Press Review CW 37/2023: Turn old into new
Press Review 8 September 2023 to 15 September 2023

Gabon forms transitional government

After the military coup in Gabon at the end of August (Press review CW 35/2023), the newly appointed Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima presented his cabinet on Saturday. Sima himself had only been officially declared head of government by interim President General Brice Oligui Nguema last week and was charged with forming a transitional government. The 26 members of his cabinet include former supporters and government members of ousted President Ali Bongo as well as his opponents, members of the military and civil society. Sima reappointed a total of three ministers from the Bongo administration: Camélia Ntoutoume-Leclercq, who retains her post as Minister of Education, the former Foreign Minister Hermann Immongault, who was appointed Minister Delegate for Interior Affairs, and Raphaël Ngazouzé, previously responsible for vocational training, who now takes over the Public Service portfolio. The position of Minister of Justice went to Paul-Marie Gondjout,  a former member of the opposition party Union nationale (UN), before he left the party in October 2022 due to internal disputes. Meanwhile, the important post of Minister of the Economy went to the economic analyst May Mouissi and thus to a representative of civil society. Not appointed to the cabinet, however, was Albert Ondo Ossa, who had entered the race against Bongo in the presidential elections in August as the candidate of the largest opposition alliance Alternance 2023 (A23) and lost as runner-up. Prime Minister Sima had also run as a candidate against Bongo in both the 2023 and 2016 elections, having previously been considered a close confidant of Bongo for many years and having served under him as head of government from 2012 to 2014. Furthermore, interim president Nguema, who is also chair of the Committee for Transition and Restoration of Institutions (Comité pour la transition et la restauration des institutions, CTRI), appointed the leadership of the bicameral parliament. The Senate will be led by Paulette Missambo, leader of the Union Nationale (UN) party, who was also contested in the presidential race. The presidency of the National Assembly, meanwhile, went to Jean-François Ndongou, who served as minister under Ali Bongo several times. Four vice presidents – army officers, politicians who opposed and supported Bongo as well as civil society figures – were named for each house.  In addition, Nguema announced the appointment of about 70 members of the National Assembly and about 60 members of the Senate – he did not say when this would happen. As the military rulers had initially dissolved all constitutional bodies in the country in the course of their takeover, the current status of the legislature remains unclear. According to Prime Minister Sima, the Central African country will now need a transition period of at least two years to complete the transition to free elections and a democratic order. To this end, a Constituent Assembly would be convened in due course. Meanwhile, critics complain that the coup did not bring about a real change of power. The new leadership shows clear overlaps with the political elite of the Bongo regime. On the other hand, Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo was removed as president of the Constitutional Court of the Gabonese Republic, a post she had held since the institution was founded in 1991. She was considered controversial among the population because of her close ties to the Bongo family. Meanwhile, Gabon’s memberships in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the African Union (AU) remain suspended. Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the president of the Central African Republic, has been appointed by ECCAS as a mediator between the regional bloc and the Gabonese authorities. According to observers, the security situation in the country remains stable. French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu earlier announced that French troops stationed in Gabon have resumed their activities in the scope of military cooperation with the Gabonese security forces, initially suspended after the coup. France maintains a force of around 400 soldiers in the country, stationed for training and support purposes in Gabon itself, but also in other partner states in the region.

New cabinet sworn in Zimbabwe

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s new cabinet was sworn in on Tuesday in Zimbabwe. The cabinet comprises a total of 26 ministers and thus grows by 6 ministerial posts compared to the previous cabinet. Most of the posts went to members of the ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and loyalists of President Mnangagwa, while the largest opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) left empty-handed. Last Friday, Mnangagwa’s vice-presidents, Constantino Chiwenga, who already held the office of first vice-president in the last legislative period, and Kembo Mohadi, were already sworn in, whereby the appointment of Mohadi in particular was met with widespread criticism. Mohadi had resigned from his post two years ago because of various affairs, including with an employee. He is considered a close confidant and possible successor to Mnangagwa. The appointments of Mnangagwa’s son David Kudakwashe Mnangagwa as deputy finance minister and his nephew Tongai Mnangagwa as deputy tourism minister also caused resentment. The opposition party CCC accused the president of nepotism. The reappointment of Mthuli Ncube as finance minister, whose track record so far has been rather mixed, also triggered controversy. A reappointment was recently considered doubtful after he lost his bid for a parliamentary seat in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, to a CCC candidate. Accordingly, when Ncube was reappointed, President Mnangagwa made use of a provision that allows him to appoint five non-elected officials to his cabinet. This rule had been used when he was first appointed as finance minister in September 2018. Besides Ncube, Mnangagwa’s Cabinet includes other old familiar faces, including Oppah Muchinguri, who retains her post as Defence Minister; Kazembe Kazembe, Minister of Home Affairs; Ziyambi Ziyambi, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs; Anxious Masuka, Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development; and Amon Murwira, Minister of Higher Education. The leadership of the important Ministry of Mines went to Soda Zhemu, who previously held the post of Minister of Energy. Women’s rights organisations have also criticised the under-representation of women in Mnangagwa’s cabinet: only six of the 26 ministerial posts were filled by a woman. With the swearing in of the new government and the new parliament, the CCC’s chances of success in contesting the election results are diminishing. The latter had turned to the South African Development Community (SADC) to have the election results annulled after it had ruled out legal recourse due to the bias of the judiciary. The SADC Election Observation Mission had previously criticised the conduct of the elections in surprisingly strong terms (Press review CW 35/2023). After the announcement of the election results, which were rejected by opposition parties due to irregularities, violence and misconduct during the election process, there was rioting, unrest, abduction of and attacks on opposition candidates, as well as arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of opposition supporters by Zimbabwean security forces in some parts of the country.

In other news

On Saturday, Senegalese author Mohamed Mbougar Sarr has been awarded the International Literature Prize 2023 for his book “La plus secrète mémoire des hommes” (Eng: The Most Secret Memory of Men). The translator duo Holger Fock and Sabine Müller, who translated Sarr’s novel into German, also received the prize for their work. Sarr’s novel tells the story of the young Senegalese Diégane, who searches for an enigmatic author. His search takes him to different parts of the world and confronts him with the complex legacy of colonialism. The International Prize for Literature was awarded for the fifteenth time by the House of World Cultures in Berlin together with the Foundation Elementarteilchen. This year, the prize was endowed with 35,000€. Sarr has already won the most important French literature prize, the Prix Goncourt, in 2021.

Special news: African Union becomes permanent member of the G20

On Saturday, Indian Prime Minister and current G20 Chair Narendra Modi announced the admission of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member of the G20 group. The decision was taken unanimously at the 18th G20 Summit in New Delhi. Until now, the African continent was only represented by South Africa in the group of states. It is the second regional bloc after the European Union (EU) to join the group. The admission of the AU is the first addition to the organisation since its founding in 1999. The G20 previously consisted of 19 states and the EU and represented about 85% of the global gross domestic product, more than 75% of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. This year, Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, also attended the summit as a guest and is reportedly also considering membership in the group of states.

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