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NYT lauds deposed dictator & one-time UO ally Ali Bongo as a musician & environmentalist

Last updated on 09/17/2023

8/31/2023: Any truth to the rumor Dennis Galvan will offer him a visiting professorship in the Global Studies program, or is this the final chapter in one of the UO administration’s stranger affairs? The NYT on the coup and Bongo’s legacy, here:

“As the all-powerful ruler of oil-rich Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba had two passions, music and forests, that forged powerful ties across the world.

An accomplished musician, Mr. Bongo recorded a disco-funk albumand lured James Brown and Michael Jackson to Gabon. As president, he built a music studio at his seaside palace and played improv jazz to foreign diplomats at state dinners.

More recently, Mr. Bongo allied with Western scientists and conservationists, entranced by both the paradisiacal beauty of Gabon, an Arizona-sized country covered in lush rainforest and teeming with wildlife, and by his commitment to protecting it.

But to his own people, Mr. Bongo, 64, embodied a family dynasty, founded by his father, which had dominated Gabon for 56 years — until this week, when it came crashing down. …”

7/17/2018: President Putin steps forth to the rescue of Gabon’s Ali Bongo

Of course. After Lariviere and Galvan failed, where else could he turn?

No word on whether UO fundraiser John Manotti helped set up this meeting too. Meanwhile, former Ambassador Plenipotentiary Eric Benjaminson has moved on from UO to Chicago.

9/3/2016: Lariviere’s deal with Ali Bongo and Eric Benjaminson collapses in violence

The history of this bizarre UO foray into foreign affairs has yet to be written, but so far it involves the US ambassador to Gabon seeing a chance for a retirement gig at UO, the State Department’s sophomoric remix of Kissinger’s real-politic, Richard Lariviere’s desperate effort to get some money for something other than Duck sports, and a lot of oil money stolen from some very poor Africans. Like so many corrupt Oregon deals, some otherwise smart people gave it a pass because it was carefully packaged as “green” and “sustainable”. Oregon and Gabon: Twin Edens.

Here’s UO President Richard Lariviere at the White House with President Bongo and US Ambassador Eric Benjamin – now a UO employee – in happier times in 2010:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.32.38 PM

The Guardian reports on kleptomaniacal President for Life Bongo’s current re-election dispute. Many have died:

… However, Bongo scored lower than his father, who famously won 100% of the national vote in the 1986 election, with a 99.9% turnout, when Gabon was still a one-party state.

[Opposition candidate Jean Ping], a half-Chinese diplomat who was previously one of the Bongo family’s most trusted cronies, rejected the result and demanded a recount in Haut Ogooué.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.32.38 PM

And the NYT gives Ping a platform:

On Saturday, Aug. 27, presidential elections were held in my country,Gabon, in West Africa, and I was the candidate who won by a substantial vote margin. Nearly a week later, I would have expected to be addressing the world as Gabon’s president-elect, ready and willing to work with the United States and all our international partners to fight terrorism, build our economies and improve the lives of our citizens through increased development and cooperation.

Sure. That and deliver a share of the spoils to his partners.

1/18/2016: UO Foundation must write off Bongo’s $15M endowment promise

Under the Foundation’s rules they had until the end of 2016 to get the money from Gabon or take it off the books. Maybe I’m missing the nuance in this Le Monde article, but obviously it’s not coming by 2016. The truth is there is no money: Ali Bongo blew it on luxury real estate, fast cars, soccer players, and wives, while leaving his country mired in poverty. The collapsing price of oil made it impossible for his government to continue to keep up the pretense.

And so ends one of Richard Lariviere’s crazier ideas. One of the RG’s several critical editorials on it is here, and other UOM posts are here. Thanks to Bongo’s political opponents for forwarding the link, and best of luck in the elections and after:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.07.24 PM

12/27/2015: Gabon’s kleptomaniacal President for Life Ali Bongo stiffs UO on $15M gift

Rumor down at Dennis Galvan’s Office of International Affairs is that there are a lot of nuances here, and we may get the money “soon”.

