Gabon: Coup Leaders Name Dictator’s Cousin ‘Transitional’ President

Head of Gabon's elite Republican Guard, General Brice Oligui Nguema (R), is decorated
AFP via Getty Images

The “Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions” — which orchestrated a coup d’etat in Gabon, central Africa, on Wednesday — announced that it had appointed General Brice Oligui Nguema as its interim president following the ouster of longtime strongman Ali Bongo Ondimba.

The Gabonese military announced in a televised statement on Wednesday that it had placed Bongo under house arrest and would seize power in the country, dissolving the leadership of all federal institutions. The move appeared to abruptly end the Bongo family rule, which began in 1967. Ali Bongo became president following the death of his father, former dictator Omar Bongo of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), in 2009.

The Bongo family did not allow political parties outside the PDG to exist between 1967 and 1990. Following their legalization, the family held regular sham elections to legitimize its stranglehold on power. Gabon held such an election on Sunday and announced Ali Bongo had allegedly won in a landslide minutes before the soldiers appeared on television on Wednesday, canceling the results of the “election.”

Ali Bongo Ondimba in Ntoum, Gabon, on August 26, 2023. (Malkolm M./Afrikimages Agency/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The coup, if successful, will be the eighth in Africa since 202o, putting Gabon in a growing club of nations run by military juntas currently made up of Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea. Gabon itself experienced a coup attempt that Bongo quashed in 2019.

Oligui, the new interim leader, is reportedly Bongo’s cousin and the former head of the presidential republican guard like the leader of the Niger coup, General Abdourahmane Tchiani. Oligui reportedly served as Omar Bongo’s personal bodyguard before rising the ranks and leading the nation’s secret service. The “Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions” announced that the nation’s military chiefs had “unanimously” chosen Oligui as the nation’s new leader.

Oligui has yet to make an acceptance speech or other national declaration at press time. Reports had circulated throughout the day on Wednesday suggesting that Oligui had orchestrated the coup, leading the French newspaper Le Monde to reach out to him. Oligui offered some brief responses claiming that he would not declare himself president and claiming to guarantee Bongo’s safety during the coup transition.

“I’m not declaring myself yet; I’m not considering anything yet. This is a debate that we are going to have with all the generals,” Oligui said before the generals declared him “president.”

General Brice Oligui Nguema in Libreville, Gabon, on August 16, 2023. (AFP via Getty Images)

Oligui claimed the coup was necessary because Gabon suffered from generalized public “discontent,” and citizens were concerned about Bongo’s health after having a stroke in 2018.

“Everyone talks about it, but no one takes responsibility. He was not allowed to hold a third term; the Constitution was flouted; the way the election was done was not good,” Oligui said. “So the military decided to turn the page, to take responsibility.”

The Gabonese military junta was far from the only entity to condemn this weekend’s elections as unfree and unfair. Bongo largely shut down access to information, cutting internet access for civilians and banning the broadcasts of France 24, Radio France Internationale, and TV5 Monde on the grounds of alleged media bias. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) both condemned the Bongo regime’s silencing of news sources.

“It is totally anachronistic to deprive foreign media of the possibility of covering such an important moment in a country’s democratic life when the need for diverse reporting is crucial for the population,” RSF Sub-Saharan Africa Bureau Director Sadibou Marong said last week. “We condemn this unacceptable decision to close off the country and call on the Gabonese authorities to end it without delay.”

One of the coup regime’s first acts in power was to restore public access to the internet.

In Libreville, the national capital, crowds of residents appeared to welcome the coup with cheers and celebration, dancing and shouting in the streets.

Gabon 24, the national news network, has played a loop of such footage continuously for the past day.

Bongo is believed to remain in army custody in the presidential estate. Speaking to Le Monde, Oligui said Bongo was now “retired” and would become “a normal Gabonese like everyone else.”

Bongo appeared in a video on social media on Wednesday, seemingly healthy but concerned. He urged the international community to “make noise” to protect his regime in an English-language message and claimed he had no information on the state of the country.

“I’m to send a message to all the friends that we have all over the world to tell them to make noise, to make noise,” Bongo said in English. “For the people here have arrested me and my family. My son is somewhere, my wife is in another place, and I’m at the residence right now. I am at the residence, and nothing is happening.”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he added.

Soldiers in television footage on Thursday appeared to find bags of money in various currencies in the home of Yann Ngulu, the chief of staff to Bongo’s son, Nourredine Bongo. The videos appeared to reinforce the allegations by the coup leaders that the Bongo family was hoarding the oil-rich country’s wealth at the expense of regular people. The soldiers said in their initial statement on Wednesday that they intended to prosecute Bongo family members and regime officials on charges of corruption and treason.

Nine Bongo family members are already reportedly under investigation for alleged money laundering and embezzlement in France, Africa News reported on Thursday.

“Investigators have linked the family to more than $92 million in properties in France,” Africa News added, citing the French NGO Sherpa.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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