Army officers in the central African nation of Gabon said they seized government power in the oil-producing country Wednesday and have placed President Ali Bongo under house arrest.
The Bongo family has ruled Gabon since 1967, with the president succeeding his father in 2009.
Bongo Jr. was educated at a private school in Neuilly, France, and then studied law at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. In 2018, he received an honorary doctorate of law degree from Wuhan University in China. In 1977, he released a funk album, A Brand New Man, produced by Charles Bobbit.
Bongo is believed to have had a stroke in 2019 and has not been actively involved in governing during the last few years. He is believed to use a wheelchair.
The officers announced the coup on national television just moments after the nation’s election commission declared that Bongo had won a third term in Saturday’s general elections.
The officers said that the election results were invalidated, all state institutions dissolved and all borders closed until further notice.
“We have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” one of the officers said.
It was not immediately clear who led the coup attempt. However, video on state television showed a man in fatigues being carried by soldiers shouting, “Oligui president,” a possible reference to Brice Oligui Nguema, the head of Gabon’s Republican Guard.
Bongo later appeared in a video calling on “friends of Gabon” to “make some noise” to support him. The 64-year-old president, seated in a chair, said he was at his residence and that his wife and son were in other places.
French government spokesman Olivier Véran said France condemned the coup and restated its commitment to free and transparent elections.
But crowds that poured into the streets of the capital, Libreville, celebrated the news of the president’s removal, with several demonstrators saying they were glad the Bongo family was out of power.
Opponents say the family has failed to share the country’s oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people.
Gunfire was heard throughout Libreville after the officers’ initial television appearance. The U.S. Embassy has advised Americans in the capital to shelter in place and limit unnecessary movements.
Flights out of Libreville have been canceled, and the city’s port has halted operations.
Saturday’s elections were overshadowed by a lack of international observers, raising concerns about transparency.
Afterward, Bongo’s government curtailed internet service and imposed a nightly curfew across the nation, saying it was necessary to prevent the spread of misinformation.
Internet access seemed to be at least partially restored after the coup announcement.
The declared coup comes on the heels of last month’s military overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger, the latest in a series of coups across West and Central Africa since 2020. Bongo survived an attempted military takeover in January 2019 as he was recovering from a stroke.
Sources: VOA, Reuters, CNN, Wikipedia.