GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 735, 7 September 2023

Gabon: Post-coup tensions
Nithyashree RB

In the news
On 5 September, Central African Republic's President Faustin Touadera met with Gabon’s interim President General Nguema. According to Reuters, Touadera was there to mediate between the coup leaders and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). 

On 2 September, Gabon’s borders were reopened. The coup leaders stated that they “preserve respect for the rule of law, good relations with our neighbours and all states of the world.”

On 1 September, General Oligui Nguema was sworn in as the interim President of Gabon. In his speech, General Nguema promised that free elections would be held without mentioning the transitional period. He added that a new government would be formed with new electoral legislation, a penal code and a constitutional referendum. 

On 1 September, the African Union suspended Gabon’s membership until the civilian government was restored. The same day, the opposition alliance, Alternance 2023, led by Albert Ondo Ossa pressured the coup leaders to restore civilian rule. The opposition claimed that they were the rightful winner of the presidential election and urged the coup leaders to recount the votes.

On 31 September, Ossa in an interview with Al Jazeera denounced the coup as a “palace revolution” and a “family affair.” He stated: “I think the Bongo family got rid of one of its members who was weighing on the family, and they wanted Bongo power to continue, while at the same time preventing Albert Ondo Ossa from coming to power.”

On 31 August, General Nguema declared that “companies have overcharged and the services will revisit these investigations so that this overcharging reverts to the State” in a meeting with over 200 business leaders. 

Issues at large
First, a brief note on the coup. On 30 August, Gabon’s senior military officials through national media, Gabon24, announced a coup citing improper elections. They stated: “Today the country is undergoing a severe institutional, political, economic, and social crisis; In the name of the Gabonese people, we have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime.” The coup announcement came hours after incumbent President Ali Bongo was declared the winner of presidential elections held on 26 August. On 31 August, the head of the republican guard, General Brice Oligui Nguema, was announced as Gabon’s transitional leader.

Second, the rhetoric on the “Palace Revolution.” General Nguema is said to belong to the Bongo family. General Nguema, who was one of the republican guards of former President Omar Bongo, according to Africanews, was sent on a special mission to Morocco and Senegal to avoid a power struggle. The military announced the coup promising to end decades-long rule by the Bonglo clan. However, according to the opposition alliance, Alternance 2023, the coup has merely replaced Bongo with another Bongo, an effort by the Bongo family to remain in power. There are rising concerns that General Nguema would be no different than that of the Bongos as he had closer ties with the Bongo family.

Third, reluctance to recount the ballot. Following the coup, there was mounting pressure from the opposition, Alternance 2023, to restore civilian rule and recount the ballots. Alternance 2023 leader Ossa, in interviews with Al Jazeera and TV5 Monde, stated that he had won the elections and that the recounting of the ballot would prove the same. The coup leaders rejected the call to recount the votes. Despite General Nguema stating that free elections will be held following the transitional period, no specific date has been mentioned yet. 

Fourth, the reaction from regional actors against the response from the coup leaders. Despite the suspension of Gabon’s membership from the AU and the ECCAS, the coup leaders seem resilient to any form of intervention. The coup leaders are indifferent towards the stance of the regional actors against the coup.  

In perspective
First, continuity or change. The rhetoric of replacing Ali Bongo with another member from the Bongo clan raises a potential concern about the continuity of Bongo rule and the social and economic inequalities that follow.

Second, the uncertainty of free elections. Since 2020, eight countries have undergone a coup in Western and Central Africa. The coup leaders have promised free elections but holding elections seems like a far-fetched reality. In Mali, the coup leaders promised presidential elections in 2022 but it was postponed to 2024. In Gabon, the unwillingness to recount the ballot and the promise of free elections without specifying a date proves that the coup leaders are not inclined to hold elections in the near future.

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