Gabonese coup: the army seizes power from Ali Bongo and puts him under house arrest

  • By Kathryn Armstrong and Will Ross in Nairobi, and Gaius Quini in Dakar
  • BBC News

video caption,

Witness: Ali Bongo, sitting in what he calls his residence, calls on his supporters to “make noise”

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo appealed for help after the military ousted him in a coup and placed him under house arrest.

Speaking on Wednesday from where he lives, he urged his supporters to “raise their voice”.

Earlier, army officers appeared on television to say they had seized power.

They said they annulled the results of the elections that took place on Saturday, in which Bongo was declared the winner, but the opposition claimed that they were fraudulent.

The officers also said they had arrested one of Mr Bongo’s sons for treason.

Subsequently, they announced that Mr. Bongo would be replaced by the Chief of the Presidential Guard, General Brice Oligwe Nguema, who had earlier been carried triumphantly through the streets of the capital, Libreville.

From Thursday, they said, “the people of Gabon will again be free to go about their business between 6am and 6pm” – but traffic restrictions will remain in place for the time being.

Bongo’s ouster would end his family’s 55-year hold on power in Gabon.

The Gabonese Coup: The Basics

Where is Gabon located? It is an oil-rich country located on the west coast of Central Africa, with a population of just 2.4 million people.

Who is Ali Bongo? He declared victory in the disputed election on Saturday and has headed the country since 2009. Prior to that, his father had been in power for 41 years.

Why was there a coup? The army does not accept the election results and says it seized power to keep the peace.

Bongo confirmed in his video message that he is under house arrest.

“My son is in one place, my wife is in another… Nothing happened. I don’t know what’s going on,” he said in English before asking for help again.

A communications company that worked for the presidency during the election contacted the BBC to confirm the authenticity of the footage. She said Mr. Bongo’s office asked her to distribute the video.

In their televised statement, the coup leaders said they had annulled the election results and dissolved “all the republic’s institutions”.

They added that the country’s borders are closed “until further notice”.

It came after Gabon’s electoral commission announced that Bongo had won less than two-thirds of the vote in Saturday’s election, which the opposition said was rigged.

One of the soldiers said they had “put an end to the current system” because of “the irresponsible and unpredictable rule that has led to the constant deterioration of social cohesion that threatens to drag the country into chaos”.

photo caption,

Some Gabonese were celebrating Bongo’s dismissal

This is the eighth coup in the former French colonies in Africa during the past three years.

Most of the others, however, were farther north, in the Sahel, where an Islamist insurgency has fueled complaints about the failure of democratically elected governments to protect the civilian population.

There is no doubt in Gabon that, having been in power since 1967, many are fed up with the Bongo bloodline. People took to the streets, looking really happy. So far, there are no signs of abating.

The French government condemned the takeover, and its spokesman called for the election results to be respected.

However, French influence in Africa has waned significantly in recent years, and it is unlikely that the invitation for more years for Ali Bongo will be well received.

Indeed, the army may have witnessed the decline of French power and felt able to intervene as a result, with Paris less likely to move in support of Bongo.

Bongo’s use of English in his video, rather than French, which is Gabon’s official language, indicates that he was addressing Commonwealth countries rather than France.

Russia and China were among the other countries expressing concern. The EU foreign policy chief said the military coup would increase instability in Africa.

“This is a big issue for Europe,” said Josep Borrell.

Internet access was suspended after Saturday’s election for security reasons, but was restored shortly after the apparent takeover. A curfew has also been imposed.

As in the previous general elections in Gabon, there were serious concerns about the voting process that took place on Saturday.

Main opposition candidate Albert Ondo Ossa complained that many polling stations lacked ballot papers bearing his name, while his coalition said the names of some who dropped out of the presidential race were still on the ballot paper.

Reporters Without Borders said foreign media were banned from entering the country to cover the elections.

Bongo took power after the death of his father, Omar, in 2009.

And in 2018, he suffered a stroke that kept him out of action for nearly a year and led to a call for him to step down.

The following year, a failed coup attempt sent the rebel soldiers to prison.

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