Gabon’s New Dawn Under Military Leadership

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General Brice Oligui Nguema delivering his inaugural speech at the Presidential palace (Image Credit: CNN)

General Brice Oligui Nguema has assumed the role of Gabon’s new President in the wake of the sixth coup in under three years in Central and West Africa. His inauguration took place in a splendid military ceremony at the presidential palace in the capital city, Libreville, captivating the hearts of jubilant crowds who poured into the streets to celebrate the ascension of this career soldier as the nation’s fourth President since achieving independence.

Meanwhile, former President Ali Bongo Ondimba was placed under house arrest, alongside members of his family, government, and the judiciary, as he appealed for international intervention to reinstate him to power, citing his victory in the elections just a week ago. The junta government has since released the former President and asked him to move abroad.

General Nguema, a long-serving member of President Ali Bongo’s government and part of the broader Bongo clan, rose to power through a coup d’état on August 30. High-ranking military officers made the announcement on national television, unanimously designating him as their leader and the President of the transitional government.

In their statement, they emphasized the reasons behind the coup, including concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability in the recently concluded presidential elections, as well as what they described as “irresponsible” governance. The United Nations (UN) led the international community in condemning the coup, while the African Union (AU) responded by suspending Gabon.

Indeed, President Ali Bongo’s administration had been on shaky ground since the disputed elections in 2016. He claimed victory with slightly over 5,000 votes, with a reported 99.9% voter turnout in his home province. Ironically, the national voter turnout stood at only 59%. Adding to the controversy, the number of voters in the province appeared to surge from 54,000 to 250,000 during the announcement of the results.

Subsequent violent protests resulted in several fatalities and significant economic losses that ran into millions of dollars. The constitutional court upheld Bongo’s victory, citing the impossibility of recounting votes in the province due to their destruction after the elections.

Additionally, President Ali Bongo suffered a stroke in 2018, sparking power struggles within his inner circle. As speculation regarding his health increased, figures such as his son Noureddin Bongo Valentin vied for power. However, the President made a full recovery and resumed his duties, appointing Noureddin as the coordinator of presidential affairs a year later.

The coup marks the end of the fifty-five-year reign of the Bongo dynasty, the longest-serving political dynasty on the continent. During their rule, the family amassed considerable wealth from the oil-rich nation, while a vast majority of the population remained in poverty. According to the World Bank, at least one-third of the country’s population lives on less than $1.25 a day.

The new transitional government has ignited renewed hope among the Gabonese people, seen as the first step toward improving living standards and the overall condition of the country. This optimism is particularly pronounced among the youth, who constitute 35% of the population. Given that the unemployment rate in this demographic stands at 36.6%, their expectations for the transitional government to chart a new course for the nation are substantial.

In his inauguration speech, the new Gabonese President pledged to restore democracy by holding free and fair elections, without specifying a date, which would mark the end of the transitional government. He also expressed his commitment to improving the lives of his people, promising to bring greater dignity to their daily existence and power to them. The international community watches closely to see whether this latest military takeover in Central and West Africa will influence the trajectory of junta governments in the region.

Written by Gathieri Kahuko

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