Gabon coup deals another blow to French interests in Africa – expert

The greatest impact of the military coup in Gabon will be on the African country’s ties with its former colonial power France, as well as French economic and military interests in the wider region, according to analysts.

Military leaders in Gabon seized power hours after the controversial re-election of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who officially secured a third term in the disputed Aug. 26 elections that observers have said were marred by irregularities.

The nation awoke on Thursday to a new military leader, Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, the former head of the elite republican guard unit.

The Bongo family, which ruled the oil-rich Central African nation for more than 50 years, had extremely close ties with France, a relationship that played a significant role in shaping Gabon’s political landscape, said Buchanan Ismael, a political scientist at the University of Rwanda.

“The relationship between Gabon and France is marked by close cooperation. Under Ali Bongo’s presidency, Gabon has been one of France’s closet allies in Africa, and through years Bongo become known as a loyal supporter of French policies,” Ismael told Anadolu.

That relationship has sparked allegations of French interference in Gabonese affairs, he said.

Ismael said the Gabon coup has come at a time when anti-France sentiments have been rising in the country and the entire region.

After the recent events in Niger and other countries, the current situation “is going to be more dangerous for France’s economy and military interests in Gabon and the region,” he warned.

“Gabon is a member of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). You know what happened in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, so for sure if there are any kind of anti-France protests, French companies, especially in the mining sector, will pull out,” Ismael explained.

At least one French mining company, Eramet, has already announced halting operations in Gabon.

“That will affect the economy of both countries,” said Ismael.

He said if the coup leaders in Gabon turn away from France, many people could lose their jobs, especially in the mining industry.

Reasons for the coup

Ismael and other analysts say there could be a variety of reasons for the situation in Gabon, such as dissatisfaction within certain military and political factions over Bongo’s lengthy rule and consolidation of power.

Additionally, concerns about electoral integrity and the perceived lack of transparency could have also fueled the discontent, Ismael added.

“I think they overthrew Ali Bongo because him and his family have held power for more than 50 years,” he said.

“Also, Gabon is one of Africa’s largest oil producers, so it is a rich country. Some of them were also not happy with how the elections were conducted, and that could be another reason.”

Ousseni Illy, a law professor at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, said that such events “signify underlying challenges within the democratic fabric” of a country.

“The coup could have been motivated by a fusion of political discontent, allegations of electoral misconduct, and concerns regarding power consolidation,” he said.

Africa’s election conundrum

Ismael said the frequency of disputed elections in Africa highlights a broader issue surrounding democratic governance and political stability on the continent.

Factors such as weak democratic institutions, ethnic tensions and economic disparities often contribute to the issue.

Ismael said election controversies across Africa show “an expansive pattern.”

“Elections have become a do-or-die situation, with so many politicians in Africa using all means including unfair tactics to capture power,” he said.

“Electioneering language is increasingly becoming inciting and violent. There is the notion that an election is a war, and only the winner is a good strategist, so those who lose are often treated as enemies of the government and the state.”

Disputed elections are a symptom of deeper systemic challenges that many African nations face, Ismael emphasized.

For African nations to address the issue, it is vital that they strengthen their institutions, promote inclusivity and enhance transparency, he added.

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