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

On Wednesday, August 30, 2023, Gabonese military officers appeared on the state-owned television channel and proclaimed they had taken power less than an hour after the electoral commission said President Ali Bongo had won a third term in the August 26 presidential election, extending the Bongo family’s reign over Gabon.

The soldiers who identified themselves as representatives of Gabon’s armed forces declared the nullification of election results, the dissolution of public institutions and the closure of borders.

Gabon forms part of France’s former colonies to recently experience a military takeover starting from Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger

In this report, Fact-Check Ghana presents what we know so far about the coup in Gabon.

What was the reason for the coup?

The junta cited a lack of electoral credibility as one of the reasons that necessitated the coup. The opposition who described the election results as rigged and fraudulent, said its candidate, Albert Ondo Ossa, had won the elections. The suspension of foreign broadcasts, lack of international observers, nationwide internet shutdown, and a nighttime curfew raised concerns about transparency.

The Bongo reign over Gabon

Gabon practices a democratic government system and not a monarchy. However, the Bongo family has been at the helm of affairs for more than 55 out of its 63 years since independence from France in 1960.

Omar Bongo became president of Gabon in 1967, seven years after the country became an independent state. The former French Air Force officer served as president for 42 years until his death in 2009 when Ali Bongo took over.

Ali Bongo was born Alain Bernard Bongo on February 9, 1959, until his family converted to Islam in 1973. The 64-year-old unseated president, who was seeking a third term in Saturday’s election, began his political career in 1981 after abandoning his dream of becoming a musician. He served as foreign minister, congressman and defence minister. In 2009, he came into power after a controversial election following the death of his father Omar Bongo, who had ruled for 42 years. The key highlights of Ali Bongo’s campaign which were to preserve oil-producing Gabon’s rainforests and forest elephants initially raised hopes he might usher in change in a region of autocrats.

He won re-election in 2016 but opponents accused him of rigging the vote and brutally quelling protests afterwards. His main challenger said the decision by the country’s constitutional court to validate the contested result was “biased”.

Each of Ali Bongo’s three election victories has been deeply disputed, sometimes sparking violent nationwide protests. His presidential career has been marred by electoral fraud, nepotism and human rights abuses.

On his wide-ranging campaign trail ahead of the latest election, Bongo sought to dispel critics’ claims he was unfit to govern due to a stroke in 2018.

A year after that, a group of soldiers announced that they had unseated the president. The coup was however unsuccessful as the leaders of the junta were arrested.

Who is behind the coup?

The military officers who carried out the coup referred to themselves as the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI). Two known key members of the group are Ulrich Manfoumbi Manfoumbi, spokesperson of the group and General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, who was announced as the new leader of the country’s transitional government. Nguema has headed Gabon’s Republican Guard, an elite force responsible for protecting the president and other senior figures, since 2019.

Who is General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema?

General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, the commander-in-chief of the Gabonese Republican Guard was the aide-de-camp to Omar Bongo and had also served as a military attache under Ali Bongo. Aside from their professional relationship, Gen. Nguema and Ali Bongo are said to be close relatives.

He began his career in the military by receiving training at Morocco’s Royal Military Academy. When Ali rose to power in October 2009, Nguema was sent to Morocco and Senegal for diplomatic missions.

He was made intelligence chief until his appointment in 2019 as head of the republican guard, an elite unit in charge of the president’s security that vows him loyalty. He was subsequently promoted to general until the coup on August 30.

In 2020, Nguema was named in a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists, which alleged he together with  some members of the Bongo family and their inner circle purchased expensive property in the United States with stashes of cash.

The stance of international bodies on the coup

The Gabon coup has been widely criticized by other African and Western Nations. The African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) have condemned the coup. Both have also planned to hold emergency meetings to determine how to respond.

Meanwhile, President Ali Bongo has called on citizens and “friends all over the world” to come to his aid in a video shortly after he was put under house arrest.

Related articles