Can Gen Ngeuma usher in a new era?

Selling mobile phone accessories in a small shop he opened in Gabon’s capital Libreville, Doles Gabriel sees the president of the government, General Brice Oligui Ngeuma, as a man like Moses who has freed the country from prisons. of his former boss – President Ali Bongo.

“Moses was educated in Pharaoh’s house, but God chose him to free the people of Egypt from slavery. This is what is happening in Bongo’s house,” said the 23-year-old.

His comments reflect the joy – and hopes – of many people who have lived under Bongo’s rule. With an iron fist, the family has ruled oil-rich Gabon for all but seven years since it gained independence from France in 1960.

Omar Bongo became president in 1967 and remained president until his death in 2009. He was succeeded by his son, Ali Bongo, until Gen Ngeuma took over last month.

The 48-year-old general was, as Ms Gabriel said, “part of the house”. He was born in the southeastern region of Haut-Ogooué, which is the stronghold of the Bongo family. Some people even said that he is the son of the President’s mother who was removed from office, and that he has created a “government committee” to maintain the power of the Bongo family.

Gen Nguema is very close to Omar Bongo, and Ali Bongo – after first making him head of the Republican Guard, putting him in charge of his own security.

But shortly after Mr Bongo was declared the winner in last month’s disputed elections, Gen Nguema took power from the man he was supposed to protect.

At the time, he said Mr Bongo should not stand for re-election.

“Everyone is talking about this but no one takes responsibility. So the soldiers decided to change the page,” he said.

Most people I spoke to on the streets of the capital, Libreville, seemed to have confidence in the interim president-general that had changed.

People carry Gabon national flags as they celebrate after a military parade, in the streets of Akanda, Gabon, 30 August 2023

Many Gabonese have grown up only knowing the Bongo family law

A great crowd welcomed him with joy during his celebration, and the soldiers threw their weapons on the ground in a show of force.

“He said that he will hold elections and we hope that by the grace of God, if he has the fear of God, he will hold a convincing election,” Hellen Paul Mongala, who went to witness the general submission.

However, the ceremony was dominated by the opposition presidential candidate, Ondo Ossa, who insisted that Mr. Bongo stole the election from him and therefore, he should have been sworn in as president instead.

Some members of the opposition have serious doubts about the coercion, but are afraid to express their views freely.

They pointed out that although Gen Nguema has released from prison some top activists of democracy and trade unions, he has not yet indicated when civilian rule will be restored.

Their biggest fear is that he plans to stay on power – and that Gabon will go back to square one.

Gen Nguema has taken a conservative approach towards the ousted president, saying he is free to travel abroad.

This is in contrast to Niger where President Mohamed Bazoum was held captive – along with his wife and son – by the armed forces that seized power a month before taking over the government in Gabon.

But Mr. Bongo has so far declined the offer to go abroad, preferring to stay at his private residence in Libreville – something newly elected Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima confirmed to me when I met him in your office.

“He has no plans to leave now. I think he will stay a while. He may be interested in what happens next,” Mr. Sima said, adding that there is no “restriction on his freedom”.

A general view of the damaged campaign manifesto of Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba in Libreville on August 31, 2023.

Between them, Ali Bongo and his father, Omar Bongo, ruled Gabon for more than 40 years

Many people in Gabon are clamoring for Gen Nguema to ensure that Mr Bongo is charged with corruption, alleging that the ousted president – and his family – have enriched themselves at the expense of the country. They denied the allegation.

Mr Sima gave conflicting signals on whether Mr Bongo would accept money.

“I think what is interesting for people is not to open the case. I don’t think it will be possible to open the case at this time,” he told the BBC Newshour program last week.

When I asked him if Mr. Bongo and his former ministers will be prosecuted, he replied: “I think so. The new authorities have already announced that they will prosecute all those involved in corruption or money laundering procedures. . This is a strong signal. We found people.”

So far, the military has arrested three people close to Bongos on various charges, including money laundering, possession of marijuana, and forging the signature of the former president when he suffered an attack.

Yann Ngoulou, chief of staff to Mr Bongo’s eldest son, Nourredine Bongo, was publicly humiliated, aired on state television, with a lot of money. He denied any wrongdoing and said the money was his.

Mr Sima said first lady Sylvia Valentin Bongo – a French national – was also being investigated.

“You are asked for time and you must explain yourself,”…

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