Gabon’s ‘heiress’, her shoes and the $25m mansion

”Inge Bongo, the heiress to a very rich country in Central Africa, is in town to purchase a home. [Estate agent] Kurt Rappaport shows her a $25-million property in Malibu’s exclusive Broad Beach area, but she feels the home ‘lacks grandeur’. [Agency] co-owner Stephen Shapiro shows her a stately $25-million Beverly Hills mansion that turns out to be just what she’s looking for. Will Kurt and Stephen close the deal?”

Will they indeed? And if they do, will a part of the Gabonese government’s annual budget go towards paying for a new mansion for Inge, a daughter-in-law of Omar Bongo, the Gabonese president?

This is no joke. VH1, the music video channel, is currently airing a reality programme called Really Rich Real Estate, which features prominent and extremely wealthy people shopping for exclusive new homes in the Hollywood area.

Inge Bongo, married to Ali Ben Bongo, the Gabonese Minister of Interior and Defence and President Bongo’s son and heir apparent, is one of two people featured in the show’s opening episode. There she is, blonde, buxom and charming, floating from house to house in search of the perfect home away from home.

Much of the emphasis is on the size of the cupboards — dressing areas really — as Inge has a lot of clothes and even more shoes. At one stage she shows us her collection, and her favourites: ”Aren’t these cute,” she coos, ”they have matchsticks as heels.”

Another preoccupation is the ”his” and ”hers” bathrooms, although, Inge tells us, her husband only really needs a toilet and a newspaper.

One has to wonder what VH1 was thinking when it introduced Inge Bongo as the ”heiress to a very rich country in Central Africa”. With a little research, they could have established that Gabon is not actually a monarchy, and Inge therefore not a princess who could ”inherit” Gabon’s wealth.

VH-1 may have been confused by the fact that the Bongo family seems to treat the country like its own personal kingdom. Papa Omar has been president for 40 years and is Africa’s longest-standing head of state, his son holds two important portfolios, his daughter is his chief of staff and his son-in-law is the minister of economy and finance.

So, where did Inge get her money? Her husband is a government minister, but his official salary could not possibly cover a $25-million mansion and Inge’s lavish lifestyle.

An official at the Gabonese embassy in South Africa declined to comment, on the grounds that it was a private matter.

Gabon’s ruling family has in the past been accused of looting state coffers. In 1999, the United States Senate investigated Bongo for transferring $180-million in Gabonese oil revenues to three private accounts with Citibank.

Other scandals have followed, and Bongo is also believed to have used oil money to counter political opposition in recent elections.

Gabon’s economic future is also looking increasingly uncertain. According to the Banque des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, oil production is due to drop by 27% in the next three years.

The International Monetary Fund said in March that the main challenge Gabon faces is ”to prepare the economy for the post-oil era and make decisive progress in poverty reduction.

”History has taught us that oil prices can be very volatile and oil production in Gabon is expected to decline over the medium term,” the IMF warned.

Perhaps it’s a good thing, then, that Inge already has her $25million mansion in the bag.

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