/ 7 January 2019

Gabon government says ‘situation under control’, army rebels seized

Ali Bongo Ondimba
Ali Bongo Ondimba (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The government of Gabon declared that it was in control after an attempted coup by army rebels Monday and that it had arrested most of those involved.

“Calm has returned, the situation is under control,” government spokesperson Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told Agence France-Presse.

Military personnel in Gabon reportedly staged a coup attempt early on Monday morning, seizing the state radio station and declaring dissatisfaction with President Ali Bongo, saying they want to “restore democracy”.

Soldiers called on the people to “rise up” and announced a “national restoration council” would be formed. According to AFP, military vehicles blocked access to the boulevard where state broadcasting offices are located.

A message was read on state radio by a person who identified himself as the deputy commander of the Republican Guard and head of a group called the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defence and Security Forces.

Three soldiers wearing the green beret of the Republican Guard were visible on a video of the speech circulating on social media and authenticated by AFP.

The 59-year-old leader is currently in Morocco recovering from a stroke which he suffered in October last year. The Bongo family has governed the oil-rich equatorial African nation for five decades. Bongo was elected head of state after his father’s death in 2009 and has been out of the country for more than two months. Bongo was narrowly re-elected in 2016 following a poll marred by violence and allegations of fraud.

READ MORE: Power vacuum in Gabon: End of the Bongo dynasty?

With the president incapacitated, Gabon’s constitution states that any one of the three arms of government — the executive, legislature and judiciary — can approach the Constitutional Court to confirm that a presidential vacancy exists and the speaker of the National Assembly must be appointed as the interim head of government, pending elections in 45 days.

On New Year’s Day, in an attempt to put an end to the rumours about his health, Bongo delivered a televised message in which he said he was feeling fine. In the message, he “charged the Prime Minister (Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet) to meet the expectations of the citizens” until his return to Gabon at an unspecified date.

According to media reports, soldiers say they were disappointed by the message, calling it “a pitiful sight” and a “relentless attempt to cling onto power”.This is a developing story and will be updated as more details emerge.

US President Donald Trump had deployed 80 US military personnel to Gabon in response to possible violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo following a disputed and delayed election.

In a letter to Congress, Trump said the troops were sent in response to “the possibility that violent demonstrations may occur”. The troops and supporting military aircraft would provide security to US citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities in Kinshasa, should the need arise.

“Additional forces may deploy to Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the Republic of Congo, if necessary for these purposes. These deployed personnel will remain in the region until the security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo becomes such that their presence is no longer needed,” the letter stated.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more details emerge.