Gabon, a central African nation rich in oil but plagued by poverty, is facing a political crisis after a group of senior military officers announced they have seized power from President Ali Bongo, who was re-elected in a disputed election last week.
The coup leaders, who claimed to represent all the security and defence forces of Gabon, appeared on national television early on Wednesday, saying they had cancelled the election results, closed all borders, and dissolved all state institutions. They said they acted to “restore democracy” and “save Gabon from chaos” after Bongo’s “illegitimate” victory.
Bongo, who has ruled Gabon since 2009 following the death of his father Omar Bongo, who had been in power for 42 years, won a third term in the presidential election with 64.27% of the vote, according to the official results announced on Wednesday. His main challenger, Albert Ondo Ossa, came second with 30.77%. Ondo Ossa and other opposition figures denounced the election as fraudulent and called for a recount.
The election was marred by delays, irregularities, and violence, as well as a lack of international observers and media access. The authorities also cut off internet service and imposed a night-time curfew nationwide after the poll, raising concerns about the transparency and credibility of the electoral process.
The coup attempt has triggered widespread condemnation from the international community, including the African Union, the United Nations, and France, Gabon’s former colonial power and main ally. They have called for respect for the constitutional order and urged all parties to exercise restraint and avoid further bloodshed.
The situation in Gabon remains tense and uncertain, as gunfire was heard in the capital Libreville after the coup announcement. It is not clear how much support the coup leaders have within the military or among the population. Bongo’s whereabouts and condition are also unknown, as he has been out of the country since June for medical treatment in Morocco.
Gabon is one of Africa’s largest oil producers, but most of its 2 million people live in poverty. The country has also been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 40,000 people and killed over 1,000. The coup attempt is the latest in a series of political upheavals that have rocked the continent since 2019.