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Gabon's new strongman sworn-in, and he is not different from Ali Bongo

Who is Brice Oligui Nguema? How did he end up at the pinnacle of political power in Gabon? To know and understand who Gabon’s new strongman man is, it is important to know his journey and the context of the last election that propelled him to the upper echelons of political power.

Brice Clothaire Oligui Nguema is a Gabonese military officer who has been serving as the President of Gabon, chairman of the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTR), and the Commander-in-Chief of the Gabonese Republican Guard since August 30, 2023.

Nguema was born in Ngouoni, Gabon in 1975. He attended the Académie Royale Militaire in Belgium and Omar Bongo University in Gabon. He served in the Gabonese Armed Forces for over 20 years, rising to the rank of general.

In 2019, Nguema was appointed head of the Gabonese Republican Guard, the country's most powerful security unit. In August 2023, he led a coup against President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who had been in power for over 14 years. Nguema was subsequently named as the country's transitional leader.

Why did the coup actually happen and why was the military praised in the streets of Libreville? The immediate and official answer is twofold.

First, the Gabonese people were fed up with the Bongo family. Indeed, the Bongo family ruled Gabon for more than half a century. Corruption and nepotism were at the heart of their regime. The Bongo family has been accused of widespread corruption and nepotism, with members of the family enriching themselves at the expense of the Gabonese people. For example, President Ali Bongo Ondimba has been accused of owning luxury properties in France and the United States, while many Gabonese live in poverty.

Second, Gabon was economically mismanaged under the Bongo regime. The Bongo family has also been criticized for its economic mismanagement, which has led to high levels of poverty and unemployment in Gabon. For example, Gabon is rich in oil and natural resources, but the majority of the population does not benefit from this wealth.

Nguema with President Omar Bongo Ondimba, the Father of Ali Bongo

In addition to these general grievances, many Gabonese also have specific complaints about individual members of the Bongo family. For example, President Ali Bongo Ondimba has been accused of being incompetent and out of touch with the needs of the people. His wife, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, has also been criticized for her lavish lifestyle and her interference in government affairs.

The real answer is more cynical and based on political calculations. Let us not forget that Oligui Nguema has always been within the Bongo inner circle. When the first electoral results were released, it showed that the opposition, led by Professor Albert Ondo Ossa, won the election. But Ali Bongo reversed the results and claimed that he was the winner. Dr. Ondo Ossa obviously contested the results and claimed that Ali Bongo stole the election. Gabon was on the path to political unrest. Now, why did the coup happen then?

The coup happened because if the opposition resisted Ali Bongo’s usurpation of power, it would have eventually prevailed over Bongo. And this means that all the members of the presidential guard including Nguema, would have all been replaced with new soldiers. This means that all the incumbent soldiers of Bongo’s presidential guards would have been out of job, and would no longer have access to the privileges that political power offers. Thus, the fundamental purpose of this coup was the preservation of political power for the presidential guard of Ali Bongo.

Nguema has promised to hold free and fair elections within two years. He has also pledged to fight corruption and improve the lives of ordinary Gabonese. Will he truly fight corruption and hold free and fair elections within the next two years? We highly doubt so.


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