Sure. With oil below $40 and an election coming up amidst the ongoing French investigations of corruption, and family infighting over the loot accumulated by Bongo’s father Omar, I’m thinking the UO Foundation is going to have to write off the $15M endowment gift that Bongo promised UO back in 2011 pretty soon.

But apparently former US Ambassador to Gabon Eric Benjaminson, whom we hired to run the “Twin Edens” project shortly after he convinced Bongo to give the money, still has a couple million left from the original $5M, and is funding a variety of research projects.

For more on this story, including the suitcases of cash Bongo has been sending his American wife, and some spectacular real estate purchases, check out the Gabon tab below.


  1. History 12/27/2015

    Galvan played this brilliantly. He leveraged the promise of Gabon money to secure himself a VP position, knowing full well the check wouldn’t cash. Now he’s busy trying to burrow into the administration like a tick they can’t get rid of. Word at the JH kool aid dispenser is that Galvan’s having a tough time keeping anyone willing to hide his dirty laundry for him. One of his former employees is already talking about it.

  2. Licensed in Oregon 12/28/2015

    No honor among thieves.

  3. Observer 01/18/2016

    Dennis Galvan is s symptom of the university’s fondness for grandiose plans over actual feasibility. The Gabon debacle is just the most obvious example of it, but all of Study Abroad is managed with the same approach of “Expand way beyond capacity — make huge plans for constant reorganization and empire-building — leave the details to be filled in later” — an approach which has been persuasive to the decision-makers in Johnson Hall, but which has sown only failed plans, poor morale, and turmoil. Admin has a long history of promoting the grandiose over the more careful approach, and this is just a particularly embarrassing instance in a long line of instances.

    • Old Grey Mare 01/18/2016

      Thank you for saying this. I do think that a call for “small ideas” would not come amiss.

    • uomatters Post author | 01/18/2016

      To Observer – Please post some specific examples.

  4. former student 01/18/2016

    The Gabon gambit always seemed too good to be true. I never really understood how the deal made sense from Gabon’s perspective.

  5. Observer 01/19/2016

    If you look at this page ( you’ll see Galvan’s campaign promise to increase UO study abroad statistics by 40%, in other words from 25% to 35% of students, if my calculations are correct. No public university has a percentage that high; it’s completely unrealistic. And in other administrative divisions, we have the annual rounds of crazy initiatives in both teaching and scholarship — remember all the Pathways and Clusters and target areas and the like? Meanwhile down here on the ground it’s business as usual, trying to muddle through with poor resources and crummy pay and administrators barking at us to do more with less and Continue Being Excellent.

  6. honest Uncle Bernie 09/03/2016

    The Hat seems less and less impressive as he recedes into the past.

  7. Gabon citizen 10/22/2016

    Deal of crooks and dictator! Definitely collapsed after Ali Bongo killed hundreds to remain in power. They pretended to do this for Gabon which was false and some one us mentioned when the deal was struck. We knew this was a bad deal made between Ali Bongo, former US Ambassador to Gabon and their friends to support each other.

    «In light of unfortunate events in Gabon surrounding the August 27th national elections, the Gabon Oregon Center (GOC) has suspended operations.» Read more:

  8. trumplackey 07/18/2018

    Am I the only one appalled at the thought of a destitute African country sending millions to the coffers of a (relatively speaking) wealthy American university? Or did I read that wrong…?

    • UO Matters 01/06/2019

      Thanks for the link.

  9. SOJC Observer 06/25/2020

    Not sure if it has become public knowledge yet, but yesterday Galvan completely imploded International Affairs by laying off almost the entire Study Abroad office (about 20 people), and half of the already hurting and tiny International Student and Scholar Services team (2 people, including top admin). Of course, no cuts among his own cadre of sycophants. I guess great savings for his own plans, and his financial schemes, at the expense of student-facing services. This Bongo story just reminded me of Galvan’s funky way of making accounting work to his own personal advantage.

    • uomatters Post author | 06/25/2020

      Please post any relevant emails.

      • SOJC Observer 06/30/2020

        Still no word on the CEO stepping down from his failed business.

