Who is Brice Oligui Nguema, alleged coup leader in Gabon?
Nguema heads the Gabonese Presidency’s Republican Guard, the country’s most powerful security unit.
Gabonese soldiers carry General Brice Oligui Nguema, head of the presidential guard which overthrew President Ali Bongo Ondimba [Screenshot by Gabon 24/AFP]Published On 30 Aug 202330 Aug 2023
Minutes after Gabon’s electoral commission announced on Wednesday that President Ali Bongo Ondimba had won a third term in office, senior military officers announced a coup and annulled the election results.
According to local media reports, Brice Clothaire Oligui Nguema, the commander-in-chief of the Gabonese Republican Guard – the country’s most powerful security unit – is the ringleader of the attempted coup.
Here’s what we know about him so far.
A powerful figure
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.
His military skills were noticed by members of Gabon’s former President Omar Bongo’s Republican Guard. Nguema then served as Bongo’s “aides-de-camp” or military assistant to a commander in the 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, but returned to Gabon in October 2018. In 2019, he took over as the head of the guard.
Gabonese soldiers appear on television on August 30, 2023, announcing they were ‘putting an end to the current regime’ and the cancellation of an election that, according to official results, President Ali Bongo Ondimba won [Screenshot from Gabon 24/AFP]
The Gabonese Republican Guard, whose military officers are recognisable by their green berets, is the presidential guard. As its head, Nguema ensured they not only protected the country’s president, but also tried to fortify Gabon’s internal security systems with more precision shooters and modern military equipment. He also introduced a security reform in the Republican Guard by setting up the Special Intervention Section (SIS), which is directly headed by Ali Bongo.
According to local media reports, Nguema also composed a song which included the line “I would defend my president with honour and loyalty”.
Besides military and diplomatic duties, Nguema was also entrepreneurial by nature and has been known in Gabonese circles for his millionaire status.
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 was instrumental in expanding the family’s businesses overseas.
“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.
The report also said Nguema was a cousin to the Bongos.
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.”
Nguema for President?
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Dusseldorf, Germany, political analyst Adama Gaye says the continuing coup in Gabon did not come as a surprise.
“The Bongo era is over. Ali Bongo was no longer in the hearts of the population in Gabon … he was trying to create the condition for him to clamp down on the opposition and to fabricate another victory for himself in another rigged election. But this time around, the military realised that this was too far-fetched and they had to act, and that is what they did,” Gaye added.
In an interview with French daily Le Monde on Wednesday, Nguema echoed those thoughts.
“Beyond this discontent, there is the illness of the Head of State [Ali Bongo suffered a stroke in October 2018 which left him weakened]. Everyone talks about it, but no one takes responsibility. He did not have the right to serve a third term, the Constitution was violated, the method of election itself was not good. So the army decided to turn the page, to take its responsibilities,” Nguema said.
He added that Ali Bongo can retire and continue to enjoy his rights like every other Gabonese citizen, adding that the generals would meet to decide on a successor to Bongo at 14:00 GMT on Wednesday.
And while Bongo is currently under house arrest after winning the cancelled election with 64.27 percent of the vote, Gabon’s soldiers have apparently begun celebrating Nguema.
Unverified videos and images on social media showed a group of soldiers dancing with Nguema and calling him Gabon’s “next strongman.”