Wednesday, 30 August 2023 13:45

Gabon military coup: Here’s what we know so far

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  • A dozen mutinous soldiers appeared on Gabonese national television, announcing the cancellation of recent election results and the dissolution of “all the institutions of the republic”.
  • Wednesday’s announcement came after President Ali Bongo Ondimba, 64 was re-elected for a third term, in an election the opposition described as a ‘fraud orchestrated’ by the ruling party.
  • The Bongo family, one of Africa’s most powerful dynasties, has been in power since 1967.
  • The president has confirmed he is under house arrest and called for help, urging citizens to ‘make noise’.
  • There have been scenes of celebration in the Gabonese capital, Libreville since the military takeover.

Commonwealth: Gabon coup ‘deeply concerning’

The Commonwealth has voiced fears about the military coup in Gabon, which joined the bloc last year with Togo, another former French colony.

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said the situation was “deeply concerning”, adding that the bloc was monitoring the situation closely.

“The Commonwealth Charter is clear that member states must uphold the rule of law and the principles of democracy at all times,” Scotland said.

How many coups have there been in Africa?

Out of the 486 attempted or successful military coups carried globally since 1950, Africa accounts for the largest number with 214, of which at least 106 have been successful.

Based on data compiled by American researchers Jonathan M Powell and Clayton L Thyne, at least 45 of the 54 nations across the African continent have experienced at least a single coup attempt since 1950.

Gabon’s Assala Energy says oil production unaffected

Assala Energy says its oil production in Gabon has been unaffected by the military coup in the country.

“We can confirm that all our personnel are safe, our operations continue as usual and our production is not affected,” a company spokesperson said.

Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels a day (bpd) of crude oil, making it the second-smallest OPEC producer.

Coup leader says Bongo will ‘enjoy all his rights’

Speaking to the French newspaper Le Monde, coup leader Brice Oligui Nguema says the president will “enjoy all his rights” after the military announced it has placed him under house arrest.

“He is a Gabonese head of state. He is retired. He enjoys all his rights. He is a normal Gabonese, like everyone else,” Nguema said.

Nguema will not confirm whether he will declare himself the new president of the West African country.

“I do not declare myself yet. I do not envisage anything for the moment,” he said.

“This is a debate that we are going to have with all the generals. We will meet at 2pm [13:00 GMT]. It will be about reaching a consensus. Everyone will put forward ideas, and the best ones will be chosen as well as the name of the person who will lead the transition,” he added.

‘This is Francophone Spring’

Michaek Amoah, a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, says people in former French colonies in Africa are tired of leaders clinging to power.

“This is Francophone Spring whereby the anti-French sentiment in a number of Francophone countries is now having a domino effect from Mali to Burkina Faso to Niger and now to Gabon,” Amoah said.

“If you look across the African continent at the moment, apart from Uganda and Equatorial Guinea, every single country where you find a presidential term extension, they are all Francophone. These heads of state can rule for a very long time. In Cameroon, for 41 years and counting,” he added.

Ships drop anchor around Gabon

At least 30 commercial ships dropped anchor around Gabon’s waters after military officers said they had seized power, Reuters news agency reported citing data and maritime sources.

British maritime security company Ambrey said port operations in Libreville had stopped and no vessels had entered or departed from the port since the announcement of the coup.

“Ambrey is aware that movements in and out of Gabon have been closed down following an early morning announcement by military officials,” it added in an advisory.

Russia ‘concerned’ about situation in Gabon

Russia has expressed concern about the situation in Gabon.

“Moscow has received with concern reports of a sharp deterioration in the internal situation in the friendly African country. We continue to closely monitor the development of the situation and hope for its speedy stabilisation,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said Moscow is closely following the situation.

Russia is looking to build up diplomatic and trade ties with Africa, and President Vladimir Putin hosted African leaders for a summit last month.

‘Bongo era is over’

Political analyst Adama Gaye says the coup in Gabon does not come as a surprise.

“The Bongo era is over. Ali Bongo was no longer in the hearts of the population in Gabon. He was not accepted by the opposition, who were very strong this time around,” Gaye told Al Jazeera from Dusseldorf, Germany.

“There was also bickering between Ali Bongo and France to the point where, two days ago on national television, a speaker said there was a coup attempt being masterminded by Emmanuel Macron and the opposition,” he said.

