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While Gabonese embrace sworn-in Nguema, ECCAS suspends Gabon

Social media users share footage of Gabonese people and soldiers joyfully roaming the streets of Libreville ahead of Nguema taking the oath of office.

  • General Brice Oligui Nguema takes the oath of office as Gabon’s interim President, on September 4, 2023 (AFP)

Central African regional bloc ECCAS announced on Monday Gabon’s suspension and called for an immediate return to “constitutional order” in the country, one week after a popularly-supported coup that toppled Gabonese President Ali Bongo.

“All threats to the peace, security and stability of any ECCAS member, such as Gabon, has repercussions for our countries and communities,” indicated Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema in a brief address after a summit held in the country.

A couple of days ago, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council strongly condemned the coup and said it decided to “immediately suspend” Gabon until the restoration of “constitutional order” in the country.

This comes a few hours after General Brice Oligui Nguema, who led a coup last week that toppled Gabon’s 55-year-old ruling dynasty, took the oath of office as interim President, promising “free, transparent and credible elections” to restore civilian rule.

In a televised ceremony, Nguema, who was cheered by joyful supporters, received a standing ovation from officials and military officers as he arrived for the ceremony, and later by a panel of constitutional court judges after he was sworn in.

Social media users shared footage of Gabonese people and soldiers joyfully roaming the streets of Libreville ahead of the ceremony, in an indication of popular support for Nguema.

To commemorate the occasion, state television broadcast scenes of jubilant crowds, as well as armored personnel carriers shooting into the sea.

The event was even attended by several members of Bongo’s cabinet, including the Vice President and Prime Minister.

Repeatedly interrupted by cheers of supporters, Nguema deemed the coup — which drove jubilant crowds to the streets of the capital Libreville — as a moment of national liberation and a manifestation of God’s will.

“When the people are crushed by their leaders … it’s the army that gives them back their dignity,” the General indicated in a speech after taking the oath of office.

“People of Gabon, today the times of happiness that our ancestors dreamt of are finally coming.”

He also vowed to amnesty political prisoners, in a speech in which he said the coup had saved Gabon from bloodshed after elections that were “obviously loaded”.

According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the vote was held without international observers, and foreign journalists had been restricted from covering the event.

Nguema, head of the elite Republican Guard, last Wednesday led officers to detain President Ali Bongo Ondimba, a descendant of a family that had ruled the oil-rich central African nation since 1967.

The ousting came just moments after Bongo, 64, was proclaimed victor in presidential elections — a result branded a fraud by the opposition.

Nguema said he was seeking the participation of all of Gabon’s “core groups” to draft a new constitution, which “will be adopted by referendum.”

Wearing the red ceremonial uniform of the Republican Guard, the 48-year-old General also said a new government would be named “in a few days” comprising “experienced” and “seasoned” people.

He pointed out that he would instruct the future government “to consider ways of amnestying prisoners of conscience” and “facilitating the return of all exiles” from abroad.

After detaining Bongo, the coup leaders on Wednesday said they had dissolved the nation’s institutions, canceled the election results, and temporarily closed the borders.

In his speech, Nguema explained that the Gabonese military had acted to save lives following “an electoral process that was obviously loaded.”

“Without violence, clashes or loss of blood, the Committee for Transition and Restoration of Institutions changed the regime which for years had usurped the powers of the institutions of the public, flouting democratic rules,” he noted, referring to the name given to the junta.

Quoting South African anti-apartheid Bishop Desmond Tutu, he said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Gabon joins Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Niger in the ranks of African countries that have undergone coups in the last three years, expressing anti-Western sentiment.

Read more: Gabon lifts border closure after coup

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