        From: Dennis Galvan
        Date: Friday, June 26, 2020 at 5:26 PM
        To: Dennis Galvan
        Subject: Division of Global Engagement Reorganization

        June 24, 2020

        Dear Colleagues:

        As a valued partner of the Division of Global Engagement, I write to let you know that our division has undergone a significant restructuring as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Our operations depend to a significant degree on external revenues from travel-based programs that have been cancelled since March and may not resume for many months. What’s more, international student enrollment has been declining, with fall 2020 new enrollment uncertain.

        As a result, we’ve had to reduce our FTE (17 layoffs out of 60 employees) and restructure our organization. It is heartbreaking to say goodbye to so many valued colleagues who have dedicated their careers to making the UO a more global university.

        Despite these reductions, and the challenges posed by the pandemic, our support for your own international work and the internationalization of your academic unit will continue. Whether in the form of a faculty-led study abroad program, a highly-valued exchange relationship, support for your global research, international visitor programs, commitment to your international students, or other international activities, the Division of Global Engagement will continue to provide the same set of core services. With a reduced and reorganizing staff, we appreciate your understanding that, at least at first, processing time for some services may increase. But as we rebuild our operations to be more streamlined and efficient, we are confident we can meet or exceed prior levels of support. And as travel reopens, we will be well-positioned to expand services.

        While the pandemic is changing the size and structure of our operations in DGE, it in no way dampens our commitment, nor that of UO leadership, to campus internationalization and rich forms of global engagement. This is because, as an institution, we believe that:

        • Academic excellence requires links to top scholars, students and researchers around the world.
        • Understanding and addressing the most important global challenges – from pandemics to immigration and climate change to trade – required international research partnerships.
        • To remain competitive, we must recruit top talent (students, faculty, and staff) from all corners of the globe.
        • International students are vital to campus diversity, and their presence with us ensures a global connection and perspective for every UO student.
        • Every UO student should be able to experience the world because global education boosts student success (11.4% higher 4-year graduation rate for study abroad students, controlling for income, GPA, race, ethnicity, gender and other factors).
        • As we recommit ourselves to racial justice and ending white supremacy, we know this is a global project. We recognize the empowerment that comes to every UO student when they see their country, their race, and their identities through the lenses of and in comparison to other struggles for justice (from Indian decolonization to fighting apartheid in South Africa; from ending genocides to protecting vanishing indigenous languages and cultures)

        These times require the Division of Global Engagement to adapt to difficult circumstances. We are doing so in a way that retains the core work of internationalization essential to a top-tier research university. This applies directly to your research, your international students, your study abroad programs, and other aspects of your global engagement work. UO’s continued commitment to global engagement shows in how, even in these difficult times, the Division of Global Engagement continues to come up with innovative ways to maintain and enhance opportunities to understand and experience the world. Our new activities include:

        • #NoPassportNeeded: global education experiences this summer that are giving hundreds of students remote internships overseas, remote homestays, remote language buddies, remote excursions, and remote tutorials, all at very low cost. This opens study abroad to many who could never afford to go on travel-based programs.
        • Universities from Asia, Australia, and Latin America are teaming up with UO, five Oregon universities and five more from the Pac 12 to create the Student Corps to Combat Coronavirus, an international collaboration to train students to help with contact tracing and other public health work to mitigate the pandemic.
        • The soon-to-be-launched #NoVisaNeeded options for international students who cannot re-enter the U.S. to earn UO credits next year. This will be done via remote courses supplanted with bursts of in-person academic support, remote internships, remote project-based learning, and travel permitting, line study at one of our overseas sites.

        I hope you will be in touch if you have any questions about these changes or would like to explore together how the Division of Global Engagement can help advance your and your unit’s international agenda.

        With sincere good wishes,

        Dennis Galvan
        Dean and Vice Provost, Division of Global Engagement
        Professor of Political Science & International Studies
        University of Oregon

  10. honest Uncle Gangsta 09/01/2023

    A deeply moving saga. This man has enriched us all. Starting with himself. His influence on this great University is rivaled only by the Great Benefactor who gave us the Phildo. Our gratitude to UOM for keeping us informed.

  11. honest Uncle Gangsta 09/02/2023

    A sportsmanlike encounter today of our magnificent Ducks with stately Portland State. A gentlemanly send off, I take it. We can all take pride.

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