But, once empty-handed and resigned after several hours in the oppressive heat, they are now dozens waiting full of hope. And impatience: the general who fell to President Ali Bongo Ondimba two weeks ago has made the end of their ordeal his very first promise.

Léonie Oumtoma is tired. She does not know how many times she waited at the center of the National Social Security Fund (CNSS) in Batavia, in the center of the capital, simply to know the progress of her file.


On August 30, the army overthrew Ali Bongo, who had just been re-elected in an election deemed fraudulent by the military, who also accused his regime of massive corruption and calamitous governance.

Two days later, their leader, General Brice Oligui Nguema, propelled transitional president, gets carried away in front of 200 to 300 Gabonese bosses under the eye of the cameras: he vows to "put an end to the suffering" of retirees and patients by placing "immediately" "under the management of the private sector" the public pension and sickness funds.

In front of the CNSS of Batavia, as always, they are several dozen sitting on plastic chairs a few days later. "I'm a widow but I haven't received a penny from my husband's pension for two years," said Henriette Nset, a 57-year-old shopkeeper.

There are thousands of them, the opposition and civil society have been warning for years.

One in three inhabitants lives below the poverty line (less than 2 euros per day) in Africa's third richest country in per capita income thanks to its oil, according to the World Bank.

People look for rubbish to recycle in an open landfill in Libreville, June 18, 2021 © Steeve Jordan / AFP/Archives

The wealth is therefore concentrated in the hands of a small ruling class since the 55 years of rule of the Bongo family: 14 for Ali and 41 for his father Omar Bongo Ondimba before him.

Aristide Mouanda, 57, has been retired for a year. This technician "worked everywhere in the private sector" but never received anything from his pension despite several reminders. Life expectancy in Gabon was 66 years in 2021, according to the World Bank.

Digging into your savings

"I've been waiting for my pension for two years," said François Moussavou, 58. "I am forced to dip into my savings to provide for my small family," he says.

Despite the general's promise, it will still be necessary to return to the CNSS of Batavia. The annoyance turns to bronca: a "technical problem" leads to its premature closure in the middle of the morning.

Romaric Ngomo Menie, inspector general at the CNSS, says he is aware of the suffering of pensioners. "It was imperative that the State intervene to try to revive all governance and put the CNSS back in line", the president of the transition "wants results quickly because he cares about social protection", he recite.

It remains for Aristide Mouanda as for the others only to hope "that with the new power, things will change".

The general, who promises to "return power to civilians" through elections after the transition, has multiplied meetings with all the "living forces of the Nation", quickly set up a government and multiplied promises in favor of the "poorest".

But the hope he has raised in a large majority of Gabonese applauding every day an army that has "liberated them from the Bongo clan", is already arousing impatience. And strikes by employees who have not received their wages for months or accuse their employers of "slavery".

© 2023 AFP