Gabonese authorities announced a military coup and President Ali Bongo was arrested

  • Bongo’s family has ruled for 56 years
  • The board appointed General Price Oligui Nkuma as chairman
  • Under house arrest, Bongo seeks support
  • France, with troops in Gabon, condemns the coup

LIBRÉVILLE, Aug 30 (Reuters) – Military officials in oil-producing Gabon said they had seized power on Wednesday, placing President Ali Bongo under house arrest and naming a new leader after the central African state’s election body announced Bongo had won a third term.

Officials announced on television that election results had been annulled, borders closed and government institutions dissolved after a tense referendum set to extend the Bongo family’s more than half-century rule, claiming to represent the armed forces.

Within hours, the generals met to discuss who would lead the transition and, according to another televised speech, unanimously voted to appoint General Price Oligui Nkuma, the former head of the presidential guard.

Meanwhile, from house arrest, Bongo appealed to foreign allies through a video statement, asking them to speak on behalf of him and his family. He said he didn’t know what was going on.

Bongo’s plight has been dramatically reversed since early Wednesday morning when the Electoral Commission announced that he had won Saturday’s disputed vote.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Gabon’s capital Libreville to celebrate the military intervention, while the United Nations, the African Union and France, Gabon’s former colonial ruler, condemned the coup.

The military takeover in Gabon is the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020, and the second – after Niger – in as many months. Military officials have also seized power in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad, wiping out democratic gains since the 1990s and raising fears among foreign powers with strategic interests in the region.

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“I’m marching today because I’m happy. After almost 60 years, the bongos are no longer in power,” said 27-year-old unemployed Jules Lepigue, who joined the crowd in Libreville.

Bongo took office in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar, who had ruled since 1967. Opponents say the family has done little to share the state’s oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people.

Violent unrest broke out after Bongo’s contested 2016 election victory, and a failed coup attempt in 2019.

Gabon officials, calling themselves the Transition and Institutional Restructuring Committee, said the country was facing a “severe institutional, political, economic and social crisis,” Aug. They also said that 26 votes were not credible.

They also said they have arrested President’s son Nuredin Bongo Valentine and others for corruption and treason.

There was no immediate comment from Gabon’s government.

In this screenshot obtained by Reuters on Aug. 30, 2023, Gabon’s military appears on television as it announces that it has seized power following the re-election of President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Gabon 1ere/Handout via REUTERS Get license rights

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Coup ‘Contagion’

Bongo, 64, was last seen on Saturday at a public meeting to vote. Before the vote, he was healthier than he appeared on television after his 2018 stroke.

Unlike Niger and other Sahel countries, Gabon, located further south on the Atlantic coast, has not had to contend with destabilizing Islamist insurgencies. But the coup is a further sign of democratic backsliding in the volatile region.

A “contagion of autocracy” is spreading across Africa, said Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, the current head of the West African Union ECOWAS. He said he was working closely with other African leaders on how to respond in Gabon.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the African Union condemned the events and called on the military to ensure the safety of Bongo and his family, while China and Russia said they hoped for a quick return to stability. The US said the situation was very worrying.

“We condemn the military coup and recall our commitment to free and transparent elections,” French government spokesman Olivier Veran said.

The coup creates uncertainty for France’s presence in the region. France has about 350 troops in Gabon. Its forces were driven out after coups in Mali and Burkina Faso in the past two years.

French miner Eramet ( ERMT.PA ), which has large manganese operations in Gabon, said it had suspended operations.

Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels of oil per day, mainly from depleting fields. International firms include France’s TotalEnergies ( TTEF.PA ) and Anglo-French producer Berenco.

Concerns about the transparency of the weekend election were raised by a lack of international viewers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts and the decision to cut off internet service and impose a night-time curfew after the vote. Bongo’s team denied the allegations of fraud.

On Wednesday, the internet appeared to be working for the first time since the vote. The junta confirmed that internet access and all international broadcasts had been restored, but said it would maintain the curfew until further notice.

Shortly before the coup was announced, the Electoral Commission declared Bongo the winner of the election with 64.27% of the vote and his main rival, Albert Ondo Osa, with 30.77%.

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Gabon’s dollar-denominated bonds fell to 14 cents on Wednesday, before trading down 9.5 cents on the dollar.

Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice, Edward McAllister, Elizabeth Pineau, Felix Onuah, Sofia Christensen, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Liz Lee, and Ingrid Melander; Written by Nellie Peyton, Sofia Christensen and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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