Gabon’s presidency said Monday that a recent speech showed leader Ali Bongo was “firmly in control” of the country after he suffered a stroke 10 months ago that fuelled speculation about his ability to rule.
The opposition has claimed that President Bongo is unfit to lead after the stroke in October, and his every move is now scrutinised for signs of his state of health.
On Friday, the 60-year-old made his first public appearance outside the presidential palace since returning home in March after falling ill.
“The president is at the wheel, he is in command,” presidency spokesman Ike Ngouoni said at a press conference in the capital Libreville.
“The president works not only to prove he is in control, everyone can notice, everyone can see that today he is on the job every day.”
“Everyone could see the president has regained his oratorical fluency,” Ngouoni said of Bongo’s televised speech on Friday night.
However, Bongo has yet to face the media since his stroke.
“When the president deems it is useful and an appropriate time, he will find the best way to address the press,” said Ngouoni.
Bongo used a long cane to walk as he attended a military parade on Saturday to mark Gabon’s 1960 independence from France.
Speculation about his capacity to rule the small, oil-rich central African country surged after he suffered the stroke while in Saudi Arabia.
He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning briefly in January and then in March. During his extended absence, the army quashed a briefly attempted coup.
Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died on June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo on Saturday made a rare public appearance to attend the country’s independence day celebrations, nearly ten months after suffering a stroke that fueled speculation about his ability to rule.
Bongo, whose every move is scrutinised for signs of his state of health, on Friday made his first public appearance since his illness, taking part in events on the eve of celebrations to mark Gabon’s 1960 independence from France.
The public outings were the first time Gabonese have seen their leader beyond the presidential palace since he fell ill last October, except for appearances filmed and edited by Gabonese government or state media.
Standing straight in an army vehicle, in a dark suit and dark glasses, Bongo on Saturday arrived at the military parade on Libreville’s main boulevard along the capital’s seafront.
He used a long cane to walk to an observation stand, applauded by dignitaries there and he climbed the stairs by himself to his seat, next to his wife Sylvia Bongo, AFP journalists at the scene said.
Early on Saturday morning, many people had flocked to the seafront, trying to make their way through many security barriers to catch a glimpse of their leader.
“There are people who said he was sick, but he was able to greet us,” said Mama Youssouf, a young spectator in the crowd.
Speculation about 60-year-old Bongo’s capacity to rule the small oil-rich country surged after he suffered a stroke while in Saudi Arabia.
He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning in January. During his extended absence, the army quashed a brief attempted coup.
Ten members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade union movement have filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.
A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting for the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.
But the Court of Appeal has said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it — August 26.
Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.
A Gabon court will shortly hear a petition for President Ali Bongo Ondimba to undergo medical tests to prove his fitness to govern after suffering a stroke last year, lawyers said on Monday.
The case will be heard by the Court of Appeal in Libreville starting on August 26, attorneys for both sides said.
Speculation about Bongo’s ability to rule the small oil-rich country has surged since he fell ill while in Saudi Arabia last October.
After being treated in Morocco, he returned home in March but since then has never made a live speech or spoken before the general public.
In March, 10 members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade union movement filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he was medically fit to continue in office.
A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying that only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.
But the Court of Appeal on Monday said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it.
Bongo, 60, succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.
Anges Kevin Nzigou, a lawyer who is one of the 10 plaintiffs, said Monday’s decision “is the start of something.”
“For once, (the judicial system) resisted the pressure… (refusing) a demand formulated by the president” for the petition to be tossed out, he charged.
Bongo’s attorney, Tony Serge Ndong, angrily said the case “breaks every rule” and Bongo, as president, “cannot be prosecuted.”
Opposition figures have urged the public to turn out in large numbers on Saturday to witness an annual military parade to mark the country’s independence from France.
Bongo will, as usual, oversee the parade from a VIP stand, according to the government. If so, says the opposition, the public will be gauge Bongo’s state for themselves.
Zibi’s trial opened at the beginning of July, almost three years after his arrest. The public prosecutor called on the court to jail him for 10 years.
Zibi caused an uproar when he quit his post as an MP in the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) during a public meeting attended by President Ali Bongo Ondimba in July 2016.
His resignation came a month before a presidential election in which Bongo was re-elected.
Bongo first took power in the oil-rich equatorial African state in 2009, the elected successor to his father Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon from 1967 until his death.
