By: Owen Fugit
Gabon is the latest victim in a string of coups sweeping Africa. On Aug. 30, the military arrested the newly reelected president of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, and put him under house arrest.
On the day of the coup, only minutes after the election results were in, the military seized power and the government effectively shut down. Officials swore in Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, who headed Bongo’s security detail, to lead a committee to oversee the transitional government in Gabon.
Ondimba’s family ruled the nation for decades, starting with his father, who passed the reins to Ali Bongo. The family spent years profiting from the nation’s significant oil exports. Gabon is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Nguema and officials staged the coup to “[hand] power back to the civilians.” Officials also stressed that the transitional government’s goals were to bring free and fair elections to Gabon and return the country’s oil wealth to the people. Gen. Nguema has not yet confirmed when the next elections will be, and some fear that he may hold on to power. Officials also justified the seizure of power by referencing the allegedly rigged elections, which were “loaded,” as Gen. Nguema put it.
In Gabon, the public reception is one of joy and hope for the future. Many are calling for ex-president Bongo’s sentencing for his family’s ties to the Gabon oil network. Economists are hoping that the new government will force international oil drilling companies to employ Gabonese workers, stimulating the economy.
Over the past few years, many other African countries have experienced similar military coups, some violent and some peaceful. Since 1950, there have been over 200 coups in Africa, roughly half of which have been successful. In 2022, Burkina Faso alone experienced two separate coups. In 2017, Zimbabwe experienced a military coup that removed the dictator Robert Mugabe.
Sudan has suffered the most from coups over the years, with one report from Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne stating that there were 17 coup attempts in the nation in total since the 1950s. Sudan is still facing a power struggle between two rival factions battling for control of the country. The instability in Sudan is also fuelling a refugee crisis and has taken the lives of hundreds of Sudanese combatants and civilians.
It is unclear how the coup in Gabon will play out over the coming months and years, but a large portion of the Gabonese population is pleased with the outcome. The bloodless coup sets a clear standard for the inevitable coups to come, demonstrating that it is possible to seize power without loss of life.
(Sources: AP News, BBC, CNN, The Guardian)