Ali Bongo addresses the coup from his residence. Photo: Ali Bongo
Senior military officers in Gabon claimed on Wednesday morning that they’d seized power in a coup days after the country’s long-serving president, Ali Bongo, was declared the winner of the presidential election. The officers said they were taking power to “defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” as a result of “irresponsible, unpredictable governance resulting in a continuing deterioration in social cohesion that risks leading the country into chaos.”
Bongo, who has been president since 2009, is currently under house arrest, according to a statement issued by the new military rulers. In a video message posted online, Bongo called on supporters and allies to “make noise.”
Though this military takeover would mark the eighth coup in a former French colony since 2020, the circumstances appear different from other recent coups in West and Central Africa that have attempted to end France’s influence in those countries. The coup in Gabon seems focused on ending the Bongo family’s 56-year rule of the small, oil-rich country – a reign that nearly covers the country’s entire independence era. Bongo became president after his father, Omar Bongo, died in office following a 42-year rule, and has also suffered from ill health in recent years. A stroke while on a visit to Saudi Arabia in 2018, which led to no public appearances for 10 months, has left him partially paralysed with critics claiming he is unable to fulfil his duties in office. His family have also been accused of profiting from the country’s oil wealth. On Saturday, the electoral commission declared Bongo had won his third term in office with 64 percent of the vote in an election that critics claimed was marred by irregularities, bans on international media, internet shutdowns and curfews. This is the second coup Bongo has faced following a failed attempt in 2019. Footage on social media appears to show large crowds cheering in the streets of the capital, Libreville, as a military convoy drives past.