Camp Douglas or Philomena J. "Minnie" Thiede who lived
in the red house on 4th St across the street from St. Marks Church in
So what am I doing with the database and why am I writing?
A little more about the database. Perhaps 5 percent of the data base is
original research. The remainder is the compilation of other databases.
They are not verified to the degree required by little old ladies in
tennis shoes who do genealogy work, but I am satisfied that they are
substantially correct. By that I mean I have a high degree of confidence
that the people in the database are related in the manner found in the
db, however the dates may not be accurate.
I am working on an “abbreviated history of the human race” The db goes
back some 2500 years with reasonable accuracy as to the dates and
linkage and traces to historical figures whose dates and generations are
at best approximate.
Here’s where the call for help comes in. As I think back over my own
college days and history, I recall it being a somewhat dull compilation
of dates, names and places, complicated, particular in the early English
history by a lot of people who spelled their names very much the same.
My hypothesis, and I use the database as support for the argument, is
that because we are in fact all related we need to learn history from
the standpoint of a set of family adventures. The simple math requires
more grandparents for a single individual than the world population if
you run the line back to only about 1100 or so assuming 30 years for a
generation. Historical personages should become not some distant
somebody, but family members.
My second concept in the teaching of history is that it should be viewed
in a spatial relationship that is not dictated by time. There is a
theological concept that states that G-d is contemporary with all
generations. That allows all things to happen now. I think that a
similar concept has merit in the teaching and understanding of history.
As I said, this a bit off topic, however, I feel confident that in this
group there is probably the expertise to tell me I'm all wet or provide
some other sense of direction.
I would appreciate feedback on the two concepts.
Contact me either through the group or at
- Observations on Omar Bongo of Gabon. By John Ghazvinian
Whoever eventually wins Togo's fractious presidential contest next
month already knows that there is one dubious honour he will not be
inheriting from the late president Gnassingbe Eyadema. It is the
right to call himself "le doyen du continent", or "the Dean of
Africa". The unofficial title refers to Africa's longest-serving head
of state, and with Eyadema's death last month, it passed quietly to
Gabon's president, El-Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, who celebrates his
38th year in office in November.
The new grand old man shows few signs of making way for a new
generation. Almost certain to be re-elected to yet another seven-year
term this December, 69-year-old Bongo has said nothing about an
eventual successor. Instead, he appears prepared to remain president
until he meets his maker, thanks to both the absence of a credible
opposition movement and the enduring presence of French military and
Born Albert-Bernard Bongo in 1935, the young president changed his
name to Omar and converted to Islam in the 1970s, when he needed
money to realise his ambition of building the Trans-Gabon railway
into the country's jungle interior. On his way back from pilgrimage
to Mecca, he visited the sheikh of Abu Dhabi. Next morning, the
presidential jet left heaving with French francs.
Since then, petroleum exploration and production have brought heady
days for a country of barely a million people. With the high oil
prices of the 1970s came an orgy of Ozymandian building and
conspicuous consumption. By 1982, Gabon had become the world's
largest per capita consumer of champagne. Even today, despite
declining oil production, supermarkets in the capital, Libreville,
are full of Brie and foie gras flown in for the city's 8,000 French
expats and the Gabonese elite. Few of the petrodollars have ever made
their way to the residents of the city's sweltering, stinking slums.
Today, as Gabon stares into the abyss of life apres-petrole, many
quietly blame Bongo for the mess, but the real vitriol is reserved
for the exploitative practices of the Franco-Belgian oil company
Total and the successive French leaders who have supported Bongo over
In Libreville, dissent comes only in whispers, and the presence of
Bongo is felt everywhere. On a typical weekday morning, I sat in a
shared taxi as rush-hour traffic came to a standstill for 20 minutes
so that the president's helicopter could make its landing. One
evening, after I had dined at my hotel (owned by one of the
president's sons) under a beaming portrait of the great man, I met
the head of a pro-minent NGO. Nicaise Moloumbi told me how Bongo had
embodied the "opportunity of a lifetime" for Gabon.
A bit of rare dissent can be found on the dusty hillside campus of
Omar Bongo University, a short taxi ride down Omar Bongo Triumphal
Boulevard. There, Pierre-Fidele Nze Nguema, a respected sociologist
and author of a history of Gabon, asks: "How can you be in power
nearly 40 years and have done nothing for this country?" So why
doesn't anybody put together a credible opposition? (Though Bongo
banned opposition parties until 1991, the country is now, on paper, a
multi-party democracy.) Nguema laughs scornfully. "Opposition? Every
time someone tries that in Gabon, they get handed a fat envelope.
They shut up and you never hear from them again."
I also asked Jean Silvio Koumba, one of the president's top advisers,
about democracy, as we sipped cold grapefruit drinks on the veranda
of his home in the suburbs. Koumba stared at me icily and tapped his
pen. "Democracy?" he said finally. "Surely, you know by now that
democracy doesn't exist in Africa. If I tell my son to go away and
stop bothering us while we're talking, he does exactly that. He
doesn't see it as an opportunity for a debate. If you read the Bible,
you see that leaders are anointed by God himself."
The conversation ended soon after that, and he led me out of his
house, past a large faded wedding photo of Omar Bongo that hung over
the dining-room table.
- Within months, a revolutionary kind of factory being erected in Gabon
will start producing generic medicines to treat Africa's two great
plagues, malaria and HIV/Aids, industry and government sources said.
The plant was entirely constructed in Europe in shipping containers,
which have been linked together on an industrial site near the
Gabonese capital to form what is called a micro-factory.
"The machinery is in place and it all goes well we should be able to
start production before the end of summer," said factory director
The first of its kind in central Africa, the factory was designed to
produce up to 240 000 medical doses an hour.
Propharex, the Belgian company behind the micro-factory concept,
intends the factory to supply the entire central African region, and
a potential market of 30 million people.
It has been involved in the production of generic medicines for the
past 10 years through a subsidiary in Ukraine and offers quality
control of raw materials through chemicals subsidiary in Belgium.
The head of Propharex, Jean-Francois Capart, acknowledged it would
have been cheaper to ship pharmaceuticals directly from Europe than
installing a factory, but said, "we have set ourselves the challenge
of transmitting our know-how."
If the project is successful, the company plans to set up similar
miniature turnkey factories in countries such as Benin, Tanzania,
Uganda and the Congo Republic.
Producing medicines in traditional plants in Africa is very
expensive, Capart said. The micro-factories will be cheaper to
operate, he said, and their modular nature meant they would be easy
to maintain and repair.
For Gabonese authorities, the factory is a big step towards autonomy
in the health field.
Adolphe Mabongo of the Gabonese health ministry said the factory fits
in with a national health strategy aimed at making medicines
available to all social classes.
Health Minister Paulette Missambo said Gabon is also discussing with
Brazil the establishment of a second plant to produce antiretroviral
drugs, the only effective means of treating HIV/Aids, which has
ravaged much of the population of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Propharex-owned plant has been built at a cost of 3.28 billion
CAF francs ($6.7m). It will produce anti-malarial drugs based on a
Chinese plant called Artemisia along with several different kinds of
Haar said it now remained only to recruit the 30 people needed to
staff the site.
"We are going to start with just two expatriates and train the rest
of the personnel here. The idea is that the Gabonese should fend for
themselves within two years," he said.