Marc Ona Essangui: “The transition must be much more inclusive”

Two weeks after the August 30 coup that toppled Ali Bongo, the contours of the transition period desired by the army remain unclear

Marc Ona Essangui: “The transition must be much more inclusive”

Two weeks after the August 30 coup that toppled Ali Bongo, the contours of the transition period desired by the army remain unclear. “Twenty-four months would be a reasonable objective” before the organization of free elections, said the new Prime Minister, Raymond Ndong Sima, a civilian and opposition leader. No date has been officially announced by the proclaimed president, General Brice Oligui Nguema.

In the meantime, nominations continue. On September 11, it was the Assembly and Senate’s turn. Like the government, these bodies mix civilians and soldiers, opponents and representatives of the old regime. The new Senate president, Paulette Missambo, became a leading figure in the Alternance 2023 opposition coalition after serving as a minister under Omar Bongo, Ali's father. His office will be made up of a general, an executive from the majority party affiliated with the Bongo, the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), a former opponent and the president of the Tournons la page association, Marc Ona Essangui.

He reveals to Africa Point the conditions posed by civil society to the new power in place. While he remains confident in the intentions of the military, the latter intends to be “the good policeman” of the transition. Very committed to defending the environment, Marc Ona Essangui intends to lead the “battle” for the transparency of contracts signed between the Gabonese state and foreign companies.

Le Point Afrique: In this new Senate which mixes civilians and military, what is your role and what is your room for maneuver vis-à-vis the army?

Marc Ona Essangui: I accepted this position of vice-president to play the role of good policeman, that is to say, to closely observe and monitor the military who promised to put in place republican and renewed institutions. The office does not represent the majority. Unlike the Bongo era, our mission is not to maintain the control of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) over decisions. Seventy members from all sides will be appointed to compose this first chamber.

The government will have to propose a constituent law and, with the second chamber [the Assembly], we will have the mission of examining it. The Constitution will then be adopted by referendum.

When will the new Constitution be finalized?

The military does not want to comment. They simply told us that the length of the transition would be determined by the scope of the work. But they did not send us their roadmap.

According to the Prime Minister, the transition could last two years. What is your goal for the next few months?

Our proposal with representatives of civil society is to restrict the transition to a period of six months to a maximum of one year. Our priority is to review the Constitution. I don't think it is necessary to reinvent it from A to Z. The Constitution that we developed in 1991 had established real democracy, created new elected institutions and the principle of multi-party elections in two rounds. But it was distorted in the exercise of power. Adapting the 1991 text could take two to three months, I think. The main thing is to guarantee and lock in the principle of separation of powers, in particular the independence of the judiciary vis-à-vis the executive. Then, the second stage will be that of electoral redistribution. Once these frameworks are in place, other reforms can proceed very quickly.

Since your appointment, you have spoken twice with the president of the transition, General Brice Oligui. Is there a risk that he will seize power?

The general tells us that he does not want to keep power. The transition charter he presented indicates that members of the government will not be able to stand for election. In my opinion, this ban includes him because he is, de facto, Minister of Defense [Brigadier General Brigitte Onkanowa was appointed Minister Delegate to the Presidency in charge of Defense, Editor's note].

But I told him we wanted a much more inclusive transition. With more women, vulnerable people and young people so that everyone feels included in the new Gabon.

In the aftermath of the coup, the leader of the opposition in the elections, Albert Ondo Ossa, denounced a “palace revolution” which maintains the Bongo system. What do you think from the inside of the transitional organs?

I do not agree. The military got rid of the Bongo oligarchy, it was the most important thing and the only way to achieve it. We had tried all legal avenues before. The coup d'état took place to avoid a bloodbath and to denounce the unfair electoral process that we had tried, in vain, to have annulled [the appeals filed before the Constitutional Court had been rejected, Editor's note]. When the electoral commission announced 64% of the vote for Ali Bongo, even though we knew he was soundly defeated, we expected the Gabonese to take to the streets. We feared violent repression. It was ultimately the people in the system who overthrew it.

Why do you think the Republican Guard turned against the Bongo presidency after supporting him after the disputed 2016 elections?

Before these 2023 general elections, as protests mounted, the Republican Guard warned the presidency that its soldiers would refuse to shoot at the population. The authorities would have responded to them: “Leave us to do politics and do your job. » Implied “continue to obey our orders”.

But several members of the Bongo regime have found a place within the government…

If the military succeeded in this bloodless coup, it is because there were members of power and the PDG (Gabonese Democratic Party) who contributed to it. Their nomination can be a reward. General Oligui himself was Omar Bongo's aide-de-camp, then the boss of the Republican Guard, which is the most powerful army corps. A sudden break with the old system is therefore impossible. Because of these appointments of former CEOs, the current government is unpopular in public opinion. This is why we must build institutions that are stronger than individuals and their old reflexes inherited from the Bongo era.

China is Gabon's first trading partner and France is Gabon's first customer. What do you expect from these two key international partners?

Two thirds of forestry permits are held by Asian countries, in particular the Chinese regime which builds infrastructure that is not always solid in exchange for monopolizing our resources. We need partnerships that are truly win-win. With more technology transfers, for example.

The first battle we will wage will be to demand transparency and publication of contracts signed between the State and extractive companies, such as the French oil company Perenco. Today, civil society does not know the distribution of profits between the State and private companies. If we do not know how much of it escapes state coffers, we will not be able to rebuild healthy partnerships.