Gabon: Transitional president inaugurated as ousted president released

Brice Oligui Nguema. Screenshot from the YouTube channel of the television news network, Africa 24. Fair use.

Following Gabon's coup d'état on August 30, 2023, which saw former president, Ali Bongo, overthrown, a transition committee led by Brice Oligui Nguema has been created to help the country overcome this crisis.

On September 4, Brice Oligui Nguema, who has close connections to those once in power, was sworn in as Gabon's transitional leader. As his mother was a cousin of the late president, Omar Bongo, Oligui Nguema is effectively a member of the Bongo extended family himself, thus serving alongside Omar and Ali Bongo alike.

Once inaugurated, it fell to him to form a transitional government and restore the dissolved state institutions.

During his inaugural speech, Gabon's new leader promised to hold fresh elections at the earliest opportunity to restore civilian rule. His speech is shown in this Africa 24 video:

Oligui Nguema also announced his intention to combat corruption, which has plagued this country for years.

According to media outlet Actu Cameroun, the country's transitional president issued a stern warning during a meeting with the directors-general of Gabon's state and parastatal institutions. Oligui ordered:

Chaque DG qui se trouve dans cette pièce qui sait qu’il a fricoté avec les enfants là ou alors qu’il a pris plus que de raison doit venir rendre l’argent et s’expliquer sous 48h, venez vous même car nous savons déjà qui vous êtes. Si dans les 48h vous ne vous êtes pas présenté auprès des services (B2, DGR ou DGSS) nous viendrons vous chercher et vous allez comprendre la différence.

Any [director general] DG in this room who knows they have colluded with these individuals [Ali Bongo's son, Noureddin Bongo, and his inner circle] or have taken more than they should have, must return the money and explain themselves within 48 hours. Come forward on your own as we already know who you are. If you haven't reported to the [General Directorate of Counter-Intelligence and Military Security] DGCISM or B2, the [General Directorate of Research] DGR or the [General Directorate of Special Services] DGSS within 48 hours, we will track you down and you will soon learn the difference.

Ali Bongo free to travel

Following Gabon's disputed elections on August 26, 2023, a military coup saw Ali Bongo, who ran for a third presidential term despite his ill-health from a stroke he suffered in 2018, arrested and placed under house arrest. As such, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) appointed Faustin Archange Touadéra, president of the Central African Republic, to hold talks with Gabon's opposing parties. The negotiation and mediation efforts appear to have worked, with Ali Bongo subsequently being released from house arrest.

In a statement signed by Brice Oligui Nguema, which was broadcast on Gabon 24 and reposted by VoxAfrica on X (formerly Twitter), the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), established by military coup leaders, announced:

#Gabon: Former president, Ali Bongo, is now free to travel

The announcement was made by a CTRI spokesperson. General Brice Oligui Nguema has decided to release the ousted president on health grounds.#Gabon2023 #Voxafrica

— Voxafrica (@voxafrica) September 7, 2023

Gabon condemned and suspended from ECCAS and African Union

Before the military takeover, the headquarters for the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was based in Gabon, where Ali Bongo served as acting chairman. This coup d’état has angered other presidents of central African countries within the ECCAS. On September 4, after condemning the coup and calling for the restoration of constitutional order, the ECCAS suspended Gabon from its regional body. The ECCAS headquarters was subsequently moved from Gabon's capital city, Libreville, to Equatorial Guinea's capital city, Malabo.

The institution's decision has not gone unnoticed online. On X, the news was shared in this post by Fenelon Massala, a reporter for pan-African newspaper, Financial Afrik.

The ECCAS heads of state and government have condemned Gabon's coup d'état, suspended the country from its regional body, ordered the immediate transfer of its headquarters from Libreville to Malabo and given the transitional government a one-year deadline to hold the next elections

— Fenelon MASSALA (@rfemassala) September 4, 2023

In an extraordinary session held on September 4 in Djibloho, Equatorial Guinea, the institution's Assembly of Heads of State and Government appointed the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, to replace Ali Bongo as ECCAS Chairman.

The African Union has also condemned this coup, thus suspending Gabon's participation in all AU activities, organs and institutions. In a post on X, Gabonese citizen, Queen Don, mocked the AU's decision:

The AU has suspended Gabon, 🇬🇦 but was unable to do anything following the internet blackout on August 26. Unbelievable #FreeGabon

— Queen Don🇬🇦✨ (@marinajoela) August 31, 2023

Although CTRI operations have barely gotten underway, several critics and internet users have already questioned Brice Oligui Nguema's commitment to protecting Gabon's interests. According to them, his meeting with the French ambassador ahead of his inauguration was indicative of his intention to protect France's interests in Gabon.

In a Panorama Papers article posted on X, the unsuccessful opposition candidate in Gabon's 2016 presidential elections, Jean Ping, alleges that the transitional president is acting in the interest of its former colonizer:

Check out this article: Coup d'État | Gabon: General Brice Oligui Nguema is acting as a pawn for France, according to Jean Ping –

— Panorama Papers (@Panoramapapers) September 5, 2023

Other X users agree with Jean Ping's assessment. For example, Dr Kanga posted:

These are the pledges made to France by the new government led by General OLIGUI NGUEMA. If these words are anything to go by, the coup leader will bring back France, which had been ousted from Gabon, thus giving us a better understanding of France's endorsement of Gabon's government.

Gabon's new leader states that the ousted president had turned his back on France. Read the article here:

— Dr KANGA (@AkassiKanga) September 5, 2023

Is Brice Oligui Nguema going to fundamentally alter the relationship between Paris and Libreville? Will he able to protect Gabon's interests like the military regimes in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are doing in their countries? Or will this mean a shift in the continuity of Franco-Gabonese relations?

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