The citizens of Gabon woke up on Monday, 7th January to find that the military had staged a coup and ousted President Ali Bongo. According to Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang’s radio and television statements, the military has staged a coup with the intent of “restoring democracy.” He continued to say that the president’s failing health, as demonstrated in his New Year’s message, “reinforces doubts about his ability to assume the responsibilities of his role as President of the Republic.” Moreover, he stated that a restoration council has been formed to govern the country as the new government.
Lt. Obiang clams to be the head of the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon (PMDSF). PMDSF have stated their intention to take control of the transport system, ammunition reserves and airports.
President Bongo has been president of the West African country since 2009 when he replaced his deceased father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled for 42 years, since 1967.
Less than 2 years after taking power, President Bongo faced opposition when Opposition leader Andre Mba Obame claimed presidency on January 25, 2011. Consequently, President Bongo dissolved his opposition party. Mr Obame’s action was criticized by the AU, the chairperson Jean Ping saying his action hurt “the integrity of legitimate institutions and also endangers the peace, the security, and stability of Gabon.” Then UNSG Ban Ki-Moon addressed the Gabon crisis, saying that the UN only recognizes President Bongo as the president of Gabon.
Upon winning the re-election in 2016 for his second seven year term, the opposition took to the streets to protest the win, claiming the election was fraudulent. The EU observers also witnessed anomalies in the election process. Lt. Obiang referenced the post-election violence in his address, stating that the coup is being carried out against “those who, in a cowardly way, assassinated our young compatriot on the night of August 31, 2016.” To quell the protests, President Ali Bongo promised to address issues such as youth unemployment and over-reliance on falling oil revenues.
Since suffering a stroke in October, he has been receiving treatment and recovering in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. To reassure the country about his recovery, he issued a New Years address. Following the address, the Presidential spokesperson Ike Ngouoni stated that the speech “is proof that President Ali Bongo is fully recovered [and] his health problems are now behind him.” In an attempt to ensure the public of the progress of President Bongo, a local newspaper was suspended for three months after they stated that the prime minister should be appointed interim leader as the country was on “autopilot.”
As the military took to announce their victory in deposing President Bongo, gunfire could be heard near the state house in Libreville, the capital city. The military battled the Presidential Guard.
The government spokesperson did not make any comment until later in the day. According to the spokesperson, Guy-Bertrand Mapangou, the soldiers involved in the attempted military coup have been arrested. He assures the people and the international community following the news that everything has returned back to normal. He assures the people that President Bongo still is the president of Gabon. Mr. Mapangou stated that the government has begun an investigation to figure out who was involved in the plot to oust President Bongo.
With most of the wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, mainly from the oil sector, it is likely that the population and other military factions would support the coup, according to Aly Khan Satchu, economics and Africa Analyst. Due to the unequal distribution of wealth, Gabon has become an extremely unequal society. In fact, despite being a major oil-producing country, more than a third of the 1.8 million population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. He adds that he does not think the small band of military personnel that staged the coup are working by themselves.
The coup comes just a week after President Trump approved the deployment of 80-100 troops to Gabon. According to the President, the troops were deployed as a reactionary force to potential violent demonstrations in the D.R.C. as a result of the elections. Though the U.S. government maintains the deployment of the troops is related to the D.R.C., some analysts claim that the U.S. might have intercepted chatter discussing the coup.
Presently, there are 900 French troops stationed in Gabon. The high number of troops is a consequence of being a former colony of France. Gabon gained their independence in 1960. President Ali Bongo’s father maintained a strong and close relationship with its colonial master but the relationship deteriorated when Ali became president. This is a result of France launching a long-running corruption investigation on the family’s assets. Analyst Satchu suspects that the French government will not help Bongo and his government.
It is still unclear what is happening in Gabon at the moment. Within the last ten hours, reports have stated that a small band of military generals have claimed victory and staged a coup. Hours later, the government claims that they have arrested the main perpetrators of the military coup. It is in unclear what will happen next. At this point, it would be premature to put forth hypothesized outcomes. It is a waiting game to see if things will return back to the way it was yesterday or if other military personnel will attempt to carry out another coup d’état. The attempted military coup might be a wake-up call for President Bongo to get his home in order.