Early Monday morning,
According to news from Radio France International, the soldiers took over the country at 4am local time to announce the formation of the “National Restoration Council”, and calling on a number of politicians, members of the national assembly, union leaders and leaders of youth groups to converge for the establishment of the council, which is set to restore the nation’s democracy.
The coup comes at a time when President Ali Bongo is recovering in Morocco following a stroke he suffered in October. In his New Year’s message to the country, he acknowledged his poor health but stated that he was recovering. In the video, he could be heard slurring some words and was unable to move his right arm.
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In the military’s announcement this morning, Lieutenant of the Republican Guard, Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly said that the president’s message “has rather raised doubts about his ability to assume the office of President of the Republic.”
Soldiers in Gabon have appeared on state television saying they have launched a coup in the west African country— African Curators (@AfricanCurators) January 7, 2019
Early today an army soldier, flanked by two others holding guns, read out a statement saying the military has seized control of the government “to restore democracy” pic.twitter.com/qGIZ7B6QIM
Bongo was dismissed as president by General Jean Philippe Ntumpa Labani, head of the just-formed council.
However, according to the government spokesperson, the coup plotters have been arrested and the country will be back to order in a few hours.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for almost 50 years. Omar Bongo, the current president’s father, took over the country in 1967 when the country’s first president Léon M’ba died after a long illness.
He ruled the country with an iron fist and was accused of running down the country’s economy and for favouring the people from his tribe. Following mass riots in the 1980s, Omar Bongo turned the country into a multi-party state in 1990 but his rule was marred with extravagance at the expense of the people. The country is said to have more pipelines than roads.
Upon his death in 2009, his son Ali took over the leadership. He was serving as the minister of defence at the time. His August 2009 election was marred with controversies, something that would repeat in 2016.
A 2009 Transparency International report revealed that the Bongo family owned at least 33 properties in France, most of them in expensive Paris districts. Ali Bongo’s wife, Inge, also appeared on an American reality tv show, Really Rich Real Estate, shopping for a $25m mansion in California.
Just like his father, Ali Bongo has been accused of extravagance, something he tried to dispel with the formation of a youth foundation where he would donate his inheritance from the senior Bongo.
Although Gabon was ranked in the high human development category in the 2018 Human Development Index, it still considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries ranked 117 in the 2017 Transparency International Corruption Index with a score of 32 out of 100.
Under Ali Bongo, the country has seen the arbitrary detention and arrests of journalists and individuals associated with the opposition. There has also been a number of strikes by public officials with the most recent happening in December 2018 when the public workers union announced a three-day strike.
The military takeover has also happened just days after America sent in troops in Gabon over concerns of violent chaos in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where election results have been delayed.