Gabon, a Central African nation rich in oil and minerals, is facing a political crisis after a group of army officers announced they had seized power and put President Ali Bongo under house arrest on Wednesday. The coup came just hours after the electoral commission declared Bongo the winner of Saturday’s disputed election, extending his family’s 55-year rule.
The coup leaders, who called themselves the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon, said they had acted to “restore democracy” and “save Gabon from chaos”. They named General Brice Oligui Nguema, the former head of the presidential guard and a cousin of Bongo, as the transitional leader of the country. Gen Nguema was carried through the streets of the capital Libreville by jubilant soldiers and civilians, who celebrated the end of Bongo’s regime.
Bongo, who has been president since 2009, appeared in a video from his residence, calling on his supporters and the international community to “make noise” and denounce the coup. He said he was still the legitimate president and accused the coup leaders of treason. Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo, ruled Gabon for 41 years until his death in 2009.
The coup was condemned by the United Nations, the African Union and France, which has close ties to Gabon and maintains a military base there. They called for respect for the constitutional order and urged restraint. The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by the situation and urged all parties to “resolve any disputes peacefully and in accordance with the law”.
Gabon has long been plagued by political instability, social unrest and corruption. The opposition has accused Bongo of rigging the election and violating human rights. Bongo won 64.27 percent of the vote, while his main rival Albert Ossa, who represented a coalition of six parties, got 30 percent. Ossa rejected the results and claimed he was the rightful winner.
The coup leaders said they would form a national council to oversee a transition to democracy and organise free and fair elections within 18 months. They also announced a curfew from 6pm to 6am and urged people to remain calm. It is unclear how much support they have within the army and among the population. Analysts say Gabon is at a crossroads and faces an uncertain future.