Gabon’s Unexpected Leader: General Brice Oligui Nguema
After deposing Gabonese President Ali Bongo, Gen Brice Oligui Nguema was carried through the streets by his triumphant troops, who chanted “Oligui, président! Oligui, président!”. The 48-year-old general certainly appears to be a man of the people as he’s held aloft by his soldiers, but to many, he’s an unexpected leader.
The Rise of Gen Brice Oligui Nguema
Just five years ago, Gen Nguema barely existed in Gabon’s public consciousness, having spent 10 years outside the country. However, upon his return, he quietly rose to the army’s highest position and dedicated his days to maintaining President Ali Bongo’s regime. Born in Gabon’s province of Haut-Ogooué, some even say that Gen Nguema is Ali Bongo’s cousin.
A Career in the Military
Gen Nguema pursued a career in the military, joining Gabon’s powerful Republican Guard unit at a young age. He quickly rose through the ranks and served as an assistant to then-president Omar Bongo until his death in 2009. However, when Ali Bongo took over from his father, Gen Nguema was dismissed from his job and spent 10 years in what local media portrays as an “exile”.
The Return to Politics
In 2018, Gen Nguema reappeared on Gabon’s political scene, replacing the president’s step-brother as the Republican Guard’s intelligence chief. He was later promoted to head of the Republican Guard and initiated reforms to make the unit more effective in maintaining the regime. Gen Nguema was also accused of hoarding public money, but he dismissed the allegations saying that a private life should be respected.
On Saturday, just hours after Ali Bongo was announced as the winner of a disputed presidential election, the military, led by Gen Nguema, announced it was annulling the results and taking over. With the president under house arrest, General Brice Clothaire Oligui Nguema was named Gabon’s transitional leader. While the coup has been condemned by international organizations, Gen Nguema seems to have won over large parts of the public and united the army.
As a man who has been accused of corruption and has spent most of his career in the Bongo’s inner circle, Gen Nguema may not turn out to be the fresh start the Gabonese people hope he will be. However, he will be etched in the country’s history books as the man who “turned the page”.
Additional reporting by Alison Onyango