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Central African states uphold Gabon's suspension after army coup

Gabon's army ruler General Brice Oligui Nguema has toured several regional countries in an apparent effort to have his country admitted back into the bloc   -  
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The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced on Friday that it was maintaining the suspension of Gabon, a sanction imposed following the overthrow of President Ali Bongo Ondimba by the military last August.

ECCAS, which has recognized the "peaceful and inclusive nature" of the Gabonese transition, "has decided to maintain the decision to suspend Gabon's participation in Community activities until constitutional order is restored", it said in a communiqué at the end of a summit in Djibloho, Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Chad, Cameroon and Rwanda were represented at the summit. In addition to Gabon, which is currently suspended, ECCAS also includes the DRC.

The lifting of this sanction would have represented a first step towards reintegration on the international stage, almost four months after the coup d'état led to condemnation from Western capitals and Gabon's suspension from the African Union.

Popular with the vast majority of Gabonese for having put an end to 55 years of the "Bongo dynasty", the leader of the coup plotters on August 30, General Brice Oligui Nguema, was proclaimed transitional president by the army.

He immediately promised to return power to civilians at the end of a transition period. If the timetable is respected, the transition will last two years and elections will be held in August 2025.

Since taking power, General Oligui has met with all the leaders of ECCAS member countries, with the exception of Angolan President João Lourenço.

Some leaders in Central Africa, the region with the world's longest-serving heads of state, are not necessarily keen on the rapid rehabilitation of a country where the head of the Presidential Guard, who is supposed to be their guarantee of staying in power, has overthrown one of their peers.

Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang holds the absolute record outside monarchies with 44 years, Cameroon's Paul Biya is close behind with over 41 years, followed by Congo's Denis Sassou Nguesso with 26 years and Rwanda's Paul Kagame with 23 years in power. In Chad, the young general Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno succeeded his father, who had presided over the country for over 30 years, three years ago.

Irresponsible governance

On the night of August 30, having just been declared the winner of the presidential election, Ali Bongo Ondimba was overthrown by almost all the general officers of the army and police force, led by General Brice Oligui Nguema.

All the political parties, including Mr. Bongo's, and the vast majority of civil society organizations, immediately rallied behind General Nguema's government, praising it not as a "coup d'état" but as a "liberation coup", as the coup plotters put it.

Mr. Bongo was elected 14 years ago, following the death in 2009 of his father Omar Bongo Ondimba, who had ruled this small oil-rich Central African country for 41 years.

To unseat Ali Bongo, the military putschists had invoked grossly rigged elections, "irresponsible governance" and power corrupted by the head of state's family entourage and close associates.

According to the putschists, the latter was no longer really in charge of the country and had been "manipulated" since a stroke in 2018, notably by his wife and one of his sons.

The French-Gabonese wife of the deposed president, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, and their son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, have been arrested and charged, along with other relatives and ex-members of the Bongo couple's cabinets, notably with various counts of corruption and misappropriation of public funds, as well as forging the head of state's signature.

Ali Bongo, who was briefly placed under house arrest at the time of the putsch, is "free to move" and to travel abroad, the military announced a few days later. But recently, members of his family have accused General Oligui of preventing him from going out or receiving visits from relatives.

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