Coup in Gabon: General Brice Oligui Nguema, invested transitional president, promises to return power to civilians

General Brice Oligui Nguema, who overthrew Ali Bongo Ondimba five days ago in Gabon, was sworn in on Monday, September 4, as president of a "transition" whose duration he did not set, but with the promise reiterated to "give power back to civilians" through "credible elections"

Coup in Gabon: General Brice Oligui Nguema, invested transitional president, promises to return power to civilians

General Brice Oligui Nguema, who overthrew Ali Bongo Ondimba five days ago in Gabon, was sworn in on Monday, September 4, as president of a "transition" whose duration he did not set, but with the promise reiterated to "give power back to civilians" through "credible elections".

Soldiers had proclaimed on August 30 the "end of the regime" of Ali Bongo, who had ruled Gabon for fourteen years, less than an hour after the proclamation of his re-election in the contested ballot of August 26. The next day, the heads of the army and police corps, meeting in a Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI) headed by General Oligui, had accused the entourage of the Head of State - including his wife and one of his sons - of "massive embezzlement" of public money and "irresponsible governance". For more than fifty-five years, the Bongo family ruled without sharing this small Central African state, among the richest on the continent thanks to its oil, but under the yoke of an elite accused by its opponents of "massive corruption". and "poor governance".

"I swear before God and the Gabonese people to faithfully preserve the republican regime" and "to preserve the achievements of democracy", declared to the presidency, before judges of the Constitutional Court, the brigadier general in costume of red pageantry of the Republican Guard (GR), the elite army unit he commanded.

"Patriotic Act"

In front of hundreds of guests, including deposed ministers of Ali Bongo, caciques of his party but also tenors of the opposition, the general urged them to participate in the elaboration of a future Constitution which will be "adopted by referendum" and new electoral and penal codes "more democratic and respectful of human rights". He also "pledged" to "return power to civilians by organizing free, transparent and credible elections". He finally announced the appointment "in a few days" of a transitional government composed of "experienced" and "seasoned" people, from whom he asked for the release of "prisoners of conscience" and the return of "political exiles".

Ali Bongo, 64, under house arrest since the putsch, was elected in 2009 on the death of his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, in power for more than forty-one years. The "patriarch" was also one of the pillars of "Françafrique", a system of political cooptation, commercial preserve and corruption between France and some of its former colonies on the continent.

Since its coup, the army, thanked by the majority of Gabonese for having "liberated them from the Bongo clan", refuses to speak of a coup, preferring to evoke a "patriotic act" having avoided a "bloodbath". . No deaths or injuries were reported. General Oligui said on Monday his "great astonishment when we hear certain international institutions condemn the act of soldiers who have only respected their oath under the flag: to save the fatherland at the risk of their lives". According to him, the army had "a double choice: either to kill Gabonese who would have legitimately demonstrated, or to put an end to an obviously rigged electoral process [...] We said no, never again in our beautiful country, Gabon" .

The African Union, the European Union, the UN and many Western capitals condemned the coup but also insisted on a "difference" with putschs on the continent (eight in three years), because preceded by "an institutional coup", according to the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

Wads of banknotes

The new strongman of Libreville, who met all the components of society for five days, pledged to fight against corruption and bad governance, to restore the economy and redistribute wealth to the poorest.

Since the coup, public television has broadcast images of one of the sons of the deposed president, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, of the former first lady, Sylvia Bongo - "detained" arbitrarily and incommunicado in Gabon, according to his lawyers -, and former officials of the presidency or of Mrs. Bongo's cabinet, shown in front of wads of banknotes. This "young guard" is detained for "high treason", "massive embezzlement of public funds" and "falsification of the signature" of the head of state, according to the putschists, who accuse members of Mr. Bongo's family of having "manipulated" him by taking advantage of the aftermath of a stroke that occurred in 2018.

At the exit of the presidential palace, caciques of the power of Ali Bongo were booed or greeted by a bronca. "We study but we can't find a job, I've been unemployed for five years, we're told that the coffers are empty and we end up finding all this money at home," says Anouchka Minang, a midwife. 31 year old female. “We feel freedom, joy and above all hope for a better future,” exclaims Lucrèce Mengué, 28, among the thousands of people gathered in front of the palace.