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Military seizes power in Gabon, threatening Bongo family’s rule

Sameera Casmod | sameerac@radioislam.co.za
01 September 2023 | 15:25 SAST
2-min read

Picture: CNN

Military officers in Gabon have declared that they are seizing power from President Ali Bongo, suggesting the end of the Bongo family’s half-century rule over the Central African nation. The coup comes in the wake of a controversial election and growing dissatisfaction with the government’s performance.

Dr Alex Vines, director of the Africa Program at Chatham House, shed light on the Bongo family’s rule and the circumstances leading up to the coup during an interview with Radio Islam International.

For over 56 years, the Bongo family had maintained a firm grip on power in Gabon. Ali Bongo succeeded his father and attempted to introduce some liberalising reforms, especially in the realm of climate change policies. However, the family’s dominance persisted, and this discontent culminated in the recent coup following a contested election.

Dr Vines highlighted the questionable nature of the election, noting that it lacked international observers and media coverage, had restricted internet access, imposed curfews, and altered the voting system. These factors raised suspicions about the credibility of the election results.

“People were fatigued after 56 years of the Bongo dynasty, demanding change and better opportunities, especially for the country’s unemployed youth,” Dr Vines explained. Gabon, despite its vast natural resources, struggled with a high youth unemployment rate, leading to mounting frustration.

Regarding President Ali Bongo’s current status, Dr Vines confirmed that the customary playbook was unfolding, with Bongo under house arrest in his palace. The junta has taken control for a transition period and named General Ngema as the leader. International responses to the coup included condemnation from regional organisations and suspension from the African Union.

France, which had maintained close ties with Gabon, played a role in the nation’s politics. However, as Dr Vines pointed out, the relationship had frayed due to concerns about the fairness of the last election in the country and Gabon’s efforts to diversify its international relations, including joining the Commonwealth.

When asked about the popular sentiment in Gabon, Dr Vines emphasised the divergence between the military’s intentions and the opposition’s expectations. While the military aimed to stop a fraudulent election, the opposition, consisting of a coalition of six parties, called for a proper democratic process and vote counting.

The situation in Gabon reflects a broader trend of coups in former French colonies in Africa. Dr Vines explained that these coups often arise from dissatisfaction with corrupt and inept politicians. The weakening of institutions in some countries, coupled with foreign military support, has led to a perception that the military might be the only effective institution capable of delivering development and public goods.

Dr Vines noted that despite initial sympathy for coups, studies have shown that people later regret supporting military takeovers, as the military typically struggles to provide long-term development solutions.

Listen to the full interview on Sabaahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaiman Ravat here.

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