Gabon Failed Coup: A Sign of Underlying Problems?
January 10, 2019 (Ezega.com) - On Monday morning, the world woke up to news of an attempted coup in Gabon. But the government forces acted swiftly, killing two suspects and arresting eight others in the process. They took over the state-owned radio station in an attempt to end Bongo’s family dynasty that has lasted 50 years.
The government spokesperson -Guy-Bertrand Mapangou- announced the loyal forces regained control of the radio station after killing two and detaining other perpetrators of the heinous act of treason.
The coup organizers claimed they intended to restore democracy in the oil-rich country, where the ailing president’s family has ruled for 50 years.
One of the perpetrators was hiding for a brief period before he was found hidden under a bed as reported by Radio France Internationale.
My Guy-Bertrand said the civil society, military generals and opposition leaders mentioned by the rebels will be investigated.
The 59-year-old president Ali Bongo Ondimba has been out of the country since October last year. He suffered a stroke while at a conference in Saudi Arabia and has been receiving treatment in Morocco ever since.
On the 31st of December, he made the first television appearance since suffering stroke. It is reported that his speech was slurred and he was unable to move his right arm, a situation that still worries many. He sought to reassure the citizens that he was indeed fit to continue serving them.
It’s still unclear whether he can indeed walk, but experts suggest his absence gave the coup plotters a window of opportunity.
So, what happened on the fateful Monday morning?
In a clip that circulated in social media, three coup plotters gained access to the state radio station. It showed three armed soldiers, each wearing military attires of junior officers. Two heavily armed soldiers stood behind Lieutenant Kelly Obiang, who was addressing the nation.
It appears these young officers didn’t have any elaborate plan. One of the station’s employees said as things went south for these rebels, one changed into civilian clothes before fleeing.
In the video, Lieutenant Kelly --branding himself an officer of the Republican Guard-- is heard saying Bongo’s New Year’s Eve address clearly shows he’s unable to continue executing the duties and responsibilities of the office of the president.
Outside the radio station, a group of about 300 gathered in support of the coup but were easily dispersed by soldiers loyal to the commander in chief.
Shots filled the air in Libreville on Monday morning, but government troops soon swarmed the streets and gained access into the radio station. Armored vehicles and military tanks patrolled the town as authorities raced to project an image of control and normalcy.
The president’s absence hasn’t impacted the country negatively. Despite its slow economic growth, the prime minister has been in charge and life has continued since October.
In recent decades, Gabon has been relatively stable but experts argue the attempted coup signifies there are underlying issues the central African country faces.
Though the coup attempt looks stupid, the dissenting voices are continuing to grow at an alarming rate as suggested by former US ambassador to Gabon-Eric Benjaminson.
The coup indicates frustration with the Bongo family that has ruled Gabon since 1967. President Bongo succeeded his father, Omar, who died in 2009 while still in office. Experts argue as long as Gabon is under the dynastic rule, there will be more problems, let alone the attempted coup.
While this development happens, Mr. Bongo’s term has been marred by a long-running investigation by the French government following accusations of fraud involving the president’s family assets.
He also faces criticism over his role in the Freemasons organization, an entity he served as the lodge master.
The Bongo family is also accused of enriching themselves from Gabon’s natural resources while overlooking the needs of the population at a time when the World Bank estimates one-third of the country’s residents live below the poverty line.
Bongo’s re-election in 2016 was contentious since the poll was marred by allegations of fraud and violence that lead to the loss of lives. Protesters torched the parliament and the presidential guard allegedly attacked the main opposition’s headquarters, killing and wounding people in the process.
After suffering the stroke, Gabon’s Constitutional Court re-examined and modified the constitution and in the process transferring part of the president’s powers to the vice president and the prime minister, a move the coup plotters termed illegal.
The international community strongly condemned the attempt by the rebels to overthrow the government. The AU was not left behind either. The French Foreign Ministry also condemned any unconstitutional attempts of gaining power. France which colonized Gabon has 300 permanent soldiers stationed in Gabon.
The US sent 80 soldiers to the country last week in preparation for possible violence in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo just in case the dispute necessitates the evacuation of Americans. A US spokesman, however, reiterated they had no involvement in the developments in Gabon during the attempted coup.
By Solomon O. for Ezega News