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Gabon's Gen. Oligui Nguema sworn in as 'transitional' head of state

Gabon's new strongman General Brice Oligui Nguema looks on as he is inaugurated as Gabon's interim President, in Libreville on September 4, 2023.   -  
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Gabon's new military leader was sworn in as the head of state Monday (Sep. 04) less than a week after ousting the president whose family had ruled the Central African nation for more than five decades.

Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, took the oath in the presidential palace in front of a packed, boisterous room of government officials, military and local leaders in Gabon's capital, Libreville. Oligui is a cousin of the ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba, served as a bodyguard to his late father and is head of the republican guard, an elite military unit.

Speaking to applause and standing ovations Monday, Oligui said the military had seized power without bloodshed and promised to return power to the people by organizing free, transparent and credible elections.

"With the new government, made up of experienced people, we’re going to give everyone a chance to hope," he said.

The mutinous soldiers who toppled Bongo last week said he risked leading the country into chaos and they then "unanimously" designated Oligui president of the transitional committee. Bongo, who had been president for 14 years, was ousted hours after being declared the winner of a vote that was widely seen as rife with irregularities and lacking transparency.

The speedy swearing-in of Oligui will create perceptions of legitimacy and consolidate his power to deter potential opponents from challenging his rule, said Maja Bovcon, senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk assessment firm.

"It is also likely intended as a means to restore investor confidence by conveying the message that he will not waste time in returning to business-as-usual and democratic rules," she said. However, the fact that he plans to rewrite the constitution and electoral code means that the transition period will likely take months, if not years.

Bongo had served two terms since coming to power in 2009 after the death of his father, who ruled the country for 41 years, and there was widespread discontent with his family’s reign. Another group of mutinous soldiers attempted a coup in 2019 but was quickly overpowered.

Nine members of the Bongo family, meanwhile, are under investigation in France, and some face preliminary charges of embezzlement, money laundering and other forms of corruption, according to Sherpa, a French NGO dedicated to accountability. Investigators have linked the family to more than $92 million in properties in France, including two villas in Nice, the group says.

The idea of a long transition isn’t something that appeared to bother Gabonese who attended the inauguration Thursday.

"We are turning the page of 55 years of an oligarchy. For Gabon it is a new start, the end of a one political party governance without real benefits for the Gabonese people," said Desire Ename publisher for a local media outlet. It would be acceptable for the junta to transition within three years, he said.

Gabon’s opposition candidate, Albert Ondo Ossa, wouldn’t comment on the inauguration but told The Associated Press last week that the government needed to return to constitutional rule and he didn’t consider the president’s ousting to be a coup but rather a “palace revolution” in order to continue the Bongo’s family’s reign.

The former French colony is a member of OPEC, but its oil wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few — and nearly 40% of Gabonese aged 15 to 24 were out of work in 2020, according to the World Bank. Its oil export revenue was $6 billion in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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