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US Official Says Gabon’s Return to Civilian Rule is Vital

YAOUNDÉ, CAMEROON — A top U.S. official on African affairs says there is a need for a quick transition to civilian rule in Gabon after a coup in August, but coup leaders have yet to make public when they would hand power back to civilians.

Following a coup in August, Washington suspended most nonhumanitarian aid to the central African nation. Judd Devermont, a special assistant to U.S. President Joe Biden, met with military leaders Thursday in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.

Devermont said he met with Gabon’s coup leader, General Brice Oligui Nguema and the military-appointed Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima.

Devermont said that during separate meetings with Nguema and Sima, he focused on returning to constitutional order in Gabon.

“I came here all the way from Washington, to meet with the government to discuss the transition to civilian rule and having free and fair elections,” Devermont said. “President Biden is committed to deepening our partnership with African partners, countries and people and we stand strongly in solidarity with the Gabonese people.”

Gabon state TV reported that Nguema reiterated after the meeting he will return power to civilian rule at the end of the transition, but he did not announce a timeframe.

Gabon’s military government said it told the U.S. delegation that contributions and suggestions from citizens are being received ahead of a “national dialogue” that is scheduled for December. Gabon’s caretaker government says the military junta is undertaking initiatives to restore stability, carry out institutional and legislative reforms, fight corruption, ensure sustainable economic development and improve living conditions of poor civilians in the oil-producing nation before organizing elections.

FILE - Gabon coup leader General Brice Oligui Nguema waves after being sworn in as interim president during his swearing-in ceremony, in Libreville, Gabon, Sept. 4, 2023.
FILE – Gabon coup leader General Brice Oligui Nguema waves after being sworn in as interim president during his swearing-in ceremony, in Libreville, Gabon, Sept. 4, 2023.

Nguema, a former commander of the Republican Guard, was sworn in as Gabon’s transitional president after a group of Gabon military officers seized power on August 30 and put President Ali Bongo Ondimba under house arrest.

Shortly before the coup, the Gabonese Election Center had declared Bongo winner of the August 26 election, but the opposition denounced the election as fraudulent.

The military then seized power and said it saved Gabon from an armed conflict that was being prepared by the opposition.

Ellen Thorburn, United States ambassador to Gabon, was part of the U.S. delegation.

She said the delegation — sent by Biden after listening to Gabon’s military junta’s plans to organize a national dialogue before preparing elections — hopes that transition to civilian rule will be within the shortest possible period of time.

Thorburn said issues related to American assistance to Gabon after the military seized power were raised during discussions with Gabon’s new leaders. She said her delegation told Nguema and Ndong that President Biden’s administration intends to have good relations with all African states including Gabon.

Last month, the U.S. suspended foreign assistance programs benefiting the central African government while evaluating the unconstitutional military intervention in the country’s democracy.

Coup leaders have said international sanctions placed on Gabon by the African Union and the U.N. to pressure Nguema to return to constitutional order could be devastating to the country’s economy but added that the military junta needs time to carry out reforms before a return to civilian rule.

Jean Cedric Obame Emane, a defense and security consultant at Gabon’s University Omar Bongo, said he is convinced that Nguema can return power to civilian rule in less than three years.

“The issue of legitimacy will always come forth, but during the day of the military coup, people [civilians] did not go out to challenge the military forces, they did not go to the street to engage the military forces,” Emane said. “They [civilians] were celebrating. I believe the organizing of elections is not the only challenge that he has. He has economic issues, social issues at the same time. The number one challenge he has is not only elections.”

Emane spoke with VOA via a messaging app from Libreville.

Despite halting aid, the U.S. is maintaining diplomatic and consular operations in the oil-rich central African country.

Source : VOA News