Gabon’s President Ali Bongo, who has been out of the country for two months recovering from a stroke, named a new prime minister in an apparent effort to shore up his political base days after a failed coup attempt.
The plotters last week’s coup attempt were arrested or killed within hours of seizing the national radio station, but the move reflected growing frustration with a government weakened by Bongo’s secretive medical leave in Morocco.
In a decree read by the Presidency secretary-general on national television, Bongo named Julien Nkoghe Bekale as prime minister, replacing Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, who served since 2016.
Issoze-Ngondet’s tenure was marked by a sharp drop in oil output and prices squeezing revenues, raising debt and stoking discontent in the OPEC member state.
Oil workers’strikes are more common and economic growth was two percent last year, down from over seven percent in 2011.
The nomination of Bekale (56) who has held several ministerial posts since 2009, represents a return to a tradition begun by Bongo’s father of choosing prime ministers from the Fang, Gabon’s largest ethnic group.
Omar Bongo ruled Gabon from 1967 until his death in 2009, establishing the country as a pillar of “Francafrique”, a web of influence that gave companies from former colonial power France favoured access to African autocrats.
The Bongos come from a smaller ethnic group and the appointments broadened the president’s base. But Ali Bongo, who succeeded his father, bucked tradition in 2016 by choosing Issoze-Ngondet, from a different ethnic group.
Bongo’s absence from Gabon since his October 24 stroke in Saudi Arabia raised questions about his ability to carry out official functions, although government insists he is recovering.
A December 31 address from Morocco in which the 59-year-old president slurred his speech and appeared unable to move his right arm failed to reassure many and was cited as one of the coup plotters’reasons for acting.
Bongo won re-election in 2016 by less than 6,000 votes amid widespread accusations of fraud, sparking clashes between protesters and police during which parliament was torched.