Rebel military officers in the oil-rich central African nation of Gabon announced on Wednesday that they had taken control of the government following disputed elections in which President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who had been in power since 2009, was declared the winner. Bongo, aged 64, whose family has governed Gabon for over 55 years, was confined to his residence, and one of his sons was arrested on charges of treason, according to the coup leaders.
President Bongo, appearing concerned in a video from an undisclosed location, appealed to “all our friends around the world… to raise their voices” in support of him. In a dramatic early morning statement, a group of officers declared the dissolution of “all the state institutions,” nullified the election results, and shut down the country’s borders.
The statement, read on state television, emphasized that Gabon was facing a severe crisis in terms of institutions, politics, economy, and society. The announcement was made by an officer flanked by a group of army colonels, members of the elite Republican Guard, regular soldiers, and others.
The election was criticized for not meeting the necessary conditions for a fair, credible, and inclusive vote desired by the Gabonese people, as per the statement. The officers further criticized the governance as being irresponsible and unpredictable, leading to a deterioration in social unity and the potential for chaos.
The Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), acting on behalf of the Gabonese people and as custodians of the institutions, stated their intention to safeguard peace by ending the current regime.
Television broadcasts later showed General Brice Oligui Nguema, the head of the Republican Guard, being cheered by soldiers, accompanied by chants of “Oligui president.”
Several high-ranking individuals close to Bongo, including his son and advisor Noureddin Bongo Valentin, his chief of staff Ian Ghislain Ngoulou, and other officials, were arrested on charges of treason, corruption, embezzlement, and falsification of the president’s signature.
In a video plea, President Bongo called for international attention and support, expressing his uncertainty about the situation.
Bongo first assumed power in 2009 after the death of his father Omar, who had governed Gabon for 41 years. The announcement of the coup occurred shortly after the national election authority declared Bongo’s victory in the third term, with 64.27 percent of the vote. The main opposition accused Bongo of fraudulent activities and demanded a peaceful transfer of power.
Following these events, the government implemented an overnight curfew and a nationwide internet shutdown, which was lifted on Wednesday after the television announcement.
Gabon, with a population of approximately 2.3 million, has been under the rule of the Bongo family for most of its years since gaining independence from France in 1960. Omar Bongo, a close ally of France post-independence, led the nation for a significant portion of this time. Ali Bongo has also maintained close ties with France, where his family owns substantial real estate holdings currently under investigation for corruption.
The coup in Gabon raised concerns internationally, with France, Russia, China, and the Commonwealth expressing various levels of concern and calls for resolution through dialogue and adherence to democratic principles.