Gabon’s military government, which seized power in a coup last week, appointed a former opposition leader, Raymond Ndong Sima, as the prime minister of its transitional government.
Sima, a 68-year-old economist, was an outspoken critic of President Ali Bongo, who was removed 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.
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His appointment, announced on state TV on Thursday, was made in a decree by the new strongman, General Brice Oligui Nguema, who was sworn in as interim president on Monday.
In his inauguration speech, Oligui promised to hold “free, transparent and credible elections” to restore civilian rule but did not give a timeframe.
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 military government moved quickly to consolidate power, swearing in General Brice Oligui Nguema as interim president on Monday.
Army officers read a decree on state television on Thursday announcing that Sima had been named prime minister.
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 United Nations would assist the country as it made a new start.
“Once we know the roadmap, 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 the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, as its representative to meet Nguema.
Touadéra told reporters he had also met Ali Bongo with Nguema’s permission. He did not disclose 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 military government said in a statement on Wednesday that he was now free and could travel abroad for medical checks if he so wished.