Gabon marked the 50th anniversary of independence from France with a grand military parade of some 7000 men on the Libreville seafront last month with the highlight being a fly-past by five ex-South African Dassault Mirage F1AZ fighters upgraded by the Paramount Group and Aerosud.
Six of the fighters have been delivered to Gabon and all were flown by Gaboneses pilots on August 17. French news agency AFP reports French troops stationed in Gabon as well as soldiers from Senegal took part in the march-past. Relations between France and oil-producing Gabon have always been close, the news service said.
About a dozen heads of state flew in to join President Ali Bongo on the grandstand. They included Benin’s Thomas Yayi Boni, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, the Central African Republic’s François Bozize, Chad’s Idriss Deby Itno, the Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, Mali’s Amadou Toumani Toure, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan, Sao Tome and Principe’s Fradique de Menezes and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade. France was represented by Senate President Gerard Larcher.
The parade commenced at 10.30am local time and ended with the flypast at 12.30pm.
President Ali Bongo afterwards said Gabon planned to leave behind an era of “exclusive” ties with former colonial power France and focus on closer relations with other countries, Reuters reported. For decades during Bongo’s father’s rule, the central African country maintained strong ties with France. Gabon hosts one of France’s two military bases in Africa as well as several French companies, including oil major Total, the British news agency added. But last month it announced a host of deals with foreign firms, including from Singapore and India. “Exclusive relations between Gabon and France are a thing of the past,” Bongo told journalists.