Gabon’s Bongo appoints new prime minister

Gabon President Ali Bongo appointed a new prime minister days after surviving a coup attempt that came while he was abroad receiving treatment for a stroke.

Bongo, who has been out of the country since October, appointed Julien Nkoghe Bekale as the country’s new Prime Minister by presidential decree, Secretary-General in the Presidency Jean Yves Teale said in a live broadcast on state television in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The plotters of Monday’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.

Nkoghe Bekale will replace Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, who has served since 2016.

Issoze-Ngondet’s tenure was marked by a sharp drop in oil output and prices that has squeezed revenues, raised debt and stoked discontent in the OPEC member state.

Oil workers’ strikes have become more common, and economic growth was 2 percent last year, down from over 7 percent in 2011.

The nomination of Nkoghe Bekale, 56, who has held several ministerial posts since 2009, represents a return to a tradition begun by Bongo’s father, Omar, of choosing prime ministers from the Fang, Gabon’s largest ethnic group.

Bongo’s absence from Gabon since his October 24 stroke in Saudi Arabia has raised questions about his ability to continue carrying out his official functions, although the government has insisted he is recovering well.

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 Gabonese and was cited as one of the coup plotters’ reasons for acting.

Bongo won re-election in 2016 by fewer than 6,000 votes amid widespread accusations of fraud, sparking deadly clashes between protesters and police during which the parliament was torched.

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