Seven years later, Ali Bongo won a second term in a hotly disputed presidential poll where he was challenged by Jean Ping, known for his previous diplomatic roles in the African Union and at the United Nations.
Zibi was arrested at Ping’s campaign headquarters on August 31, 2016, as violence erupted following the announcement of Bongo’s electoral victory.
Hundreds of people were detained during street protests and as the National Assembly was set on fire. The security forces launched an assault on Ping’s operational base.
The government reported three deaths in the wave of violence, while opposition and civil society sources said they had identified 30 people killed, while others went missing.
Late in October 2018, Ali Bongo suffered a stroke and spent weeks in a hospital in Riyadh before being moved to Morocco, a longtime ally of Gabon. An apparent coup bid early this year was foiled.
There have been intensifying calls for Mapangou to resign in recent days in the press and from civil society groups in the aftermath of the theft of hundreds of seized containers of kevazingo, a rare wood considered sacred.
Nearly 5,000 cubic metres (177,000 cubic feet) of kevazingo worth some 7 million euros ($7.8 million) was found in two depots belonging to Chinese companies in the Libreville port of Owendo in February and March.
Several suspects were arrested, but 353 of the containers — which had been confiscated — mysteriously disappeared.
The wood had allegedly been loaded into containers bearing water and forestry ministry labels, falsely describing it as okoume — a kind of timber cleared for export.
Local media have called the scandal “kevazingogate”.
Earlier in May, the government said several top Gabonese officials had been suspended over suspected involvement in smuggling the precious timber.
Kevazingo is a rare central African wood that is prized in Asia, notably for sculpting into temple doorways, tea tables and meeting tables.
Gabon, three quarters of whose land mass is forested, last year banned the exploitation of kevazingo after illegal felling reached alarming proportions.
The industry is hugely important for the West African nation’s economy, supporting some 17,000 jobs, and is second only to the petroleum sector in terms of foreign earnings and accounts for 60 per cent of non-oil related GDP.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo was back in Libreville on Tuesday after months abroad recovering from a stroke, ending an absence that saw an attempted coup by renegade soldiers.
After returning from Morocco in the early hours of the morning, Bongo presided over a ceremony at which ministers from the new government were sworn in, officials said.
The oil-rich West African state has been without an effective government for months since Bongo, 59, suffered the stroke in late October during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
After initial treatment at a hospital in Riyadh, Bongo was transferred to Morocco where he spent just over six weeks, officials said.
His return came eight days after a small group of renegade soldiers briefly tried to stage a coup before it was quashed by security forces, who arrested the leader and killed two others.
With Bongo’s prolonged absence, the country had been in limbo for months and officials at the presidential palace did not say whether he was back for good or would return to the Moroccan capital Rabat for further convalescence.
On Saturday, a new government was unveiled in a video announcement from Rabat although there were no significant changes to either the cabinet or the government.
All 38 ministers arrived at the beachside presidential palace in Libreville on Tuesday and were sworn in at a ceremony which was closed to the press, officials said.
‘A very difficult ordeal’
Bongo has not been seen in public since he was taken to hospital on October 24 in Riyadh but a video of the ceremony was released later on Tuesday.
The footage shows Bongo opening and closing the session, but there are only brief glimpses of him, shots of just a few seconds which show him seated in a wheelchair and squinting slightly.
“It was very moving to see him,” government spokesman Nanette Longa-Makinda told AFP.
“It will certainly take him several months to fully recover his physical abilities, that’s for sure,” one minister said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He looks like someone who has been through a very difficult ordeal,” agreed another cabinet colleague who was present at the ceremony.
So far, officials have said very little about Bongo’s health, with a presidential spokesman insisting things were back to normal.
“There can be no more talk about a power vacuum,” the spokesman said, using a phrase repeated by many ministers leaving the ceremony.
‘Circus goes on’
Before now, Bongo’s only appearance was his traditional televised New Year’s Eve address, recorded in Morocco, in which he said he had “been through a difficult period”.
Critics seized on signs of his apparent ill-health, noting the address was unusually short, his speech was slurred and his right hand seemed stiff and immobile.
His long-awaited return did little to quieten lingering suspicions among the people of Gabon.
“The circus goes on,” tweeted Marc Ona Essangui, a civil society leader.
