World View: Gabon Has Failed Coup Attempt as U.S. Troops Arrive for D.R. Congo Mission

Gabon foils coup attempt, with ailing president out of country

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Abortive coup attempt in Gabon fails while president it out of the country
  • Brief generational history of Gabon
  • U.S. troops in Gabon remain focused on D.R. Congo mission despite coup attempt

Abortive coup attempt in Gabon fails while president it out of the country

Gabon's president Ali Bongo. He is currently in Morocco recovering from a stroke (Getty)
Gabon’s president Ali Bongo. He is currently in Morocco recovering from a stroke (Getty)

Days after the U.S. began deploying troops to Gabon for a mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a failed coup attempt occurred.

Rebel soldiers in Gabon launched an abortive coup attempt on Monday. At around 4:30 am, five soldiers took over the state-run radio and television station and broadcast a statement calling on the people of Gabon to “rise up,” while the president, Ali Bongo, is in Morocco recovering from a stroke.

A man identifying himself as Lt Kelly Ondo Obiang, flanked by two armed men, led the group. They presented themselves as the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Defense and Security Forces. Obiang read out a statement:

The eagerly awaited day has arrived when the army has decided to put itself on the side of the people in order to save [1]Gabon from chaos. If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbors … rise up as one and take control of the street.

He called on Gabonese to occupy the country’s airports, public buildings, and media organizations. A few hundred people went into the streets of Libreville to support the so-called coup, but they were quickly dispersed.

Security forces stormed the state broadcasting headquarters, capturing the rebel chief, killing two of his team, and freeing journalists and technicians who had been held hostage and forced to help the mutineers make their broadcast. All five members of the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Defense and Security Forces were arrested after a chase.

According to a Gabonese journalist, “The people are afraid. When the young soldiers asked everyone to come to the streets in support of the coup, nobody did, because they were in panic.”

The abortive coup attempt was apparently triggered by Ali Bongo’s poor New Year’s Eve speech. He was hospitalized in October in Saudi Arabia after suffering a stroke, and he went to Morocco, where the president is a long-time friend, to continue treatment. Ali Bongo has not been seen in Gabon since then and, on a televised New Year’s Eve speech, he slurred some words and did not move his right arm. It is unclear if he is able to walk.

Gabon’s former colonial power, France, has a permanent force of 300 soldiers in Gabon. France 24 and Al Jazeera and AP and Radio France International (Translation)

Brief generational history of Gabon

Since 1910, Gabon was part of France’s colony French Equatorial Africa (the equator runs through Gabon), consisting of the colonies Gabon, Middle Congo (today’s Congo-Brazzaville), and Ubangi–Shari–Chad (today’s Chad and Central African Republic).

Gabon’s last generational crisis war was World War II. All the colonies except Gabon sided with Charles de Gaulle’s Free French government, while Gabon sided with the pro-Nazi French Vichy government. In October 1940, General de Gaulle issued orders for liquidation of the Vichy enclave in Gabon. The Free French forces marched into Gabon’s capital city Libreville. The Battle of Libreville occurred between November 9-12, resulting in the victory of the Free French.

In 1960, Gabon became independent of France. In 1967, Albert-Bernard Bongo became president. In 1973, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Omar.

After 40 years, Omar Bongo died in June 2009, and his son Ali Bongo succeeded him after an election many believed was rigged. Ali Bongo narrowly won reelection in 2016 after violence and rigging of the election.

Rigging an election to keep a dictator or dynasty in power for decades is nothing new in Africa, where jailings, beatings, rapes, and killings are standard fare by leaders who wish to make sure that they win elections, while at the same time they call their elections “democratic, free and fair” in order to please international media and governments and keep aid and investment money pouring in to benefit the country’s elite.

With Ali Bongo in Morocco recovering from a stroke, there is widespread confusion about who is really making decisions, uncertainty about when the newly elected National Assembly and a new cabinet will begin work, and political maneuvers that appear designed to evade the constitutional requirement that an incapacitated President be replaced through a special election. Bongo’s cronies and family members appear to be running the country for now, but as the failed coup attempt illustrates, it will be difficult to maintain stability with provisional and ad hoc measures indefinitely.

Gabon has high unemployment and is a country dependent on oil exports. People accuse the government of corruption, with a wealthy political elite that benefits from the country’s riches while millions of people live in dire poverty. BBC and Council on Foreign Relations and Gabon timeline

U.S. troops in Gabon remain focused on D.R. Congo mission despite coup attempt

The abortive coup attempt in Gabon comes just three days after the White House ordered 80 combat-equipped military personnel to Gabon, “to be in position to support the security of United States citizens, personnel, and diplomatic facilities in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo” in case of violence. ( “6-Jan-19 World View — Trump announces that US troops will be sent to DR Congo”)

For the time being, the abortive coup will have no effect on the mission of the U.S. forces. “At this time there is no change in the status of our forces in Gabon,” AFRICOM spokesman John Manley said as events were unfolding Monday. The troops are not currently tasked with securing diplomatic assets within Gabon, he said. Stars and Stripes

Related Articles:

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Libreville, Gabon, Kinshasa, Ali Bongo, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kelly Ondo Obiang, Patriotic Youth Movement of the Defense and Security Forces, France, French Equatorial Africa, Charles de Gaulle, Free French, French Vichy, Battle of Libreville, Albert-Bernard Bongo, Omar Bongo, Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, Donald Trump, AFRICOM, John Manley
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