Gabon Activists Applaud 'Nightline' For Shining Spotlight On Controversial President

White House defends Obama meeting with Ali Bongo.

ByABC News
June 17, 2011, 4:40 PM

June 18, 2011 — -- Citizens of Gabon hailed an ABC News report for helping draw attention to allegations of corruption in their West African nation, and for pushing the White House to explain why President Obama had agreed to meet with Gabon's controversial president, Ali Bongo. As detailed in this week's episode of "Brian Ross Investigates," Gabon activist Marc Ona called the "Nightline" report an important documentation of the Bongo family's beahvior and said "Gabonese civil society congratulates you." "We continue to work in Gabon for good governance and the struggle against corruption," said Ona, who was jailed by Ali Bongo's late predecessor – and father – President Omar Bongo. The "Nightline" report, which aired the night before Ali Bongo's Oval Office meeting with Obama, noted that the Bongo family has ruled oil-rich Gabon for more than 40 years, and has been accused of taking bribes, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, and presiding over a system rife with corruption while a third of the country's population lives on two dollars a day. A criminal complaint in France has tallied more than 30 Bongo-owned properties in the country and questions whether the family used embezzled money to purchase them. The family also owns multiple million-dollar mansions in Beverly Hills.

"Brian Ross Investigates" shows White House Press Secretary Jay Carney conceding to Jake Tapper of ABC News that Gabon's president has a "less than sterling" record, but saying that Gabon was an "important partner" in national security and that the meeting was a gesture of support for Bongo's reform efforts.

After the meeting with Bongo, and the release of pictures showing the two leaders sharing a laugh, the White House issued a statement emphasizing that President Obama had urged the Gabonese leader "to take bold steps to root out corruption and to reform the judiciary and other key institutions to ensure the protection of human rights." Another Gabonese viewer thanked ABC News for the report in an email to the Blotter's tip line, saying it gave the Gabonese people a voice that they otherwise would not have.

 "You highlighted most of the frustrations and violations [we] have been subjected to since 1968. In September 2009 I wrote to the White House about the [Gabon] election and the fraud that was about to take place. I did not receive a response. The reply from the White House press secretary is an example of what we have come to expect from the international community." "I was in Gabon in February to see my family," wrote the viewer. "I can tell you the situation is getting worse and nobody is safe in Gabon anymore." President Bongo has adamantly denied he is a thief, or that there is widespread corruption in his country.