“He [Bongo] was trying to create the condition for him to clamp down on the opposition and to fabricate another victory for himself in another rigged election. But this time around, the military realised that this was too far-fetched and they had to act, and that is what they did,” Gaye added.

France says Gabon election result should be respected

French government spokesman Olivier Veran says Paris condemns the coup in Gabon and wants the election result to be respected.

Earlier, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said France is following events in Gabon “with the greatest attention”.

On Monday, President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called an “epidemic” of coups in recent years in French-speaking Africa, from Mali and Burkina Faso to Guinea and most recently Niger.

Paris maintains a military presence in many of its former colonial territories, including Gabon, where it has 370 soldiers permanently deployed, some in the capital, Libreville, according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces website.


Oil giant Total says safety of employees, operations ‘main priority’

The French oil giant TotalEnergies says it has made arrangements to ensure the safety of its employees and operations in Gabon.

The company is the country’s main distributor of petroleum products with 45 petrol stations and 350 staff.

Gabon also accounted for 0.6 percent of the company’s oil and gas output in 2022.

The group did not immediately respond to a question about whether the coup could potentially have an impact on its operations.

Coup leaders say President Bongo under house arrest

Gabon’s coup leaders say President Ali Bongo Ondimba is under house arrest and one of his sons has been arrested for “treason”.

“President Ali Bongo is under house arrest, surrounded by his family and doctors,” they said in a statement read out on state TV.

Bongo’s son and close adviser Noureddin Bongo Valentin, his chief of staff Ian Ghislain Ngoulou as well as his deputy, two other presidential advisers and the two top officials in the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) “have been arrested”, a military leader said.

They are accused of treason, embezzlement, corruption and falsifying the president’s signature, among other allegations, he said.

‘In the past France would have intervened’

France is unlikely to send its military to intervene in its former colony, Tara O’Connor, executive director of Africa Risk Consulting, told Al Jazeera from Bordeaux.

“I think what is very clear is that dynastic politics are extremely unpopular across West Africa. But I do think this is opportunistic on the part of the military officers following the military coups that have taken place, successfully it has to be said, in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, which are all neighbouring countries and with whom the military leadership will have relations,” O’Connor said.

“Gabon is yet another country that was formerly a dictatorship under Ali Bongo’s father. It actually moved towards democracy and has had relatively successful and peaceful elections. But I think much more interesting is its position in relation to France,” she said.

“In the past, France would have intervened with its military. But France has modernised its foreign policy towards Africa and now would only intervene at the invitation of says ECOWAS or any of the regional bodies or the African Union,” she added.

French mining group Eramet says Gabon operations stopped

The French mining group Eramet says it has stopped its operations in Gabon.

“For the safety of staff and the security of operations”, Eramet said it had stopped work and was following events closely.

It employs 8,000 people in the oil- and mineral-rich West African country, and its local subsidiary extracts manganese ore from the Moanda mines, the world’s largest manganese mines. The mineral is used in steelmaking and batteries.

‘The coup in Gabon is different’: Analyst

Ovigwe Eguegu, analyst at the security consultancy group Afripolitika, says the apparent coup in Gabon is not similar to others witnessed in West Africa.

“The coup in Gabon came as a surprise but to some extent, it is not really a surprise because if you go back to 2016 for instance when there was an election, the vote was fraudulent with people protesting the results. That was Ali Bongo’s second term,” Eguegu said.

“Then in 2019, there was a coup attempt and those officers cited election irregularities saying it was not representative of the will of the people,” he added.

“Again, we are seeing the same pattern. The coup in Gabon is different from what we are seeing in other West African countries. While those other coups are more about security and governance, this is specifically about the electoral process,” he said.

China calls for President Bongo’s safety to be guaranteed

China has called for “all sides” in Gabon to guarantee safety of President Ali Bongo Ondimba after a group of military officers said they were “putting an end to the current regime” in the Central African nation.

“We call on all sides in Gabon to proceed from the basic interests of the country and the people, resolve differences through dialogue, [and] restore normal order as soon as possible,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday.

Wang called on parties to “guarantee the personal safety of President Bongo, and uphold national peace and stability”.


Al Jazeera


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