June 10, 2024

Central News

at the center of it

With Gabon in tow, new wave of military coups in Africa seems not to be abating

People celebrate in support of the coupists in a street of Port-Gentil, Gabon August 30, 2023. [Reuters]

IN an ornate chair, surrounded by expensive furniture and artefacts, Gabon’s ousted President Ali Bongo pleaded in a video on Wednesday for allies to “make noise” after a military takeover that threatens to end his family’s nearly 60 years in power.

Noise may be all he gets.

If successful, Wednesday’s coup in Gabon would be the eighth in West and Central Africa in three years. The other seven have one thing in common: none have succumbed to international efforts to overturn them.

Widespread condemnation, or the threat of military intervention, have done little to unseat coup leaders in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger and Chad since 2020. Sanctions on some of those countries have hit ordinary citizens and appear to have only hardened resistance to outside interference and bolstered popular support for the various juntas.

Danger of coups

With world powers short of new ideas, and with Gabon’s government already dissolved and its borders shut, security analysts see little chance that Bongo’s pleas will come to anything. That, they say, might embolden other would-be military putschists in the region.

“The danger is that all these coups show the inability of the international community to restore democratic rule,” says Maja Bovcon, senior Africa analyst at London-based risk firm Verisk Maplecroft, in a report by Reuters.

“I don’t have much hope that this time round things will work differently.”

Wednesday was supposed to be a day of celebration for Gabon’s Bongo. Minutes before the coup announcement, Gabon’s election authority declared him the emphatic victor of Saturday’s election. The win would have handed him a third term in office and extended the Bongo dynasty, which began when his father Omar took power in 1967.

Instead, Ali Bongo appeared stuck, powerless, in his residence. “Nothing is happening. I don’t know what is going on. I am calling on you to make noise, to make noise, to make noise. I am thanking you,” he said in the video.

International reaction

African leaders, especially the despots who would not power change hands are getting very jittery indeed. Cameroon’s Paul Biya, for instance, is virtually “president for life.” There are others who must by now be watching their backs.

Meanwhile, how regional and international powers will react is not yet clear, never mind the African Union (AU) saying it had “suspended” Gabon and, one would ask, to what effect? The AU and the United States say they are following events with concern. France condemned the coup.

But of the many high-profile international condemnations, none publicly called for Bongo himself to be reinstated — a stark difference to the aftermath of the July 26 takeover in Niger Republic where some called for ousted President Mohamed Bazoum to be restored to power.

At home, anger towards Bongo, who was handpicked to succeed his father in 2009, had simmered for too long. Elections in 2016 were widely seen in the international community as fraudulent and sparked deadly violence.

Critics say Gabon’s oil wealth circulated solely among the Bongo family and its allies while many lived in poverty, and that corruption was rife. Saturday’s elections were followed by a shutdown of the internet and of international news stations.

Like Gabon, like Cameroon

The triggers for the Gabon coup were different to those in the Sahel countries further north, where insecurity caused by Islamist militants has done much to sway public opinion. But the impact is probably similar, in that it could lead to more coup attempts against long-standing rulers in the region.

In neighbouring Cameroon, President Paul Biya has ruled for over 40 years, maintaining his hold on power through sham elections and heavy-handed crackdowns on the opposition.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled Congo Republic for a total of 38 years. He changed the constitution in 2015 to extend term limits and said he was re-elected with 88% of the vote in 2021.

“If you look at some of the governments that have fallen to coups in Africa, these are undemocratic governments that are unpopular and that use the military to leverage power,” says Ryan Cummings, director of analysis at South Africa-based Signal Risk. He spoke to CNN.

“When you look around the region, a few other examples come to mind.”

Gabon’s Bongo calls on citizens to “make noise” after army take over and cancel the election which would have extended his family’s hold unto power but did he ever care for them in his season of political affluence?

Bongo cared only for his family

Appearing on state-run television channel Gabon 24, the officers said they represented all security and defence forces in the Central African nation. They said the election results were cancelled, all borders closed until further notice and state 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 in a statement. As one officer read the joint statement, about a dozen others stood silently behind him in military fatigues and berets.

The servicemen introduced themselves as members of “The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions.” The state institutions they declared dissolved include the government, the senate, the national assembly, the constitutional court and the election body.

Bongo, who confirmed his arrest in a video circulating on social media and verified by Al Jazeera, calls on citizens to “make noise” after the coup.

But Al Jazeera correspondents in Dakar said people were out in the streets of the Gabonese capital Libreville, celebrating and waving flags.

Well, would there be other coups against despots or those who rig elections to grab or perpetuate themselves in power, in Africa?