Gabon: opponent Raymond Ndong Sima named transitional prime minister

The bets were going well since it became known that Gabon's new strongman, Brice Oligui Nguema, was looking for a civilian prime minister after his military takeover

Gabon: opponent Raymond Ndong Sima named transitional prime minister

The bets were going well since it became known that Gabon's new strongman, Brice Oligui Nguema, was looking for a civilian prime minister after his military takeover. On August 30, the head of the Republican Guard – until then responsible for protecting the president – ​​dismissed Ali Bongo Ondimba, suspended or dissolved the main institutions of the Republic. Since then, throughout Libreville, a name has repeatedly come up within civil society organizations, opposition political parties and editorial offices: that of Raymond Ndong Sima.

Thursday, September 7, the economist with short curly white hair, in a dark suit, received from the hands of General Nguema – dressed, for his part, in a camouflage outfit and a green beret screwed on his head – his roadmap to lead Gabon towards a renewed democratic regime. This is, on paper, the undated ambition of the Transition Committee for the Restoration of Institutions (CTRI) led by the military.

The new head of government is not unknown to Gabonese. Minister of Agriculture in 2009, this econometrics graduate from Paris-Dauphine University has already been Prime Minister, from February 27, 2012 to January 24, 2014. It was during the presidency of Ali Bongo Ondimba (2009-2023) , successor to his father Omar (1967-2008).

It was then impossible to escape the ruling family. Raymond Ndong Sima, black belt in karate, nevertheless stood out for his strong, “even sanguine” character, says a Gabonese politician. He was one of the very few senior officials to have publicly opposed Ali Bongo's chief of staff, Maixent Accrombessi, all powerful at the time. The latter ended up winning, Raymond Ndong Sima had to leave his post. “But he showed and said that he was not the type to swallow all the snakes,” reports a current opponent who knows him well.

Courageous and not devoid of ambition

Confirming this temperament in July 2023, a month before the last presidential election, Raymond Ndong Sima stood out again. He almost came to blows, in front of the Senate, with another heavyweight in the Bongo system, the presidential chief of staff Cyriaque Mvourandjiani – arrested since the coup for various alleged financial embezzlement – ​​over a modification controversial electoral law. “The video of the altercation went viral on social media. In the eyes of the population, he then earned the reputation of someone courageous, capable of opposing the Bongo clan, which we did not then know was so weak and vacillating,” adds our source.

Courageous, then, and not lacking in ambition. The new prime minister ran for president in 2016. He got an insignificant result. At the start of 2023, however, he announced that he would compete again for the August 26 election, before lining up behind Albert Ondo Ossa, the designated champion of a coalition opposition within Alternance 2023. On Wednesday, he left this cemented coalition on time of a ballot by the opposition to Ali Bongo. He justified his departure because of "[Albert Ondo Ossa's] initiatives likely to lead to an unpredictable situation".

Three emissaries of the former candidate had just been arrested at the border with Equatorial Guinea carrying a letter with A23 letterhead, signed by Albert Ondo Ossa. She asked for help from this country, one of the oldest dictatorships in the world led by Teodoro Obiang Nguema since 1979, in order "to restore constitutional order in Gabon".

“Vigilant Enthusiasm”

Raymond Ndong Sima would tick the right boxes drawn by the new strong men of Gabon. His 2023 presidential campaign program promised to “overturn the Constitution,” reform institutions and diversify the economy of this oil state. The CTRI does not promise anything else.

Civil society also approves of this appointment. “He is patriotic, he has technocratic experience since his time as head of government, he knows the private sector and he is well regarded by civil society. It’s a very good choice,” adds Justine Judith Lekogo, member of the Copil citizens’ platform for the defense of the rule of law. “But he will need to know how to surround himself to make the transition successful,” she adds.

The analysis of the composition of his government, to come in the coming days, will make it possible to assess its room for maneuver in relation to the military who, until proven otherwise, hold the reins. “Since August 30, everything seems possible, it was unimaginable, the CTRI has a colossal state of grace. The general has all the tools in hand, but we must also wait to know how long he will set for this transition,” specifies Jean-Rémy Yama. This union leader, released Tuesday by decision of the CTRI after eighteen months of incarceration for political reasons, according to human rights organizations for political reasons, sums up the general state of mind: “Vigilant enthusiasm. »