The U.S. says there have been improvements under the new President Bongo, but according to the State Department's most recent report, Gabon is still a place of "widespread government corruption" marked by the "use of excessive force by police," where even taking picture of the Bongos' many palaces is against the law.
President Bongo refused repeated requests by ABC News for an interview to discuss allegations of corruption. One of his top aides said no reputable news agency would ask such questions, and he accused ABC News of conducting a smear campaign against the President.
In Gabon, people can go to prison for criticizing the ruling family. That's what happened to Marc Ona, a polio victim who is one of the few people in Gabon to criticize the Bongo family's continued rule publicly. He was briefly sent to prison for it by Bongo's father.
Asked if he thought by talking to ABC News he was exposing him to the possibility of fresh trouble with the government, Ona said, "Yes, but I don't care."
Ona said he had to evade secret police to meet with ABC News late at night in a hotel in the capital of Libreville, but that he wanted Americans to know that corruption and impunity are still rampant under President Bongo.
President Bongo has used his money to travel the world in style, and make lots of important friends. In New York last year during a United Nations meeting, he rented an entire museum to throw a party in his honor, where he was praised by former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani for his work in protecting the African environment.
His entourage all stayed at one of New York's most expensive hotels, with such celebrities as comedian Chris Tucker dropping by to visit.
When ABC News dropped by for a visit and a few questions, the reaction was very different. "You're coming here with a biased approach," said a Bongo aide, who put his hand on an ABC News camera and ordered, "Get out of here, get out of here."
A spokesman for President Bongo insisted to ABC News that he is a reformer who is working to fight corruption in the country. The spokesman offered no explanation to ABC News, however, as to how Bongo's family has been able to amass such a great fortune.