African leaders were working on a response on Thursday to officers in Gabon who ousted President Ali Bongo and installed a general as head of state, while the country’s opposition said it wanted to work with the junta to find the best way forward.
The takeover ends the Bongo family dynasty’s almost six decades in power and creates a new conundrum for a region that has struggled to deal with eight coups since 2020 that Nigerian President Bola Tinubu called a “contagion of autocracy”.
Central Africa’s political bloc, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), condemned the coup in a statement, saying it planned an “imminent” meeting of heads of state to determine how to respond. It did not give a date.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the coup, a spokesperson for the African Union Commission chair said.
Tinubu, who was sworn into office in May and now chairs the West African bloc ECOWAS, said on Wednesday he was working closely with other African leaders to work out a response.
Senior officers in Gabon announced their coup before dawn on Wednesday, shortly after an election body declared that Bongo had comfortably won a third term after Saturday’s vote. The junta declared the vote null and void.
Later on Wednesday, a video emerged of Bongo detained in his residence, asking international allies for help but apparently unaware of what was happening around him. The officers also announced that General Brice Oligui Nguema, former head of the presidential guard, had been chosen as head of state.
In its first comment since the takeover, Gabon’s main opposition platform, Alternance 2023, said on Thursday the country should be grateful to coup leaders for ending the Bongos’ long grip on power.
But in a possible sign the group is not in lockstep with the junta, Alternance 2023 representative Mike Jocktane said that the coup leaders should finish what he said was an incomplete vote count. A full tally would show that Alternance 2023’s candidate, Albert Ondo Ossa, had won, he said.
In official results announced on Wednesday, Ondo Ossa came a distant second to Bongo.
Jocktane said the opposition was willing to hold talks with the junta “to avoid a future for our country even darker than the one we have been spared”.
The events follow coups in the past four years in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger, erasing democratic gains since the 1990s and raising concerns among foreign powers with regional strategic interests. The coups also showed the limited leverage of African powers once the military took over.
ECOWAS threatened military intervention in Niger after a coup there on July 26 and imposed sanctions, but the junta has not backed down. Military leaders elsewhere have also resisted international pressure, such as in Mali. They have managed to hold on to power, and some have even gained popular support.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of the capital, Libreville, to celebrate Wednesday’s coup in Gabon. The city was calmer on Thursday as people returned to work, although the main intersections and thoroughfares were guarded by security forces.
Bongo’s popularity had worn thin amid claims of corruption, sham elections, and a failure to spend more of Gabon’s oil and mineral wealth on the country’s poor. He took over in 2009 on the death of his father, Omar, who had ruled since 1967.
The African Union, former colonial power France, the United States, Canada, and Britain have all expressed concern about the coup. But they have not made direct calls for reinstating Bongo.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the election had been full of irregularities while adding that the EU rejected the seizure of power by force.
“The challenges facing Gabon must be resolved in accordance with the principles of the rule of law, constitutional order, and democracy,” he said.
A lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts, and the authorities’ decision to cut internet service and impose a night curfew after the poll raised concerns about the transparency of the vote.