Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba last week selected Rose Ossouka Raponda as Prime Minister, the first woman to hold the post.

The weekend also saw the appointed a new ministerial line-up, although Vincent de Paul Massassa has retained his portfolio as Minister of Petroleum & Mines.

Massassa was joined by Alain Claude Bilie-By-Nze — a former minister of state for foreign affairs and known close associate of Ondimba — as Minister for Energy & Hydraulic Resources,

Raponda, who previously served as defence minister, is charged with re-launching Gabon’s faltering economy amid the dual challenge of oil price volatility and the coronavirus, according to statement issued by the presidency.

Gabon is currently pursuing a 35-block auction, the country’s 12th Licensing Round, under which suitors were due to submit bids for 12 shallow-water and 23 deep-water blocks by 30 April — a round that was already delayed and is now indefinitely extended.

Facilitated by the Petroleum Ministry’s Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, the delay is partly in response to market conditions and partly to enable companies to examine 65,000 square kilometres of 3D seismic and 21,000 kilometres of 2D data covering all blocks, released last month by Petroleum Geo-Services.

The latest figures released by the Directorate General of Economy & Tax Policy indicate oil output rose in the first quarter, against the same period in 2019, even as crude exports fell by 20% due to weak demand.

Having dropped out of circulation for more than a year following a heart attack in Saudi Arabia during the 2018 Hajj, the ailing Ali Bongo Ondimba faces re-election in 2023 with several political factions angling to unseat him, including newcomer Omar Denis J Bongo, Andimba’s half-brother and grandson of Denis Sassou-Nguesso, head of state in neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville.

Backed by Sassou-Nguesso, a regional kingpin, the 26-year old Oxford-education Omar Denis Jr Bongo has convinced the ruling clan in Gabon regime that he intends to contest presidential elections, a move which locally active oil companies are taking seriously, according to media.