Gabon’s army took over the national radio station today (Jan. 7) and announced the establishment of a “restoration council,” in an apparent attempt to overthrow president Ali Bongo. Military forces behind the coup attempt have self-declared as the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon.
Bongo is recovering from a reported stroke in Morocco and has been away from Gabon, an oil-rich nation in central Africa, since October, after first being hospitalized in Saudi Arabia. Bongo addressed Gabon citizens last week in a New Year’s message for the first time since October, but in a statement following the coup attempt, lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who leads the military forces behind the government overthrow, said Bongo’s address “reinforced doubt” about his ability to rule. The Bongo family has ruled Gabon for 50 years, with Ali Bongo assuming the role of president in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who held power for 42 years.
A spokesman for the Gabonese government said that (link in French) the mutineers have been arrested and that the situation is under control with order to be fully restored in two or three hours.
The events in Gabon are the latest in the continent’s long history of coups, and highlight how despite amassing so much power to entrench their positions, Africa’s strongmen rulers remain highly vulnerable, particularly when they’re in positions of weakness such as when they are out of the country. Disgruntled citizens who are usually the victims of acute social inequality and poverty are also typically welcoming of regime change. One video circulating on social media, for example, shows scenes of Gabonese celebrating in the streets after the coup attempt.
In 2014, there was a failed coup attempt in Gambia to end then-president Yahya Jammeh’s long-running rule when he was out of the country. The most recent coup until Gabon’s was in Zimbabwe in 2017, when the military ousted president Robert Mugabe after three decades in power.