Rebecca Tyrrel: Bongo is Africa's second most unforgettably named leader, after Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan

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The Independent Online

Who knew that the president of the small West African state of Gabon is called Ali Bongo? If the name might amuse unreconstructed racists such as the late Alan Clark, who once referred to Africa as "Bongo Bongo land", it has a quite different resonance to Britons who remember our very own Ali Bongo. He was born William Wallace in India in 1929. His family returned to Britain when he was seven and William morphed into Ali and went on to become one of this country's best-loved TV magicians, late in his career becoming a respected magic consultant on Doctor Who and Jonathan Creek.

Whether he inspired his Gabonese namesake to change his own first name from Alain to Ali could be argued both ways. The British Mr Bongo was also a president, albeit of the Magic Circle, whose success stems from his catchphrases. "Uju buju, suck another juju", for instance, clearly has an edge over "education, education, education" and the tedious like. However, the Gabonese Mr Bongo's conversion to Islam is an equally possible reason behind the name change.

Be that as it may, he too appears to have a huge magical talent of his own, conjuring up huge personal wealth from a nation whose inhabitants remain desperately poor while their country's oil reserves diminish. Britain's Ali Bongo, for all his magical expertise, would surely wonder at the ease with which his namesake has spirited away 25 per cent of Gabon's GDP from under the very noses of his people into his own secret pocket. And still Gabonese Bongo has found time to buy 30 properties in France, three in Beverly Hills and marry a woman who rejected his offer of a $25m Malibu mansion in 2006 with: "I need something big. Really, really, really big". Subsequently, the UN consultant Jack Blum has styled Bongo's crime against his country as "grand theft nation".

The British Ali Bongo died two years ago, but had he said anything about Africa's second most unforgettably named leader (after Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan) one imagines it might very well have been along the lines of "Hocus pocus fishbones chokus" or perhaps "Aldy Bority Phostic Formio". Oh, how we loved him.

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