If you were watching the news overnight (aside from the Golden Globes and the NFL wildcard matches) you might have caught a disturbing headline coming out of Africa’s eastern coast. Military units in the nation of Gabon, located to the north of the Republic of Congo, took control of radio and television outlets to announce that a coup had taken place and the Republican Guard was now in control of the country. This appeared to cap months of uncertainty marked by the nation’s president, Ali Bongo, being out of the country. Rumors that he had suffered a stroke and was in dire shape have been dogging his administration since November. (Associated Press)
Soldiers from Gabon’s Republican Guard have appeared on state television saying they have launched a coup “to restore democracy” in the West African country.
Early Monday a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the military has seized control of the government. He was flanked by two others holding weapons and all were dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets.
A curfew has been imposed over the capital, Libreville, and the internet has been cut. The city on the Atlantic Ocean coast is being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles. No violence has been reported.
It certainly sounded like a coup. If the army managed to cut off the internet, shut down the media, impose a curfew in the capital and put tanks out in the streets, that would certainly constitute all the makings of a coup. But was the news real? The announcement by Kelly definitely happened, but the rest of his claims were quickly clouded in doubt.
As of this morning, the New York Times reported that the coup had failed and Bongo’s government was still in control.
Soldiers in Gabon took over state radio in an attempt to seize power in a coup on Monday, but the government said four of the plotters had been arrested and that normalcy would be restored in the Central African nation.
A fifth suspect was on the run, Reuters reported, after soldiers announced plans for a “national council of restoration,” in a country where the ruling Bongo family has been dogged by accusations of corruption and fraud during nearly a half-century in power.
If this entire operation was really the work of only five men, that’s not much of a coup. But the explanation seems unsatisfactory. Why would a literal handful of soldiers take control of a television and radio station and lie about how much of the government they had seized? Surely they’d know they would be immediately caught and taken into custody.
We’ll have to wait for more hard details from sources inside of Libreville (Gabon’s capital), but this coup is starting to look more and more like the failed coup attempt in Turkey from a couple of years ago. Whether it succeeds or not, however, it’s going to draw increased international attention to the deplorable situation in that nation.
Ali Bongo may or may not be in the midst of a medical crisis. He sent out a New Year’s video message filmed in a Moroccan hospital in which he said that everything was fine and he would be home soon. But Bongo appeared to be slurring his words and unable to lift his right arm, signs that he may indeed have suffered a serious stroke.
No matter his condition, the people of Gabon have plenty to be upset about. This is one of the wealthiest nations in sub-Saharan Africa, with the fourth highest GDP in that region. Their wealth comes from oil, but aside from Bongo’s family and their associates in the capital, few citizens have seen any benefit from all that money and much of the nation is steeped in poverty. Bongo’s father was president before him and the family has controlled the country for more than half a century.
Keep an eye on this story because we’re seeing the sort of unrest that can spread quickly and infect neighboring nations once it takes hold. As to whether or not there was a legitimate attempt at a coup, we’ll simply have to wait a while longer for all the details to be sorted out.