Gabon army launches coup against President Bongo’s government, fails

Soldiers appear on state television in Gabon, announcing they have taken over from ailing President Ali Bongo to restore democracy in the West African nation.

In another message on state radio, which the military have seized, officers expressed their dissatisfaction with President Bongo, who is recovering from a stroke in Morocco after he took ill in October while in Saudi Arabia.

Bongo, 59, whose family has ruled Gabon for close to 50 years tried to quell rumours about his health and inability to continue leading the country, by releasing a televised New Year message in which he acknowledged his ill health but assured the people he was recovering.

Soldiers found his message disappointing calling it a “relentless attempt to cling onto power.”

Leader of the self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon Lt Kelly Ondo Obiang said the message “reinforced doubts about his ability to assume the responsibilities of his role as President of the Republic”.

President Bongo took over from his father, Omar, who died in 2009 after ruling the country for more than 41 years. His 2016 re-election was marred by claims of fraud and violent protest, culminating in the alleged bombing of opposition party headquarters by the presidential guard. About 100 citizens were also reportedly killed by security forces and 1,000 arrested.

When President Donald Trump sent around 80 troops to Gabon, it was in anticipation of possible violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo about 1,200 kilometers from Gabon. The troops were meant to secure US citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities in DRC.

The military action in Gabon may be a sign of things to come in Africa this year as several countries on the continent try to address their leadership challenges.

UPDATE

A spokesperson for the government of Gabon Guy-Bertrand Mapangou has said the political situation in the country is “under control”.

“The situation is calm. The gendarmes who are often stationed there have taken control of the entire area around the radio and TV headquarters, so everything is back to normal,” Mapangou told the BBC. According to him, four of the rebels had been arrested by the authorities.

“The government is in place. The institutions are in place,” he also told France 24.