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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Another Former French Colony Down, As Army Officers Overthrows President Ali Bongo In A Bloodless Coup

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Military officers announced on television today that they have seized power in the country, hours after election authorities declared long-standing President Ali Bongo Ondimba the winner of Saturday’s vote. If the coup attempt holds, it would be the latest in a string of military takeovers in former French colonies and Western military allies in Africa. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the events “a big issue for Europe” with the potential to destabilize the whole region, while France called for the results of the election to be respected.

 

Bongo, who staved off a prior coup attempt in 2019, confirmed via video that he was being held captive today and called on Gabon’s “friends all over the world” to “make noise” about what is happening. The internet had been largely shut down in the country since Saturday’s election and partially came back online after the military leaders made their announcement. The military officers said the state institutions were dissolved and the country’s borders closed.

“The contagion effect is in full swing,” the Brookings Institution’s Vanda Felbab-Brown posts. “With each additional one, any single one is harder to reverse as focus & resources of international democracy supporters are divided. Another big blow to France & [the Economic Community of West African States & U.S.”

 

They said they were annulling the results of Saturday’s election, in which President Ali Bongo was declared the winner.

Military officials later said that Mr Bongo had been placed under house arrest and one of his sons arrested for treason.

His overthrow would end his family’s 53-year hold on power in Gabon.

Gabon is one of Africa’s major oil producers, while nearly 90% of the country is covered by forests.

It joined the Commonwealth in June 2022, becoming one of its few members not to have been a British colony.

Twelve soldiers appeared on television early on Wednesday morning, announcing they were cancelling the results of the election and dissolving “all the institutions of the republic”.

The electoral commission had said Mr Bongo had won just under two-thirds of the votes in an election the opposition argued was fraudulent.

The coup leaders added that the country’s borders had been closed “until further notice”.

They said Mr Bongo would be replaced by the head of the presidential guard, Gen Brice Oligui Nguema, and that certain officials would “answer for their actions” following an investigation by the “competent authorities”.

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

However, most of the others have been further north, in the Sahel region, where an Islamist insurgency has led to rising complaints that the democratically elected governments were failing to protect the civilian populations.

The French government has condemned the takeover, with a spokesman calling for the election results to be respected.

“France is closely monitoring the development of the situation on the ground,” said Olivier Veran.

Russia and China are among the other countries that have expressed their concern. The European Union’s foreign policy chief said a military takeover would increase instability in Africa.

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

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