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On a pleasure trip to India

The longest serving African head of state, President of Gabon, Omar Bongo Ondimba, is here on a "private visit".

india Updated: May 05, 2006 03:00 IST

So what if leaders of neighbouring countries have not taken up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation to drop in whenever they felt like it? The longest serving African head of state, President of Gabon, Omar Bongo Ondimba, decided he would do just that, with two planeloads of delegates.

A couple of days ago, Ondimba's office put a call through from Bangkok (where he was visiting too) to say he would like to come on a week-long visit, accompanied by four senior ministers and an 82-member delegation. He was not deterred that the prime minister would be out of Delhi, campaigning for assembly elections; it was to be a "private visit".

With Ondimba are his ministers of finance, commerce, foreign affairs and petroleum and energy. As soon as he arrived on Wednesday, his office announced that the president would like to pay an official visit to India in September.

Officials at the Ministry of External Affairs scrambled to make suitable arrangements for his private visit to be made "more comfortable and substantive", with meetings with some ministers and senior officials.

Even a lunch with the prime minister was arranged for Sunday, but Ondimba will have to leave soon, as the president of the Gabonese Senate has passed away.

That the president of Gabon -- a small nation of 1.4 million people in Central Africa - could visit at such short notice is a measure of the comfort level created by India's intensive engagement with Africa in recent times. Ondimba has been president for 39 years.