Gabon’s new strongman General Brice Oligui Nguema (R) salutes as he is inaugurated as Gabon’s interim President, in Libreville on September 4, 2023. Gabon’s coup leader vowed after being sworn in as interim president on September 4, 2023 to restore civilian rule through “free, transparent and credible elections” after a transition and amnesty prisoners of conscience. (Photo by AFP)
(AFP) – Thousands of Gabonese, many of them voicing joy and relief as a new era dawned, on Monday watched the inauguration of the military chief who last week toppled the Bongo dynasty, the rulers of their oil-rich state for more than half a century.
General Brice Oligui Nguema took the oath of office as president, five days after he toppled President Ali Bongo — the son of Omar Bongo, who ruled with an iron fist for more than four decades.
Oligui defended the coup as a courageous move by the army to save Gabon from bloodshed after elections that awarded victory to Bongo.
And he promised to steer the country to “free, transparent and credible elections” — but gave no details on the timeframe.
A crowd gathered at the plaza in front of the Hassan II Mosque in Libreville to watch the ceremony on a giant screen, many of them waving little tricolor flags with the national colours of green, yellow and blue.
Many of those who spoke to AFP said they felt ecstatic that Bongo, who had been in power for 14 years, was gone.
Lucrece Mengue, a 28-year-old specialist in logistics and human resources, said that for young Gabonese, the country had been “under a cloud” for years.
“We feel freedom, joy, happiness!” exclaimed Mengue, who said she had gone to the venue early in order to get a front-row seat.
Ghislain Bouemba, a 50-year-old police captain, said he was savouring a “historic moment” — Gabon, he said, “was being asphyxiated” under Bongo.
– Poverty and jobs –
Rich with oil from offshore fields first discovered in the 1970s, Gabon has one of the highest per-capita GDPs in Africa.
But a third of the population still lives below the poverty line of $5.50 per day, according to the World Bank.
“We study but we don’t find work. I’ve been unemployed for five years,” said Anouchka Minang, 31, who trained as a midwife but works doing occasional jobs to survive.
She and others spoke positively about plans unveiled by Oligui last week to reform Gabon‘s dysfunctional pension system, whose bureaucracy and delays have left many people impoverished.
Remi Gaspard Ngoua, a retired civil servant aged 66, said he felt “relief” at the promise.
He said he should be receiving a monthly pension of 300,000 CFA francs (nearly $500), but only received half of it because of problems with disbursement.
Oligui, in a meeting with business leaders last week, also sternly warned that corruption that had flourished in the Bongo era would no longer be tolerated.
– Jeers –
Live coverage of the swearing-in was punctuated by deafening jeers from the crowd every time cameras showed leading figures from Bongo’s Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), who attended the ceremony.
Discontent seemed specially reserved for his former prime minister Alain Claude Bilie By Nze, and his vice president, Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda, an architect of Bongo’s disputed election victory.
Cries rang out of “throw Oussouka in prison,” — a protest that would have been unthinkable a week ago.
“These are fraudsters — justice has to be done and this lot cleared out,” said Joseph Akoughe, a 51-year-old salesman.
“It was a dictatorship and they divided up the cake between themselves. Now it’s time to stop,” said Ngoua.
“We want to have nothing more to do with them. We have courageous people, there are people who are still clean and can haul the country out of the rut.”
© Agence France-Presse