The military coup in Gabon has heightened concerns among Africa leaders over the rising wave of seemingly popular but unconstitutionally takeover of power.
Although the military takeovers have been in Francophone countries so far, experts who spoke with LEADERSHIP expressed worry that the Gabon incident happened despite interventions by African leaders to arrest the emerging trend. While some fear that the recent wave of coups could be likened to the Arab Spring, others insist that African leaders must begin to pay attention to providing governance.
The military has seized power in Niger, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Guinea, and Mail in the last three years in Africa. Tension over military takeovers heightened in the continent yesterday as mutinous soldiers in Gabon proclaimed their republican guard chief as the country’s leader, after placing the just-reelected President Ali Bongo Ondimba under house arrest, alleging betrayal and massive embezzlement during his long-time rule over the oil-rich Central African nation.
The coup leaders said in an announcement on Gabon’s state TV that Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema had been “unanimously” designated president of a transitional committee to lead the country. Oligui is a cousin of Bongo, who had earlier yesterday been declared the winner of the country’s latest presidential election following 55 years of rule by him and his late father.
In a video from detention in his residence, Bongo called on people to “make noise” to support him. But the crowds who took to the streets of the capital instead celebrated the coup against a dynasty accused of getting rich on the country’s wealth while many of its citizens struggled. “Thank you, army. Finally, we’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” said Yollande Okomo, standing in front of republican guard members who had helped stage the takeover.
Coup leaders said there would be a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time but that people would be allowed to move about freely during the day on Thursday. “The president of the transition insists on the need to maintain calm and serenity in our beautiful country … At the dawn of a new era, we will guarantee the peace, stability and dignity of our beloved Gabon,” Lt. Col. Ulrich Manfoumbi said on state TV.
Oligui, the new military leader, used to be the bodyguard of Bongo’s father, the late President Omar Bongo, said Desire Ename, a journalist with Echos du Nord, a local media outlet.Oligui also was head of the secret service in 2019 before becoming head of the republican guard.
Ali Bongo Ondimba, 64, has served two terms since coming to power in 2009 after the death of his father, who ruled the country for 41 years, and there has been widespread discontent with his reign. Another group of mutinous soldiers attempted a coup in 2019 but was quickly overpowered.
The former French colony is a member of OPEC, but its oil wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few — and nearly 40% of Gabonese aged 15 to 24 were out of work in 2020, according to the World Bank. Its oil export revenue was $6 billion in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Nine members of the Bongo family, meanwhile, are under investigation in France, and some face preliminary charges of embezzlement, money laundering and other forms of corruption, according to Sherpa, a French NGO dedicated to accountability. Investigators have linked the family to more than $92 million in properties in France, including two villas in Nice..
A spokesman for the coup leaders said that Bongo’s “unpredictable, irresponsible governance” risked leading the country into chaos. In a later statement, the coup leaders said people around the president had been arrested for “high betrayal of state institutions, massive embezzlement of public funds (and) international financial embezzlement.” Analysts warned that the takeover risked bringing instability, and could have more to do with divisions among the ruling elite than efforts to improve the lives of ordinary Gabonese.
Tinubu, World Leaders Condemn Coup
World leaders yesterday condemned the coup in Gabon and called for calm. President Bola Tinubu said he was working closely with his counterparts on the continent to deal with the situation. Addressing State House correspondents on the President’s position, his special adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, said the President was deeply concerned about current threats to democracy on the continent.
“President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is watching developments in Gabon very closely with deep concern for the country’s socio-political stability, and the seeming autocratic contagion apparently spreading across different regions of our beloved continent. The President is of the unwavering belief that power belongs in the hands of Africa’s great people, and not in the barrel of a loaded gun”, he noted.
He said the president was of the view that constitutional and electoral disputes should not be used as an excuse to forceful takeover of government. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “firmly” condemned the coup in Gabon yesterday , according to his spokesman.
Stephane Dujarric said Guterres is “closely” following the situation in Gabon and notes with “deep concern the announcement of the election results amidst reports of serious infringements of fundamental freedoms. He firmly condemns the ongoing coup attempt as a means to resolve the post-electoral crisis. The Secretary-General reaffirms his strong opposition to military coups.
The UN chief called on all actors involved to exercise restraint, engage in an inclusive and meaningful dialogue and ensure that the rule of law and human rights are fully respected, while noting Guterres’ call on the army and security forces to “guarantee the physical integrity of the president of the republic, and his family. The United Nations stands by the people of Gabon,” he said.
Also, the Commonwealth secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, in a statement expressed concern about the illegal takeover of power in Gabon. “The Commonwealth Charter is clear that member states must uphold the rule of law and the principles of democracy at all times and the Commonwealth Secretariat will be keenly monitoring the situation,” she said.
Similarly, Wang Wenbin, China spokesperson for the foreign ministry, called for the safety of President Ali Bongo. Wenbin urged all sides in Gabon to proceed from the basic interests of the country and the people and resolve their differences through dialogue. He also urged them to restore normal order to Gabon as soon as possible.
Also reacting to the current situation, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Paris was following events in Gabon with the greatest attention. Expressing concern, European Union Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell said the coup would lead to more instability in the whole region.
“The whole area, starting with Central African Republic, then Mali, then Burkina Faso, now Niger, maybe Gabon, it’s in a very difficult situation and certainly the ministers … have to have a deep thought on what is going on there and how we can improve our policy in respect with these countries,” he said.
As reactions continue to trail the military coup in Gabon, Dr Chris Okeke, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka said it is a bold statement and African leaders who are wise need to move with the tide and become decisive in tackling the perennial challenges facing the continent.
Okeke, who specialises in international relations, African development and underdevelopment, told our correspondent that it is the moment to turn around the monsters of poverty, unemployment, poor human capital development records, insecurity and the likes.
“The coup tsunami sweeping across Africa, just like the Arab Spring, possesses continental and global significance. Africa has been let down for decades. The West, particularly the erstwhile colonial masters, in a brazen neo-colonialism, continues to smile to the bank at the expense of Africans, their resources and well-being. It has been decades of gluttony-driven imperialism where flag independence for the African territory has not culminated in total, especially economic freedom.
“What has been happening to Africans, spearheaded by European countries, is a shame of a man putting his fellow man in a brazen chain. It is unfortunate that African leaders have refused to be weaned of European imperialism hangovers. The leaders sacrifice their people and resources just to please the Europeans, so shamefully.
“From Mali to Burkina Faso to Niger Republic and now Gabon, there is a clear case of sovereignty returning to the people. Pro-coup rallies are organised to welcome the paradigm shift towards Africanisation of solutions troubling the continent. Indeed, it is a bold statement and African leaders who are wise need to move with the tide and become decisive in tackling the perennial challenges facing the continent.
“It is the moment to turn around the monsters of poverty, unemployment, poor human capital development records, insecurity and the likes. It is time to pipe down on corruption and think out pro-poor policies, and practically too. More so, sit-tight leaders in Africa should honourably vacate the stage. The revolution, no matter how it is viewed, is a good omen for the liberation of the African continent. In fact, such deus ez machina is long overdue,” he asserted.
A Nigerian human rights activist, Aisha Yesufu, said the world must find universally accepted standards for free, fair and credible elections or coups will become the order of the day. On her verified twitter handle, @AishaYesufu she said: “The world must find a universally accepted standard for free, fair and credible elections. We cannot continue to have different standards otherwise a military coup will become the order of the day.”
Meanwhile, reports say “the people of Gabon were out on the streets, with many of them celebrating”. A nationwide internet shutdown imposed by President Ali Bongo’s government three days ago has been restored.