Gabon: 10 things to know about BGFI’s Henri-Claude Oyima, the boss of bosses (once again)

By Omer Mbadi
Posted on Thursday, 11 August 2022 10:08

Henri-Claude Oyima of BGFI Bank at the March 2016 Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. ©ERIC LARRAYADIEU/AFRICA CEO FORUM/JA

The president of Central Africa's largest banking group, BGFI Group's Henri-Claude Oyima, was appointed head of Gabon’s employers' confederation on 2 August. At 65, Oyima is charged with restoring credibility to an institution recently shaken by a rebellion against his predecessor.

1- Repeat performance

Oyima is back at the head of the Confédération Patronale du Gabon (CPG), which he headed from 2005 to 2013. After the last CPG boss, Alain Bâ Oumar, suffered a revolt led by bankers, oil companies and other industries threatening to launch a rival movement, Oyima was brought back to avoid the break-up of the employers’ union.

“He was the only one able to build a majority capable of restoring minimal credibility to the association,” says a local analyst.

2- Cumulative

In addition to the CPG, Oyima also chairs BGFI Corporation, the holding company of the leading Central African banking group, established in 12 countries (including Gabon, Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo), as well as the board of directors of the Bourse des Valeurs Mobilières de l’Afrique Centrale.

3- Debt clubs

The latest brainchild of the BGFI, which Oyima has been running for 35 years, is the establishment of “clubs”, circles bringing together banks, states and their private-sector creditors, focused on clearing government’s domestic debt arrears. This formula was inaugurated in Libreville in 2018. The Brazzaville and Malabo clubs followed, launched in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

4- Politics? No thanks

Oyima has carefully avoided getting involved in Gabon’s politics. He has, on several occasions, rejected offers of a ministerial portfolio, notably in 2009, when President Ali Bongo Ondimba wanted to entrust him with the economy ministry within his first government. “A way for him to preserve relative independence,” says our source. Some people say that he intends to run for the country’s top job if the President ever steps down, in order to retain power among the Teke ethnic group. But Oyima himself has never shown any real interest in the post.

5- BGFI training grounds

The banking group headed by Oyima serves as a recruitment pool for the senior administration and the Gabonese government. Franck Yann Koubdje, director general of public accounting and the treasury, is a product of BGFI. Also from this line are Justin Ndoudangoye, Tony Ondo Mba, Patrice Tanichi, Ike Ngouoni and even Brice Laccruche Alihanga, who drew from his network during his time as Ondimba’s all-powerful chief of staff – before his downfall and arrest. “Promotions endorsed by the boss,” says our source, referring to the Gabon’s President without, naming him directly.

6- Omar Bongo Odimba

Like the ruling family in Libreville, Oyima belongs to the Teke ethnic group and is originally from Ngouoni, home to the maternal family of the late Omar Bongo Ondimba, who was his great uncle. In addition to this link, Delta Synergie, the Bongo family’s holding company, owns 7% of BGFI Holding Corporation, which oversees the eleven subsidiaries of the banking group. This allows its director, Pascaline Bongo, to sit on the BGFI board.

7- A banker through and through

Before taking over Paribas Gabon, which later became BGFI, this holder of a master’s degree in banking from the University of Washington began his career in the early 1980s at Citibank in New York before joining the bank’s Gabonese subsidiary. He joined the French group in 1983 to become the number two of its local branch. He became the boss two years later. The withdrawal of Paribas from the Gabonese market then gave him the opportunity to work with local investors to build what is now the leading banking group in Central Africa.

8- Succession planning

At 65, Oyima is banking on youth to prepare the future of his group. This means promoting people in their forties to head certain subsidiaries, such as Ivorian Boris Bilé Coffi (41) at BGFI Europe, Congolese Francesco de Musso (42) in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroonian Abakal Mahamat (39) in Cameroon. This action extends to training, through BGFI’s business school.

9- Aborted eviction

In 2012, Ali Bongo Ondimba’s powerful chief of staff Maixent Accrombessi tried to oust Oyima from BGFI in favour of one of his associates, Magloire Ngambia, who was then the ‘super-minister’ of investment promotion, transport, public works, housing, tourism and regional planning. This former central bank executive had the added advantage of being Teke, like Oyima.

The manoeuvre was short-lived, thanks to the support that Pascaline Bongo, who was not at all in Accrombessi’s good books, offered the banker. “A meeting between the two men, at Ngambia’s initiative, ended up settling the dispute,” says a source familiar with the Libreville milieu.

10- Image changer

Shaken a few years ago by scandals at its Congolese, Gabonese and Beninese subsidiaries, BGFI decided to improve its image, which had been largely tarnished. Under its boss’ leadership, the internal control system has been reformed and new staff members have taken over.

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