Gabon's new strongman meets regional envoy, opposition chief

Gabon's new strongman General Brice Oligui Nguema salutes as he is inaugurated as Gabon's interim President, in Libreville on September 4, 2023. 

Photo credit: AFP

Gabon's new strongman on Tuesday met central Africa's mediator for the country following a coup last week that brought the curtain down on the 55-year Bongo dynasty.

State TV said General Brice Oligui Nguema met the Central African Republic's president, Faustin Archange Touadera, following the August 30 putsch.

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) has appointed Touadera "facilitator of the political process" in Gabon.

He has been tasked with meeting "all Gabonese actors and partners of the country" with the goal of providing "a rapid return to constitutional order."

The oil-rich state joins Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Niger among African countries that have undergone coups in the last three years -- a trend that has sounded alarm bells in the continent and beyond.

The television gave no details of the talks, which came a day after ECCAS member Equatorial Guinea said Gabon had been suspended from the 11-nation group.

ECCAS also ordered the immediate transfer of its headquarters from Gabon's Libreville to the Equatorial Guinea capital of Malabo, the country's vice president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, said on X, previously known as Twitter.

Elections promise

Oligui, head of the elite Republican Guard, was sworn in on Monday as interim president.

In a speech, he promised to hold "free, transparent and credible elections" to restore civilian rule but without giving a timeframe and vowed to amnesty political prisoners.

Hours later, he met Albert Ondo Ossa, the main opposition candidate in elections that precipitated the coup, Ondo Ossa's spokesman said on Tuesday.

The meeting marks a further step by Oligui to forge contacts with key figures after he forced out President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Ondo Ossa, 69, was the chief rival to Bongo in fiercely disputed presidential elections on August 26.

Amid opposition claims of fraud, Bongo was declared victor of the poll in the early hours of August 30 -- but moments later was detained by soldiers.

Monday night's meeting took place at Ondo Ossa's home, said Guy-Pamphile Mba, in charge of the former candidate's communications. 

He gave no details about what was said but confirmed the authenticity of a photo on social media that showed Ondo Ossa and Oligui holding hands.

On Sunday, Oligui gave a warm reception to leaders of Alternance 2023, the coalition that named Ondo Ossa as its champion less than a week before the poll.

Interest groups

On Thursday and Friday, Oligui met business chiefs, religious leaders, civil society and other interest groups, spelling out his desire to clamp down on corruption and reform Gabon's decrepit pension system, a bugbear for many people.

Bongo took office in 2009, succeeding his father Omar, who ruled the country for some 41 years, gaining a reputation for iron-fisted rule and kleptocracy.

He was re-elected in bitterly disputed circumstances in 2016 but two years later suffered a stroke that weakened his grip on power.

According to the official disputed results, Bongo picked up 64.27 percent of the vote against 30.77 percent for Ondo Ossa.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup, Ondo Ossa urged Oligui to step aside, arguing that he had won the elections but the outcome had now been "cancelled" by the military takeover.

He also suggested that Oligui and Bongo were connected by family ties, and that the event was less a coup than a "palace revolution" that was now perpetuating what he called the "Bongo system."