Gabon’s army strongman, a ‘Caesar’ caring for his menWed, 30 Aug 2023 22:23:16 GMT

General Brice Oligui Nguema, named Gabon’s new leader following a coup, loyally served the central African country’s longtime strongman before turning on his son in Wednesday’s military takeover.Held aloft triumphantly by his troops following the announcement of the coup that ended 55 years of rule by the Bongo family, the elite republican guard chief is experienced and popular among his peers.Gabon’s coup leaders appointed him after toppling President Ali Bongo Ondimba following Saturday’s disputed elections, in which the incumbent was awarded a third term with 64.27 percent of the vote.Said to be discreet and secretive, Nguema was absent from the first three statements read out by senior army officers on national television to announce the coup.But while Bongo was confined to house arrest, he emerged as Africa’s latest military leader amid jubilant celebrations in the streets of the capital Libreville and the economic hub of Port-Gentil.Born to a Fang father, Gabon’s main ethnic group, Nguema, 48, mostly grew up with his mother in Haut-Ogooue province, a Bongo stronghold.Nguema won his spurs as an aide-de-camp to the ousted leader’s father Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon with an iron fist for almost 42 years until his death in 2009.”He’s someone who knows the Gabonese military apparatus very well, a good soldier, trained at good military schools” including Morocco’s Meknes royal military academy, a member of Bongo’s Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) said on condition of anonymity.A former close colleague told AFP that Nguema was extremely close to Bongo senior, serving him from 2005 until his death in a Barcelona hospital.- ‘A Julius Caesar’ -But Nguema was moved aside in 2009 after Ali Bongo was elected to succeed his father, beginning a 10-year stint as a military attache at Gabon’s embassies in Morocco and Senegal.He returned to prominence in 2018 as the republican guard’s intelligence chief, replacing Ali Bongo’s half-brother Frederic Bongo, before getting promoted to general six months later.The bald and athletically built general has been chief of the republican guard, the country’s most powerful army unit, since 2019, with close sources describing him as charismatic and respected.As the keystone of Gabon’s security forces, Nguema pushed Bongo junior to improve his men’s working and living conditions by upgrading their facilities, funding schools for soldiers’ children and refurbishing some accommodations.The measures earned him respect and sympathy from his colleagues, according to the PDG source.”He isn’t very talkative, but very appreciated by his men. He’s a Julius Caesar, and Julius Caesar cares for the comfort of his legionaries,” the source said, referring to the Roman general who went on to take power.The former colleague praised “a man of consensus, who never raises his voice, who listens to everyone and systematically seeks compromise”.An example of his unifying approach was including officers from all army branches in the new ruling Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions, helping to stage the coup without any reported bloodshed.Nguema said Bongo has now “been placed in retirement” but not set a timetable for a transition back to civilian rule, shrouding his intentions in doubt.