A group of high-ranking military officers in Gabon appeared on TV on Wednesday to announce the nullification of the country’s recent election results, citing a lack of credibility.
Gunfire rang out in the centre of the capital, Libreville shortly after the central African country’s election committee declared early Wednesday morning that 64-year-old President Ali Bongo had won the election with 64.27% of the vote.
The coup leaders later said that Bongo had been placed under house arrest for “treason” while other government figures had been detained on various charges.
“President Ali Bongo is under house arrest, surrounded by his family and doctors,” they said in a statement read out on state TV.
His son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, who was also a close advisor to the president, was among the other arrested individuals.
All institutions dissolved
“In the name of the Gabonese people … we have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” the officers said.
The announcement on the Gabon 24 TV channel was made on behalf of a group calling itself the “Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions.”
The group on TV included a dozen army colonels, members of the elite Republican Guard, regular soldiers and others.
Claiming to represent all of Gabon’s security and defence forces, the officers declared the dissolution of “all the institutions of the republic.”
They cited “irresponsible, unpredictable governance” leading to a deteriorating social climate as the reason for their intervention, aiming to restore peace by ending the current regime.
The group also announced that the “borders are closed until further notice.”
The military coup in 🇬🇦 Gabon is gaining HUGE amounts of support from locals. pic.twitter.com/dROOOjuEJU
— Rev Laskaris (@REVMAXXING) August 30, 2023
Tensions high since election
Tensions have escalated following Saturday’s election, where Bongo aimed to continue his family’s 55-year rule amid opposition calls for change in the resource-rich but impoverished nation.
Concerns about the vote’s transparency grew due to the absence of international observers, suspension of foreign broadcasts, and a nationwide internet blackout and curfew imposed by authorities.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
The coup attempt occurred almost a month after mutinous troops in Niger overthrew the democratically elected government.
In 2019, soldiers declared on the state radio that they had “formed a national restoration council” to oust President Ali Bongo.
The coup attempt lasted less than a week after military forces stormed the station with eight plotters arrested and two killed.
Journalist calls election ‘unfair and absurd’
Gabonese journalist Jocksy Ondo Louemba called last Saturday’s election “unfair and absurd.”
He told DW the success of the coup relied on deep dissatisfaction among the military, adding that toppling the regime would have failed if it did not have widespread support.
Louemba explained that while former president Omar Bongo had “bought off political opponents,” his son, current President Ali Bongo, was “against dialogue.”
“He thought he could achieve everything with violence and the police,” Louemba told DW.
How has the world reacted?
Meanwhile, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU’s defence ministers would discuss the situation in Gabon. A coup in Gabon would only cause more instability in the region, Borrell added.
He also said ahead of the ministers’ summit in the Spanish city of Toledo that if it turns out to be a genuine coup, then it would provide further evidence of the increasing instability in Western and Central Africa which is a cause for concern for the EU.
France, the West African country’s former coloniser, said on Wednesday it was following events “with great attention.” A government spokesperson later said that France condemns the ongoing coup.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told ambassadors in Paris that French diplomats had had to contend with a series of crises, including Ukraine, Sudan and Niger.
French mining company Eramet also announced on Wednesday halting all operations in the country, which brought down its shares by nearly 5%. The company has large manganese operations in Gabon.
Russia also responded, with the Kremlin saying it was “very concerned” about the situation in Gabon.
Meanwhile, Beijing called upon “all sides” to guarantee President Ali Bongo’s safety.
“China is closely following the developing situation in Gabon,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “We call on all sides in Gabon to proceed from the basic interests of the country and the people, resolve differences through dialogue, [and] restore normal order as soon as possible.”