Gabon junta appoints opposition leader as interim prime minister
Former premier Raymond Ndong Sima, who left office to join the opposition, was an outspoken critic of ousted President Ali Bongo
Libreville — Gabon’s ruling junta, which seized power in a coup last week, appointed former opposition leader Raymond Ndong Sima as the prime minister of its transitional government on Thursday.
Sima, an economist, was an outspoken critic of President Ali Bongo, who was ousted by military officers on August 30. He served as Bongo’s prime minister from 2012 to 2014, then resigned and ran against him for president in 2016 and again as part of an opposition coalition this year.
Bongo, in power since 2009, had succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who ruled the Central African oil producer for 42 years. The family’s dynastic rule had created widespread discontent, with critics saying the Bongos did little to share Gabon’s wealth with its 2.3-million people.
The coup was greeted with scenes of jubilation in the capital Libreville and the junta moved quickly to consolidate power, swearing in Gen Brice Oligui Nguema as interim president on Monday.
Army officers read a decree on state television on Thursday announcing that Sima had been named PM.
Nguema has promised economic reforms and said he will organise free and fair elections, though he has not said when.
Abdou Abarry, special representative of the UN secretary-general in Central Africa, met Nguema in Libreville on Wednesday and told him that the UN would assist the country as it made a fresh start.
“Once we know the road map, the timetable, once a government will have been appointed, our different agencies will make the necessary contacts and continue to support Gabon,” he said after the meeting, in remarks broadcast on Gabon 24 TV.
The coup in Gabon was the eighth in three years in West and Central Africa, though it has been playing out very differently from the most recent other army takeover, in Niger.
Unlike Niger, Gabon has not seen an outpouring of anti-French, pro-Russian sentiment, and the generals in charge in Libreville have appeared open to dialogue with international organisations which their counterparts in Niamey have shunned.
The Central African regional bloc, ECCAS, suspended Gabon on Monday but sent the president of Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, as its representative to meet Nguema.
Touadera told reporters he had also met Ali Bongo, with Nguema’s permission. He did not disclose any details about Bongo's circumstances or state of mind, saying only that the meeting had been fruitful.
Bongo had been under house arrest after the coup, but the junta said in a statement on Wednesday that he was now free and could travel abroad for medical checks if he so wished.
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