Denis Auguste Marie Gokana has little taste for socialising and is relatively secretive about his professional and personal activities. He nevertheless belongs to the inner circle of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who pays close heed to his advice. He has also become a businessman in his own right and is still chairman of the board of state-owned oil company Société nationale des pétroles du Congo (SNPC).

A scientist by training, Gokana, 56, is one of the most influential oil industry experts in Congo-Brazzaville, which is sub-Saharan Africa's fourth biggest crude oil producer. A native of Boundji in the northern part of the country, he was trained in France and has spent his entire career in the strategic oil sector. He began in France, where he worked in the production branch of the former Elf Aquitaine oil group, and then moved to Pointe-Noire where the company, which was taken over by Total in 2000, recruited him in 1997 to work on the Nkossa project.

It was at this time that he became a supporter of Denis Sassou Nguesso who had returned to power after several months of civil war. He became a member of Sassou Nguesso's inner circle, where he devoted himself to oil trading. His great expertise made him a key figure in the Congolese oil sector, where his influence was comparable to that of Samuel Dossou under Omar Bongo in Gabon.

Two people accompanied him in the rapid rise to prominence which was epitomised by his participation in the foundation of Société nationale des pétroles du Congo (SNPC) in 1998: Lucien Ebata, founder of Orion Oil and the magazine, Forbes Africa, and Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, son of the Congolese president, who is currently deputy director general in charge of downstream activities at SNPC and a member of the board of Congolaise de Raffinage (CORAF).

Like Denis Sassou Nguesso and most other senior office holders in Congo-Brazzaville, Gokana belongs to the Mbochi ethnic group. He has not limited himself to playing the role of special adviser on oil affairs at the presidential palace, however. Between 2000 and 2002, he set up one after the other International Trading Management & Services (ITMS) in France and Sphynx UK in London, both companies active in technical assistance to the oil industry and crude oil marketing.

In 2003, he founded his own company in Brazzaville under the name Africa Oil & Gas Corp (AOGC). This company, which specialises in oil exploration, production, transport and auditing, has gradually expanded, acquiring a number of permits and shareholdings off Pointe-Noire. Since it was set up, it has operated the Pointe-Indienne oil field and taken delivery of numerous cargoes from SNPC. AOGC also has: an 8% stake in the Mwafi II field, alongside ENI Congo with 58% and SNPC with 34%; a 10% stake in Kitina II, in which ENI Congo has 50% and SNPC 40%; an 8% stake in the Djambala II permit, in which ENI Congo has 58% and SNPC 34% and a 10% stake in Foukanda.