LIBREVILLE: Gabon’s leading presidential challenger Jean Ping is a career diplomat determined to wrest power from the Bongo dynasty in Saturday’s election after serving the family for two decades. Foreign minister of the small oil-rich nation from the late 1990s until being elected to the high-profile post of chair of the African Union (AU) Commission in 2008, he is among a few Gabonese figures to be well-known internationally. The Paris university graduate was one of late president Omar Bongo’s closest and longest-serving ministers, holding a succession of prestigious posts before turning against President Ali Bongo who stepped in after his father’s death in 2009. Dubbing the regime that has run the nation on the Equator “a pure and simple dictatorship”, Ping turned on Bongo junior in 2014 and now hopes to stop him winning a second seven-year term. Launching his campaign in the central town of Lambarene in mid-August, the 73-year-old pledged that if elected he would ensure Gabon would be “sheltered from need and fear”. The half-Chinese veteran of Gabonese politics has since secured the backing of other opposition heavyweights in a concerted bid to end the reign of the powerful Bongo clan. Former prime minister Casimir Oye Mba and Guy Nzouba Ndama, who was a long-serving parliamentary speaker, have both agreed to back Ping for president, as has former intelligence chief Leon Paul Ngoulakia, also a first cousin to Bongo.