Written by Jacopo Maria Bosica
Edited by Michele Puggia
Supervised by Cansu Macit Karaduman
On Wednesday 30 August, a group of men in army uniforms unseated Gabon’s long-serving president Ali Bongo Ondimba just a few minutes after he won re-election in highly contested presidential elections (Yeung, 2023). The vote had seen the governing Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) consolidating its majority in both houses of parliament, thus guaranteeing Ali Bongo over 64% of the votes cast and a third consecutive term in office (Bonny, 2023). Whilst seizing power, the newly established junta declared the election to be fraudulent, temporarily curtailed the Internet to allegedly prevent the spread of misinformation, shut the country’s borders ‘until further notice’, refused to allow vessels to leave the post of the capital Libreville, imposed a nightly curfew and dissolved ‘all the institutions of the republic’ (BBC News, 2023; Yeung, 2023; VOA News, 2023; Rédaction Africanews, 2023).
According to the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), General Brice Oligui Nguema was ‘unanimously’ appointed as ‘president of the transition’, while entrusting the judicial authorities to investigate charges against ousted president’s son Nourredin Bongo Valentin and six other key associates ranging from state institutions’ betrayal to public funds embezzlement (Kwon et al., 2023; Mednick & Goma, 2023). The coup received firm condemnation by both the African Union, whose commission’s president defined it a violation of the Union’s legal and political instruments, and Western nations, with U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller voicing Washington’s opposition to ‘military seizures or unconstitutional transfers of power’ (Yeung, 2023).
Ali Bongo, who has been put under house arrest, has been facing accusations of election fraud and corruption since he first took office in 2009 (Yeung, 2023). That year his father Omar died of cardiac arrest after ruling Gabon since 1967, initially with a one-party system and, from 1991, a tight grip on government despite allowing multi-party rule (Kwon et al., 2023). Under the Bongos’ presidential terms, Gabon turned into an oil-rich and poverty-torn country which, on the one hand, is a member of the OPEC cartel with a daily production of 181,000 barrels of crude oil but, on the other, had almost 40% of its population aged between 15 and 24 unemployed as of 2020 (Rédaction Africanews, 2023).
From a domestic security viewpoint, Gabon was not affected by jihadi terrorism, making it an exception amongst West African countries ruled by military juntas; matters, however, came to a head in January 2019, when Ali Bongo survived a military coup attempt storming state media headquarters and taking staff hostages until defence and security forces stepped in and arrested eight army officials (Rédaction Africanews, 2023; Kwon et al., 2023). This year’s episode, just one month after the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in Niger, marks the eighth coup in ex-French colonies since 2020, with the Sahel region accounting for the largest share (Mednick & Goma, 2023; BBC News, 2023). Likewise, it perpetuates a worrisome trend which, since 1990, has seen such former colonies making up for two-thirds of the coups around Africa (The Economist, 2023).
BBC News. (2023, 30 August). Gabon coup: Army seizes power from Ali Bongo and puts him in house arrest. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-66654965.
Bonny, Aurore. (2023, 30 August). Military stages coup in Gabon after controversial presidential poll. Anadolu Ajansı. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/military-stages-coup-in-gabon-after-controversial-presidential-poll/2979027.
Kwon, J., Yeung, J., Stambaugh, A., Kennedy, N., Halasz, S. & Haq, S. N. (2023, 30 August). Military officers in Gabon declare coup and place president under house arrest. CNN World. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/08/30/africa/gabon-military-officers-say-power-seized-election-intl-hnk/index.html.
Mednick, S. & Goma, Y. L. (2023, 31 August). Mutineers in Gabon appoint a military leader after detaining the president, alleging corruption. Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/gabon-mutiny-elections-power-a61d03963f75ae93ba85a4ba7eec3c71.
Rédaction Africanews. (2023, 30 August). Gabon coup: How did events unfold? Africanews. https://www.africanews.com/2023/08/30/gabon-military-takeover-how-did-events-unfold/.
The Economist. (2023, 30 August). The coup in Gabon is part of an alarming trend. https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2023/08/30/the-coup-in-gabon-is-part-of-an-alarming-trend?utm_content=article-link-2&etear=nl_today_2&utm_campaign=a.the-economist-today&utm_medium=email.internal-newsletter.np&utm_source=salesforce-marketing-cloud&utm_term=8%2F30%2F2023&utm_id=1743257.
VOA News. (2023, 30 August). Gabon Military Officers Say Deposed President is Under House Arrest. https://www.voanews.com/a/gabon-military-officers-declare-coup-/7246936.html.
Yeung, J. (2023, 31 August). Gabon’s military coup has overthrown a powerful political dynasty. Here’s what to know. CNN World. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/08/31/africa/gabon-military-coup-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html.