Jean-Hilaire Aubame

Jean-Hilaire Aubame
Foreign Minister of Gabon
In office
Preceded byAndré Gustave Anguilé
Succeeded byJean François Ondo
Personal details
Born(1912-11-10)10 November 1912
Libreville, Gabon
Died16 August 1989(1989-08-16) (aged 76)
Libreville, Gabon
Political partyGabonese Democratic and Social Union
Spouse(s)A wife[1][2]

Jean-Hilaire Aubame (10 November 1912 – 16 August 1989) was a Gabonese politician active during both the colonial and independence periods. The French journalist Pierre Péan said that Aubame's training "as a practicing Catholic and a customs official helped to make him an integrated man, one of whom political power was not an end in itself."[3]

Born into a Fang family, Aubame was orphaned at a young age. He was raised by the stepbrother of Léon M'ba, who became Aubame's chief political rival. Encouraged by his colleagues, Aubame entered politics, serving as Gabon's first representative in the National Assembly of France from 1946 to 1958. Aubame was also a leader in solving African problems, particularly developing the Gabonese standard of living and planning urban sites. Aubame's quick rise in Gabonese politics was spurred by the support of the missions and administration, whereas much of M'ba's strength came from the colonists.

Despite a rivalry, Aubame and M'ba, now the President of Gabon, formed several political unions which were sufficiently politically balanced to appeal to the electorate. In appreciation for his help, M'ba appointed Aubame as foreign minister and later President of the Supreme Court. Tensions soon rose between the two due to Aubame's refusal to merge his party with M'ba's and create a one-party state.[4] Aubame was installed as President of Gabon during a 1964 coup d'état against M'ba. However, the coup was toppled three days later, and although he did not participate in the coup's planning, Aubame was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor and 10 years of exile. He was beaten almost daily by his prison guards while serving out his sentence. M'ba's successor as President, Omar Bongo, allowed the return of Aubame to Gabon in 1972. The elder politician died in 1989 in Gabon's capital of Libreville.

Youth and early political career

Fangs in a Christian mission, c. 1912

Born into a Fang family near Libreville,[5] Aubame lost his father at eight years of age and his mother at eleven.[6] Abbé Jean Obame, stepbrother of Léon M'ba, looked after the orphaned Aubame and arranged for schooling at several Roman Catholic missions.[6] After he graduated, Aubame became a schoolteacher.[7]

M'ba helped get him a job in customs on 24 March 1931. First appointed to Libreville from 1931 to 1935, he was transferred to Bangui in 1935 and then to Brazzaville in 1936,[8] where he co-founded a branch of the Mutuelle Gabonaise with a brother of politician Louis Bigmann.[9] He was also a member of the Association des fonctionnaires, an organization which was dominated by two other soon-to-be politicians: René-Paul Sousatte and Jean Rémy Ayouné.[10]

Following the speech given by Charles de Gaulle on the Appeal of 18 June 1940, Aubame sided with the Free French, and in November was sent by Libreville authorities to rally Fangs for the cause.[11] In February 1942, Aubame met colonial administrator Félix Éboué and quickly became his protégé.[11] He served as an informant for Éboué on African affairs. Aubame's reward was to be one of several Africans promoted on 23 February 1943 into the European section of the civil service, and on 1 January 1944[8] Éboué appointed him president of the municipal commission for the Poto-Poto section of Brazzaville.[12]

Aubame participated in the 1944 Brazzaville Conference[9] and served in this post until 10 November 1946.[8] After Éboué's sudden death in March 1944, Aubame worked as an adviser to Governor-General André Bayardelle and his secretary André Soucadoux. They encouraged Aubame to run for office, and he returned to Gabon to campaign with the support of both the administration and the missionaries.[12]

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