Gabon has expanded the fleet of its Garde Republicaine with four AML-90 armoured reconnaissance vehicles from France, maintaining the unit’s reputation as the best equipped of the country’s military.
The Garde Republicane is the section of Gabon’s armed forces in charge of protecting the president and all presidential property.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Friday 21 July symbolically handed over the keys to the vehicles to the Commander of the Garde Republicaine, General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, during a ceremony in the capital Libreville, attended by top brass of all units of Gabon’s military.
The arrival of the reconditioned vehicles from French company Sofema is a boost to the military a month before presidential elections. The Garde Republicaine also launched a massive recruitment drive this year to get more than 1 000 young Gabonese into the corps.
“The ceremony which has brought us here today is the reception of four new armoured vehicles which have just arrived on Gabonese soil. It’s a great honour for me, in my capacity as Commander-in-chief of the Garde Republicaine, to receive the equipment,” General Oligui Nguema told reporters after the ceremony which took place at the headquarters of the Armoured Intervention Unit of the Garde Republicaine.
The order for the four armoured vehicles was made in 2020, according to reporting by some Gabonese media. They were expected to have been delivered in the first two years of the order, but that was not possible due partly to the inability of the Gabonese government to complete the payment.
Last year, some reports also reported that the delivery of the AML-90s was partly also delayed after an inter-ministerial commission which regulates the export of war weapons (CIEEMG) from France raised concerns that the vehicles could be used by the Gabonese military to clamp down on any likely protests during the general elections in August. Huge protests broke out in some towns and cities in 2016 when incumbent Ali Bongo won re-election for another seven-year mandate.
The decision by the CIEEMG to halt the delivery of the vehicles, reportedly upon recommendation of the Directorate of Africa and the Indian Ocean at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is believed to have been reversed following negotiations when with Gabon’s Defence Minister Félicité Ongouori Ngoubili paid an official visit to Paris in October 2022.
The delivery of these armoured vehicles comes just weeks after Bongo, during a cabinet meeting late last month, approved proposals for a $52 million loan for the purchase of a single C295 military transport aircraft from Airbus for the air force.
Gabon has acquired numerous batches military hardware over the last decade. An August 2022 independence day parade revealed the country was operating VP11 4×4 vehicles acquired from China, although the VP11’s predecessor was designed with South African collaboration. Thirteen Norinco VP11s were seen along with Maverick 4×4, Aravis and VN1 8×8 armoured vehicles.
Other relatively recently delivered hardware includes Dongfeng EQ2050 vehicles and, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 19 Type-07P infantry fighting vehicles. Gabon took delivery of eight Aravis IFVs from French company Nexter between 2015 and 2016 and 24 Matador APCs from Paramount in 2010. Five VAB-VTT vehicles were supplied second hand by France for Gabon’s UN peacekeeping forces.