Gabonese Head of State Ali Bongo Ondimba chose one of his loyal followers, Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze, as new Prime Minister on Monday, replacing Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda, appointed Vice-President of the Republic.
It is a heavyweight in Gabonese politics that Mr. Bongo joined eight months before the presidential election.
Mr Bilie-By-Nze , 55, who has held several portfolios since 2006, was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Water Resources in the outgoing government.
Ms. Ossouka Raponda , the first female head of a Gabonese government, has been appointed vice-president, a position vacant since May 2019, whose function is to "assist" the head of state and who has no role of interim in the event of a power vacuum.
"By decree of the President of the Republic (...) is appointed Prime Minister, Head of Government, Mr Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze" , declared to the press the Secretary General of the Presidency, Jean-Yves Teale .
READ ALSO: Gabon: Rose Christian Ossouka Raponda named first-ever female VP
A few hours later, Mr. Bilie-By-Nze himself announced the composition of his government: the previous one renewed almost identically for key and intermediate positions, but going from 38 to 45 members with the addition of seven deputy ministers.
Ms. Ossouka Raponda, 59, a former mayor of the capital Libreville and minister of defence , had been prime minister since July 2020.
Presidential and legislative elections are to be held in the summer of 2023.
Ali Bongo was first elected in 2009 after the death of his father Omar Bongo Ondimba , who had ruled this small oil-rich Central African state for more than 41 years.
READ ALSO - Gabon's PDG appeals to president Ondimba to seek re-election
Since a stroke in October 2018 which kept him away from the public scene for many months, the Head of State has frequently reshuffled the government after having demanded, on his return from convalescence, his ministers that they " put to work in the service of the population" . The presidency regularly submits them to audits.
Mr. Bilie-By-Nze, who has already held key ministries, including Foreign Affairs , was also a political adviser and spokesperson for Mr. Bongo from 2012 to 2015. He is considered a close and loyal supporter of the head of state.
The post of vice-president, entrusted Monday for the first time to a woman, had been vacant since May 2019, when the previous holder, Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou - an opponent appointed there in 2017 after a political dialogue with the opposition - had been sacked.
The Vice-President is appointed by the Head of State, who can remove him from office at any time. The post had been abolished from 2009 to 2017. The Constitution only grants him a relatively minor role: "the president is assisted by a vice-president of the Republic" who "supplies him in the functions that he delegates to him " .
It is therefore, with Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze, a faithful and a heavyweight in Gabonese politics, that Mr. Bongo has chosen to head his government eight months before the presidential election.
Narrowly re-elected in 2016, with just over 5,000 votes ahead of his challenger, Ali Bongo, 63, is widely expected to be the candidate in 2023 of the all-powerful Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) of which he is the leader and who has been calling him for a year to be his "natural candidate" .
For now, the opposition has split into a multitude of parties but its leaders, whether they have already declared themselves candidates or not, are calling for "union" to "put an end to more than 55 years of dynasty Bongo" .
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