At the center of the coup in Gabon is Brice Clothaire Oligui Nguema, the commander-in-chief of the Gabonese Republican Guard, the country’s most powerful security unit and a cousin to President Bongo.
Nguema’s rise to prominence has been marked by his influential role within Gabon’s political and military circles. Trained at the Royal Military Academy of Meknes in Morocco, he began his career as an “aide-de-camp” to a commander in former President Omar Bongo’s Republican Guard. Following Omar Bongo’s passing in 2009, Nguema continued his service under President Ali Bongo, eventually ascending to the leadership of the guard a decade later.
As head of the Republican Guard, responsible for presidential security, Nguema worked to strengthen Gabon’s internal security systems, but some reforms were viewed as mechanisms to extend President Bongo’s time in office. Notably, local media reports suggest that Nguema even composed a song pledging his loyalty to the president: “I would defend my president with honor and loyalty.”
Beyond his military role, Nguema’s ventures included diplomatic missions to Morocco and Senegal. He was also known for his entrepreneurial spirit and reportedly amassed significant wealth, earning him millionaire status within Gabonese circles. An investigation by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) revealed Nguema’s investments in US real estate, notably purchasing properties with substantial cash payments.
In a 2023 interview with French daily Le Monde, Nguema expressed discontent with President Bongo’s rule. He criticized the constitutional violation that allowed Bongo to seek a third term and emphasized the army’s decision to take responsibility for the situation. Nguema suggested that Bongo should retire, allowing the country to move forward under new leadership.
As the nation grapples with the aftermath of the attempted coup, unverified videos and images circulated on social media depict Gabonese soldiers celebrating with Nguema, hinting at his potential role as a “next strongman.”
The attempted coup and Nguema’s pivotal role continue to captivate Gabon and the world, sparking questions about the nation’s future and the implications of this dramatic turn of events.