At the invitation of President Paul Biya, Gabon's transitional president, Brigadier General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, embarked on a 24-hour official visit to Cameroon on Wednesday, December 6, 2023. This marks General Nguema’s first visit to Cameroon since assuming power through a coup d'état in August 2023. The two Heads of State are scheduled to start a top-level meeting at the Cameroonian presidency at 3. p.m
Background and Context
Cameroon has maintained a firm stance on upholding democratic principles and has condemned the unconstitutional seizure of power in Gabon. However, acknowledging its longstanding position of non-interference in internal affairs, Cameroon has aligned itself with the positions of international and sub-regional bodies, including the designation of the Central African Republic's President Faustin-Archange Touadéra as Facilitator of the political process in Gabon.
"While respecting its long-standing position of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, Cameroon has aligned itself with the positions of international and sub-regional bodies, in particular those of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Cemac, within the framework of the Central African Peace and Security Council (Copax), which designated the President of the Central African Republic, His Excellency Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who is also the current Chairman of the CEMAC, as Facilitator of the political process in Gabon. Cameroon is willing to assist Gabon, a brotherly and friendly country, in the reconstitution of a state respectful of democratic rules,” states the Cameroonian Presidency in the press kit for this visit.
Objectives of the Visit
For many analysts, General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema seeks support and recognition from President Paul Biya, Central Africa’s longest-serving Head of State. Franck Ebogo, a geostrategist and lecturer at the University of Yaoundé II, posits that the primary objective of this visit is to "fortify bilateral ties between Cameroon and Gabon." He further emphasizes Cameroon's significance to Gabon, stating that it is "the most important country in the sub-region for Gabon" and "Gabon's leading trading partner." Prior to General Oligui Nguema's visit, Gabonese presidents regularly met with President Paul Biya, underscoring the longstanding relationship between the two nations. In 2009, shortly after his election, the deposed president Ali Bongo Ondimba paid a visit to Yaoundé, highlighting the importance of this diplomatic link.
Another key objective of the transitional president's visit is to garner Cameroon's support within sub-regional organizations. "Gabon seeks to reintegrate into the community institutions from which it was excluded following the coup d'état," explains Professor Frank Ebogo. According to the expert, General Oligui Nguema is seeking Cameroon's backing in lifting the sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC).
Another crucial aspect of the transitional president's visit is to assuage the concerns of Cameroonian President Paul Biya regarding his intentions. In an unprecedented move, following General Oligui Nguema's coup d'état, the Cameroonian government denounced the coup, declaring it a violation of the fundamental principles and values of the CEMAC and the African Union. Cameroonian authorities urged for the protection of the physical integrity of Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba and his family, the swift restoration of constitutional order, and the preservation of peace and stability. General Oligui Nguema's visit serves as an opportunity to reassure President Biya of his commitment to these principles.
Paul Biya's anointment
In essence, Gabon's new leader, General Oligui Nguema, seeks the endorsement and blessing of Paul Biya, whom he considers his "new spiritual father," as explained by Dr. Fabilou from the University of Ngaoundéré. The political science lecturer elaborates, "Oligui Nguema was the spiritual son of the late Omar Bongo Ondimba and subsequently served under his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who was, in turn, the spiritual son of Paul Biya. Therefore, this visit represents Oligui Nguema seeking the validation of his new spiritual father, Paul Biya." Dr. Fabilou also emphasizes the socio-ethnic significance of this visit, stating, "We are among the Bantus," highlighting the shared cultural ties between Gabon and Cameroon.
This academic further emphasizes the pursuit of legitimacy that underpins this visit. According to him, "General Oligui Nguema is seeking to establish his legitimacy within the CEMAC. With Cameroon being the sub-region's driving force, the Gabonese president first visited the other Cemac leaders to gather their opinions and now seeks the counsel of the region's most senior head of state, Paul Biya."
Dr. Fabilou believes that President Paul Biya could seek security guarantees from General Oligui Nguema for Cameroonians residing in Gabon. "Cameroon's primary interest in Gabon lies in ensuring the safety of its citizens, who frequently face mistreatment there and in other countries within the sub-region. President Paul Biya could also emphasize the importance of border security," asserts Dr. Fabilou. Threats and breaches of security along the shared border include poaching and trafficking of protected species, illegal trafficking of firearms and ammunition, unauthorized cross-border movements, and the illegal exploitation of mining, wildlife, and fishery resources.
The unresolved issue of definitively demarcating the land border between Cameroon and Gabon remains a lingering concern. "During the 2021 ad hoc Boundary Commission meeting, both countries reaffirmed their shared desire to resolve the issue peacefully. They emphasized the importance of maintaining good neighborly relations and cooperation, and agreed to continue discussions and technical exchanges on border delimitation," the Cameroonian Presidency stated in the press kit.