African Nation of Gabon Faces Military Takeover
Senior Military Officers Seize Power
In the oil-rich Central African nation of Gabon, a group of senior military officers appeared on television early Wednesday and announced their seizure of power. This came just hours after the incumbent president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, was declared the winner of a third term in office.
Representing the major arms of the security forces, the officers declared the cancellation of the election results, the suspension of the government, and the closure of the country’s borders until further notice.
There was no immediate response from President Bongo or the government. Shortly after the broadcast, Reuters reported hearing bursts of gunfire in the capital city of Libreville.
One of the officers stated on Gabon 24 station, “We have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime.” If successful, this coup will be the latest in a series of military takeovers that have occurred in Western and Central Africa over the past three years, including one in Niger just last month.
Coup Motivated by Anger Towards Political Dynasty
Unlike earlier military takeovers driven by insurgent violence or intramilitary tensions, the coup in Gabon appears to be motivated by resentment towards one of Africa’s longest-standing political families.
The Bongo family has ruled Gabon, a coastal nation with a population of 2.3 million, for over 50 years. Ali Bongo, 64, was about to begin his third term as president, succeeding his father, Omar Bongo, who held power for four decades.
The recent election was tense, with opposition claims of rigging and concerns about potential violence as observed in previous Gabonese elections. Many residents left the capital city ahead of the election, anticipating unrest. Following the closing of the polls, an evening curfew was imposed, and internet access was restricted by the government.
On Wednesday morning, the national electoral authority announced Ali Bongo as the winner with 65 percent of the vote, while his main rival, Albert Ondo Ossa, received 31 percent.
Hours later, a group of mutinous officers referred to as the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions appeared on national television, proclaiming the “end of the regime.”
Uncertainty Surrounds Coup Leaders and Future
In a statement denouncing what they deem as “irresponsible and unpredictable governance,” a spokesperson expressed concerns that Ali Bongo’s rule risked plunging the country into chaos.
However, the statement provided little information regarding the group’s identities, level of military support, or their intentions for Gabon, which ranks as the fourth-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
This coup could potentially harm French influence in Africa, as Gabon is a former French colony. In June, President Bongo, who received education in France, met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
France has been grappling with rising anti-French sentiment across several former colonies, including Mali and Burkina Faso, where it was compelled to withdraw thousands of soldiers deployed to combat Islamist militants.
Despite Gabon’s significant oil wealth, poverty remains rampant. According to the World Bank, nearly 40 percent of Gabonese individuals aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed.