African leaders work to respond to the military coup in Gabon

  • Gabonese officers declared a coup after the elections
  • Bongo was about to win a third term
  • Nigeria sees “contagion of authoritarianism” in the region
  • The African Union Security Council will meet to discuss how to respond

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) – African leaders on Thursday set out to respond to officers in Gabon who ousted President Ali Bongo and installed a general as head of the country in the latest wave of coups in West and Central Africa led by regional powers. They failed to reverse it.

The power grab ends nearly six decades of Bongo dynasty rule and creates a new dilemma for a region struggling to cope with eight coups since 2020. Nigeria’s recently elected president called it “the contagion of tyranny.”

Central Africa’s political bloc, the Economic Community of Central African States, condemned the coup in a statement, saying it planned to hold an “imminent” meeting of heads of state to determine how to respond. It did not set a date.

A spokesman for the Chairperson of the African Union Commission said that the African Union Peace and Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the coup.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who was sworn in last May and currently chairs ECOWAS West Africa, said on Wednesday that he is working closely with other African leaders to contain what he called the “contagion of tyranny” spreading across Africa.

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Senior officers in Gabon announced their coup before dawn on Wednesday, shortly after the electoral authority announced that Bongo had won a third term following Saturday’s elections.

Later on Wednesday, a video emerged of Bongo being detained at his residence, pleading for help from international allies, but seemingly unaware of what was happening around him. The officers also announced that General Brice Olige Nguema, former head of the Presidential Guard, had been chosen as head of state.

These events follow coups in the past four years in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger, erasing democratic gains since the 1990s and raising the concerns of foreign powers with regional strategic interests. The coups also demonstrated the limited influence of African powers once the military took power.

The Economic Community of West African States threatened military intervention in Niger after the coup that took place there on July 26 and imposed sanctions, but the junta did not back down. Military leaders elsewhere have also resisted international pressure, such as in Mali. They managed to retain power, and some even gained popular support.

Hundreds took to the streets of the capital, Libreville, to celebrate the coup that took place on Wednesday in Gabon. The city was quieter on Thursday as people returned to work, although major intersections and roads were guarded by security forces.

Bongo’s popularity has waned amid allegations of corruption, sham elections and a failure to spend more of Gabon’s oil and mineral wealth on the country’s poor. He assumed power in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar, who had ruled since 1967.

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The African Union, former colonial power France, the United States, Canada and Britain have expressed concern about the coup. But they did not make direct calls for Bongo to be reinstated.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the elections were full of irregularities, adding that the European Union rejects seizing power by force.

“The challenges facing Gabon must be resolved in accordance with the principles of the rule of law, constitutional order and democracy,” he said.

The lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts, and the authorities’ decision to cut off internet service and impose a night-time curfew after the elections raised concerns about the transparency of the vote.

Reuters graphics Reuters graphics

Jerrods Wilfred Obanjomi reports; Writing by Edward McAllister and Anaette Meridzanian. Editing by Simon Cameron Moore

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