Gabon and the ECOWAS bluff; why military intervention is impossible (1)
File: Nguema with deposed president, Ali Bongo

Col. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, head of Gabon’s Republican Guards, has been chosen by his peers to lead the transition in the country after military officers took over power on Wednesday morning.

Recall that early Wednesday, August 30, the military announced that it had taken over power from Ali Bongo Ondimba.

They noted that the August 26 presidential election in the country was fraudulently conducted.

The country’s electoral commission had announced at midnight on Tuesday that incumbent, Ali Bongo, won 64.27% votes with the opposition candidate Ondo Ossa scoring 30%.

According to a report by Cameroon News Agency, Col. Nguema’s position as the leader of the Republican Guards was to protect the president.

The coup on Wednesday shows that the Gabonese military has had enough of the irregularities going on in the country.

In April 2020, Colonel Nguema took over the head of the Republican Guard, an elite Army corps responsible for protecting the head of state, replacing General Grégoire Kouna, a cousin of Ali Bongo Ondimba.

According to Aljazeera, Nguema is one of the most influential and enigmatic figures in the country today. The son of a military officer, he trained at the Royal Military Academy of Meknes, in Morocco.

Nguema then served as Bongo’s “aides-de-camp” to a commander in former President Omar Bongo’s Republican Guard, until the former Gabonese leader’s death in 2009.

When Omar Bongo’s son Ali Bongo rose to power in October 2009, Nguema was sent to Morocco and Senegal for diplomatic missions. A decade later, he took over as the head of the guard.

The guard, whose military officers are recognisable by their green berets, is responsible for presidential security. As its head, Nguema tried to fortify Gabon’s internal security systems with reforms that were seen as elongating Bongo’s stay in power.

According to local media reports, Nguema also composed a song that included the line: “I would defend my president with honour and loyalty”.

Besides military and diplomatic duties, Nguema was seen as entrepreneurial and also believed to be a millionaire in Gabonese circles.

According to a 2020 investigation by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on the Bongo family’s assets in the United States, Nguema invested in real estate, paying in cash.

“He bought three properties in middle- and working-class neighbourhoods in the Maryland suburbs of Hyattsville and Silver Spring, just outside the capital, in 2015 and 2018. The homes were purchased with a total of over $1 million in cash,” the OCCRP report said.

When reporters questioned Nguema about these properties, he said it was a private affair.

“I think whether in France or in the United States, a private life is a private life that [should be] respected.”

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