A Coup, A Liberation
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Gabonese high-ranking military officials seized control of the country and arrested long-time President Ali Bongo on Wednesday, in what appears to be the latest coup in West Africa that came only a month after a similar takeover in Niger, CBS News reported.
Coup leaders announced on public television that they were “putting an end to the current regime” of 55 years, adding that the president and his family have been placed under house arrest while declaring Republican Guard chief Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema as the country’s new leader, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, a video believed to be filmed inside the presidential palace showed a man claiming to be Bongo calling for international help. The person in the footage said he and his family have been detained and he “(doesn’t) know what’s going on.” A communications company that previously worked for Bongo said the footage was real, the BBC reported.
Outside, however, many residents in the capital Libreville rejoiced, hugging soldiers, dancing, and crying, reported Al Jazeera: “I am marching today because I am joyful … After almost 60 years, the Bongos are out of power,” said Jules Lebigui, an unemployed 27-year-old who joined the celebrations on Libreville’s streets.
Bongo has ruled Gabon for 14 years, following in the footsteps of his father who led the nation for more than four decades before him. Bongo has benefitted from his family’s monopoly on power and is considered the richest man in the country, with more than $1 billion in assets overseas, noted American Graduate School in Paris political scientist Douglas Yates.
The takeover came shortly after the country’s Aug. 26 general elections that saw Bongo win another term in office, to no one’s surprise, as he and his family have enacted electoral laws that favor the incumbent. The vote took place without election observers and many opposition politicians have cried foul at the results.
Following the coup, the military officials announced it would annul the results, noting that the vote “did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon.”
They also ordered the closure of the country’s borders “until further notice.”
However analysts have doubted the coup leaders’ disquiet over the implausible electoral results as their actual motive, saying the timing and speed of the takeover “suggests this was planned in advance,” said Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “While there are many legitimate grievances about the vote and Bongo’s rule, that has little to do with the coup attempt in Gabon. Raising those grievances is just a smokescreen,” he told the Associated Press.
Gabon is the most recent African nation to experience a military coup in recent years, following Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. In most of those cases, the military deposed a democratically elected leadership, with the help of Russian mercenaries. New elections have been put aside in all three.