General Brice Oligui Nguema, leader of Gabon’s military junta, has been sworn in as the country’s interim president.
Nguema, who was the head of the country’s presidential guard, led a group of soldiers to seize power from President Ali Bongo last Wednesday after a controversial election.
The military officers had cited institutional, political, economic, and social crises as reasons for the coup.
After announcing that Bongo had been ousted, the soldiers, who identified themselves as members of the Committee of Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), said they were dissolving “all the institutions of the republic” and closing the country’s borders.
However, on Saturday, the coup leaders reopened the borders, saying they were “concerned with preserving respect for the rule of law, good relations with our neighbours and all states of the world” — and wanted to keep “international commitments”.
WHO IS NGUEMA?
While Nguema seems to enjoy some popular support, evident from the crowds of cheering civilians turning up at his inauguration, there have been concerns that the general’s rule will be a continuation of the Bongo family’s 53-year hold on power.
Bongo became president when Omar, his father, died after ruling from 1967 to 2009.
The coup was believed to have punctuated the family’s dynasty but Nguema has been reported to be Bongo’s cousin.
Albert Ossa, leader of the country’s opposition, had described the coup as a “family affair” and a “palace revolution” aimed at keeping them in power.
“Oligui Nguema is Ali Bongo’s cousin. The campaign was 60 years of Bongo is too much. The Bongos have decided to put Ali Bongo aside and continue their system by putting in place a Bongo CEO system,” he said.
“And they have put forward Oligui Nguema. In this way the Bongo system continues.”
Nguema has also been accused of corruption.
According to a 2020 investigation by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on the Bongo family’s assets in the United States, Nguema invested in real estate.
He was said to have bought three properties in middle and working class neighbourhoods in the Maryland suburbs of Hyattsville and Silver Spring, just outside the capital, in 2015 and 2018.
The homes were purchased with a total of over $1 million in cash.
The general was said to have been a strong ally of Omar before his death but was later dismissed from the inner circle of the Bongo family, after Ali assumed power.
While the opposition had thanked the army for standing up against what it described as “an electoral coup”, it is now urging the junta to complete the counting of ballots and install Ossa as the “rightful winner”.
There has been no mention of a return to civilian rule by the junta.