Ousting of Gabon’s unpopular leader was a ‘smokescreen’ for soldiers to seize power, analysts say

by Madison Thomas
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Coup Resurgence

The removal of Gabon’s unpopular leader has been viewed by analysts as a strategic move by mutinous soldiers to seize power under the guise of addressing grievances. On Thursday, Gabonese citizens woke up to a new military leader, General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, who heads the elite republican guard unit. This transition came shortly after President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family had held control over the resource-rich Central African nation for over fifty years, was announced as the winner of the recent presidential election, a contest marred by allegations of irregularities and a lack of transparency.

The military asserted that Bongo’s governance had been irresponsible, endangering the country’s stability, and subsequently placed him under house arrest while detaining several members of his cabinet. Experts, however, contend that this change in leadership is primarily a pretext for the soldiers to consolidate power for themselves.

Joseph Siegle, the director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, highlighted the orchestrated nature of the coup, pointing to the timing following the announcement of contentious electoral results and the rapid execution of the junta’s plans. Siegle emphasized that despite genuine concerns about Bongo’s rule and the election, these issues serve as a diversion from the true motives behind the coup.

While Gabon had been considered relatively stable compared to its West African counterparts facing extremist violence and political upheaval, dissatisfaction with the Bongo family’s governance and allegations of corruption have persisted. The nation’s oil wealth, controlled by a select few, has not trickled down to its population of approximately two million people. In 2020, nearly 40% of Gabonese aged 15 to 24 were unemployed, according to the World Bank. In 2022, the country’s oil export revenue amounted to $6 billion.

Bongo, who assumed power in 2009 following his father’s 41-year rule, has faced discontent throughout his two terms. Another group of mutinous soldiers had attempted a coup in 2019 but was swiftly subdued.

Despite the regional trend of coups and the toppling of long-standing leaders like Bongo, several African nations have responded with concern. Leaders such as Paul Biya of Cameroon, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti have expressed condemnation and taken actions to bolster their own military leadership.

The White House National Security Council refrained from labeling the events in Gabon as part of a broader trend of military takeovers. Spokesperson John Kirby cautioned against prematurely categorizing the situation as a domino effect.

Following Bongo’s ousting, jubilant scenes have unfolded in the streets of Gabon’s capital, Libreville, as citizens celebrate the change in leadership. The prevailing sentiment is that the departure of the Bongo family’s longstanding rule offers hope for a better future and the resolution of deep-seated issues that had previously hindered progress.

Contributions: Reporting by Big Big News journalists Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya, and Will Weissert in Washington

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about coup dynamics

What led to the change in leadership in Gabon?

Mutinous soldiers ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba, citing irresponsible governance and concerns about the country’s stability.

Was the coup a spontaneous event?

Analysts believe the timing and swiftness of the coup suggest prior planning, indicating it wasn’t solely a response to immediate grievances.

How does the coup relate to the presidential election?

The soldiers’ action followed Bongo’s declaration as the winner of a controversial election, raising suspicions of irregularities.

What is the perspective on the soldiers’ claims?

Experts suggest the coup is a pretext for the military to consolidate power, diverting attention from their real intentions.

How has the international community reacted?

African leaders expressed concern over the coup trend, with actions like leadership shuffles and condemnations from neighboring nations.

What are the key issues under Bongo’s rule?

Accusations of endemic corruption and unequal distribution of oil wealth have fueled discontent and unemployment among Gabonese.

How stable was Gabon before the coup?

Compared to other West African nations, Gabon was relatively stable, but internal dissatisfaction with the ruling family persisted.

What are the potential implications of this coup?

The toppling of a long-standing leader and the military’s power play could reshape Gabon’s political landscape and prompt regional reflections.

More about coup dynamics

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