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Regional Bloc Calls for 'Return of Constitutional Order' in Gabon

Soldiers of the Republican Guard stand on their armed pick-up in a street in Libreville, Gabon, Aug. 30, 2023.
Soldiers of the Republican Guard stand on their armed pick-up in a street in Libreville, Gabon, Aug. 30, 2023.

The Central African regional bloc ECCAS Thursday condemned the use of force to resolve political conflicts as it called for a rapid return to constitutional order in Gabon.

The Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States said in a statement it was closely monitoring the situation in Gabon, and that heads of state would hold an imminent meeting to discuss the political and security situation.

After army officers said they seized power and placed President Ali Bongo under house arrest Wednesday, other nations condemned the events, including the United States which called for Bongo’s release and the preservation of civilian rule.

“The United States is deeply concerned by evolving events in Gabon. We remain strongly opposed to military seizures or unconstitutional transfers of power,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Miller also noted concern about “the lack of transparency and reports of irregularities surrounding the election” in Gabon in which Bongo won a third term in office.

The mutinous soldiers announced the coup on national television just moments after the nation’s election commission declared Bongo had won.

The officers said that the election results were invalidated, all state institutions dissolved and all borders closed until further notice.

General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, chief of the Republican Guard, was designated president of the transitional committee.

Oligui is Bongo’s cousin. He had been a bodyguard for Bongo’s late father, President Omar Bongo, and was the head of the secret service before becoming the leader of the 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 elsewhere.

But the 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.

Bongo first took office in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the oil-producing country for the previous 42 years.

Opponents say the family has failed to share the country’s oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people.

Gabon is a former French colony and one of its closest allies in Africa.

"France condemns the military coup that is underway in Gabon and is closely monitoring developments," French government spokesperson, Olivier Veran, said Wednesday. Véran restated France’s commitment to free and transparent elections, as did Great Britain and Canada. France has about 400 troops in Gabon.

However, according to a French accountability group, nine members of the Bongo family are under investigation in France, and some face preliminary charges linked to corruption. The family has been linked to more than $92 million in properties in France, including two villas in Nice, according to the group.

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.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse.