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 west 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.
Amid the coup attempt, there have been reports of an internet shutdown in Gabon, with armored tankers spotted in Libreville, the capital.
Soldiers in Gabon have appeared on state television saying they have launched a coup in the west African country
Early today an army soldier, flanked by two others holding guns, read out a statement saying the military has seized control of the government "to restore democracy" pic.twitter.com/qGIZ7B6QIM
— African Curators (@AfricanCurators) January 7, 2019
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.
— CGR.NewYork (@CGR_newyork) January 7, 2019
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.