When Bongo was first taken ill, the singular lack of official news — along with memories of the secrecy around the death of his father Omar Bongo in 2009 — had fuelled a flurry of rumours, including speculation he was incapacitated or even dead.
The Bongo family has governed Gabon for five decades, and long maintained close ties with former colonial master France.
Ali Bongo was elected head of state after his father’s death and he was narrowly re-elected in 2016 following a presidential poll marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud.
Gabon’s prime minister announced a new government in a video message recorded thousands of miles away in Morocco, where ailing Gabonese President Ali Bongo is recovering from a stroke.
Recently appointed PM Julien Nkoghe Bekale gave details of the reshuffle in footage broadcast late Saturday on state television, less than a week after the country foiled an attempted coup.
Gabon has been without effective government for months since Bongo suffered the stroke in October during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
A new cabinet was also announced on Saturday evening by presidential secretary Jean-Yves Teale in another video missive recorded in Morocco. No significant changes were made to either the cabinet or the government.
Gabon’s constitution states that ministers must take their vows before the president — but in Bongo’s lengthening absence it is unclear how, when and where the ceremony will take place.
On Monday renegade soldiers stormed a state radio station to call for an uprising while Bongo was abroad.
Security forces captured the rebel chief and killed two of his men at the broadcasting offices in the capital Libreville, restoring calm to the city after hours of upheaval.
However, questions remain over the balance of power in the West African nation where political change has been negligible for more than half a century.
Brice Laccruche Alihanga, head of the cabinet since 2017 who is reportedly close to first lady Sylvia Bongo, retained his post in the new line-up.
Ali Bongo, 59, is the son of Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.
President Muhammadu Buhari has cautioned the military in Gabon against any attempt to overthrow the government of the country.
He gave the warning on Tuesday in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu.
“The military officers in Gabon should understand that the era of military coups and governments in Africa and indeed worldwide, is long gone,” said President Buhari who is also the ECOWAS Chairman.
The President condemned the attempted takeover of the Gabonese government by military officers who seized the state radio station, declaring their dissatisfaction with President Ali Bongo, who is recovering from a stroke in Morocco.
He, therefore, called for respect for constitutional provisions in the oil-rich west-central African nation.
“Democracy is supreme and the constitutional stipulations on the peaceful change of administration must be respected,” President Buhari insisted.
“That is the only way we can ensure peace and stability not only within the country but also in the region.”
President Buhari further urged military officers with political ambitions in the continent and beyond to resign or face their constitutional role.
He asked the people of Gabon to remain on the side of peace, security, stability and democracy in their country.
On Monday, the leader of the self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, had said a New Year’s Eve address by Bongo “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office.”
But the Gabonese government had said it was in control and that most of those involved in the failed coup had been arrested.
It added that the chief military rebel had been taken into custody while two of his commandos were killed.
The chief military rebel who led a failed coup in Gabon on Monday has been arrested and two of his commandos killed after they stormed a public radio station, the presidency said.
A group of soldiers attempted to take power and called in a radio appeal for a popular uprising against ailing President Ali Bongo, who is abroad recovering from a stroke.
Security forces stormed the radio station in the capital Libreville to take it back, killing two rebel troops, arresting their leader and freeing journalists who had been forced to help rebels make their appeal.
“The situation is under control,” the presidency statement said.
Six rebel troops earlier Monday burst into the state radio broadcasting station, “neutralising” gendarmes in front of the building before making their broadcast, it said.
Officials earlier said five rebels had entered the building and four had been arrested.
The message was read by a person who identified himself as Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly, the deputy commander of the Republican Guard and head of a previously unknown group, the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defence and Security Forces.
He said a “national restoration council” would be formed in the former French colony “to guarantee a democratic transition for the Gabonese people”.
Bongo is staying at a private residence in the Moroccan capital Rabat after suffering a stroke. He made a televised speech on New Year’s Eve but has not been in the West African country since October.
The government of Gabon declared that it was in control after an attempted coup by army rebels Monday and that it had arrested most of those involved.
“Calm has returned, the situation is under control,” government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told AFP.
Only hours earlier, soldiers burst into state radio and called on the people to “rise up,” an apparent bid to oust ailing President Ali Bongo, who is out of the country. Of the five who did this, according to Mapangou, “four have been arrested and one is on the run.”