Gabriel Léon M'ba was a prominent Gabonese politician who served as both the first Prime Minister (1959–1961) and President (1961–1967) of Gabon.
Gabriel Léon M'ba was born on 9 February 1902 in Libreville, Gabon, to a relatively privileged family. His father, who had previously worked as a hairdresser for the explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, was a small business manager and a village chief, while his mother, Louise Bendome, was a seamstress. Both of his parents were educated, and they were among the first "evolved couples" in Libreville. M'ba's brother also played a significant role in the colonial hierarchy as Gabon's first Roman Catholic priest.
M'ba's early education took place in a seminary in 1909. He later worked in various jobs, such as a store manager, lumberjack, and trader, before joining the French colonial administration as a customs agent. Despite his good job performance, his advocacy for the rights of black Gabonians, especially the Fang ethnic group, raised concerns among his superiors. In 1922, his outspoken views on educating the Fangs led to a prison sentence after he provided falsified documents to a colleague.
In 1924 or 1926, M'ba reconciled with the colonial authorities and was selected to become the head of the canton in Libreville's Fang neighborhood. He quickly gained a reputation for being a strong, confident, and capable leader. However, he was also involved in embezzlement and forced labor practices during his time as chief de canton. In 1931, he was accused of complicity in a murder case, which resulted in his removal from power and a subsequent sentence of three years in prison and ten years of exile.
While in exile in Oubangui-Chari, M'ba continued to influence the Fang people through correspondence with compatriots in Libreville. He also wrote about the tribal customary law of the Fang people, which became a significant reference on the subject.
M'ba returned to Gabon in 1946, where he founded the Gabonese Mixed Committee (CMG), a political party focused on obtaining autonomy for its member states and opposing federalism proposed by Senegalese leader Léopold Sédar Senghor. Over the years, M'ba's political career grew, and he held positions such as mayor of Libreville and vice-president of the governor's council.
In 1958, he directed an initiative to include Gabon in the Franco-African community. Following independence, he served as Gabon's first Prime Minister from 1959 to 1961 and then became its first President in 1961. His leadership style became increasingly authoritarian, leading to tensions and political unrest.
In 1964, there was a brief coup by Jean-Hilaire Aubame, one of M'ba's political rivals, but order was restored with French intervention. M'ba was reelected in March 1967 but died of cancer in November 1967. He was succeeded by his vice president, Albert-Bernard Bongo.
Gabriel Léon M'ba was a complex figure in Gabonese politics, known for his early activism, imprisonment, and eventual rise to power. His leadership and policies left a lasting impact on the political landscape of Gabon.
DATE OF BIRTH: 9th February 1902
TIME OF BIRTH:
PLACE OF BIRTH: Libreville, Gabon