Gabon military takeover holds, Western powers ‘very concerned’

On Wednesday, rebel officers in Gabon declared their control over the government after contested elections, in which President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family has governed the oil-rich nation for over 55 years, was announced as the victor.

The claimed seizure of power prompted the African Union (AU) to express strong disapproval, while Nigeria raised concerns about the spread of authoritarian rule, given that military takeovers have occurred in five other African countries since 2020.

Bongo, aged 64, who assumed office after his father Omar in 2009, has been confined to his residence, and one of his sons has been detained on charges of treason, as stated by the leaders of the coup.

In a striking early morning announcement, a faction of officers proclaimed the dissolution of “all republic institutions,” nullification of the election outcomes, and the closure of national borders.

“Today, the country is going through a serious institutional, political, economic and social crisis,” according to the statement read on state TV.

Delivered by an officer standing alongside a contingent of approximately twelve army colonels, personnel from the esteemed Republican Guard, regular soldiers, and additional individuals.

The elections “did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon,” the statement said.

“Added to this is irresponsible and unpredictable governance, resulting in a continuing deterioration in social cohesion, with the risk of leading the country in chaos.”

“We — the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI) on behalf of the people of Gabon and as guarantors of the institutions’ protection — have decided to defend peace by putting an end to the current regime,” it said.

Top brass arrested

Subsequent television footage depicted General Brice Oligui Nguema, leader of the Republican Guard, being hoisted in a celebratory manner by numerous soldiers, while chants of “Oligui president” resonated through the scene.

Noureddin Bongo Valentin, the son and trusted advisor of Bongo, along with Ian Ghislain Ngoulou, his chief of staff, and the deputy chief, along with two additional presidential advisors and the highest-ranking figures within the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), “have been arrested,” confirmed a military spokesperson.

They face allegations including treason, embezzlement, corruption, and forging the president’s signature, among other charges, the spokesperson added.

A worried-looking Bongo, in a video from an unidentified location, appealed to “all friends that we have all over the world… to make noise” on his behalf.

“My son is somewhere, my wife is in another place and I’m at the residence and nothing is happening. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m calling you to make noise.”

In both the capital city and the economic center of Port-Gentil, exuberant groups of individuals were observed rejoicing. In Libreville, approximately 100 people chanted “Bongo out!” and expressed their approval for police personnel in riot gear, media reported.

Disputed elections

Following the passing of his father Omar, who governed the nation for 41 years and was rumored to have accumulated a substantial fortune, Bongo was initially elected to office in 2009.

The declaration of the coup occurred mere moments after the national election authority proclaimed Bongo’s victory in Saturday’s election, securing him a third term with 64.27 percent of the total votes.

The primary opposition in Gabon, under the leadership of university professor Albert Ondo Ossa, vehemently accused Bongo of “fraud,” while urging him to peacefully transfer power.

Over the weekend, authorities enacted a nighttime curfew and implemented a nationwide internet blackout. The internet was reinstated on Wednesday morning following the televised address.

The 2016 elections in Gabon were marred by fatal unrest, as Bongo narrowly surpassed opponent Jean Ping by a mere 5,500 votes, as per the official count.

In 2018, Bongo experienced a stroke that rendered him inactive for a period of 10 months, sparking claims that he was medically incapable of fulfilling his presidential duties.

6-decades of family rule

The nation of Central Africa, comprising 2.3 million inhabitants, has been under the governance of the Bongo family for over 55 of the 63 years since gaining independence from France in 1960.

The White House expressed vigilant monitoring of the unfolding events, while the African Union (AU) voiced “strong condemnation” of the asserted seizure, characterizing it as a breach of its charter.

In Nigeria, the largest economy and most densely populated nation in Africa, President Bola Tinubu communicated his engagement with fellow African leaders regarding the pervasive spread of what he termed “contagious autocracy” across the continent.

“Power belongs in the hands of Africa’s great people and not in the barrel of a loaded gun,” Tinubu said through his spokesman.

Starting from 2020, a series of military takeovers have occurred in Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

In France, where the potential departure of Bongo would signify another setback to Paris’ influence in Africa, the government expressed condemnation of the coup and reaffirmed its aspiration to witness the preservation of election results once they are disclosed.

Russia said it was “deeply concerned” by the situation, while China called for “all sides” in Gabon to guarantee Bongo’s safety.

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