| 4 March 2024, Monday |

African leaders work on response to Gabon military coup

African leaders were preparing a response to the officers who overthrew President Ali Bongo of Gabon and installed a general in his place. This was the most recent coup in West and Central Africa, which regional powers have been unable to stop.

The coup puts an end to the Bongo family dynasty’s nearly 60 years in power and presents a fresh problem for a region that has had difficulty adjusting to eight coups since 2020. It was referred to as a “contagion of autocracy” by Nigeria’s recently elected president.

Central Africa’s political bloc, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), condemned the coup in a statement, saying it planned an “imminent” meeting of heads of state to determine how to respond. It did not give a date.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the coup, a spokesperson for the African Union Commission chair said.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who was sworn into office in May and now chairs the West African bloc ECOWAS, said on Wednesday he was working closely with other African leaders to contain what he called a “contagion of autocracy” spreading across Africa.

Senior officers in Gabon announced their coup before dawn on Wednesday, shortly after an election body declared that Bongo had comfortably won a third term after Saturday’s vote.

Later on Wednesday, a video emerged of Bongo detained in his residence, asking international allies for help but apparently unaware of what was happening around him. The officers also announced that General Brice Oligui Nguema, former head of the presidential guard, had been chosen as head of state.

The events follow coups in the past four years in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger, erasing democratic gains since the 1990s and raising concerns among foreign powers with regional strategic interests. The coups also showed the limited leverage of African powers once the military takes over.

ECOWAS threatened military intervention in Niger after a coup there on July 26 and imposed sanctions, but the junta has not backed down. Military leaders elsewhere have also resisted international pressure, such as in Mali. They have managed to hold on to power and some have even gained popular support.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of the capital Libreville to celebrate Wednesday’s coup in Gabon. The city was calmer on Thursday as people returned to work, although the main intersections and throughfares were guarded by security forces.

Bongo’s popularity had worn thin amid claims of corruption, sham elections and a failure to spend more of Gabon’s oil and mineral wealth on the country’s poor. He took over in 2009 on the death of his father Omar, who had ruled since 1967.

The African Union, former colonial power France, the United States, Canada and Britain have all expressed concern about the coup. But they have not made direct calls for reinstating Bongo.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the election had been full of irregularities, while adding that the EU rejected the seizure of power by force.

“The challenges facing Gabon must be resolved in accordance with the principles of the rule of law, constitutional order and democracy,” he said.

A lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts, and the authorities’ decision to cut internet service and impose a nighttime curfew after the poll raised concerns about the transparency of the vote.

  • Reuters