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Coup in Gabon?

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I haven’t been doing follow-ups to my election posts, but the news this morning out of Gabon compels a brief one. Ali Bongo was announced the winner (by a margin, almost 35 points, widely regarded as implausible), and the results were widely and reasonably denounced as a sham, as expected. But what happened almost immediately after the result was announced may prove to be one of the greatest tests of the Bongo family’s hold on power in six decades:

Men in army uniform appeared on national television to announce the president’s house arrest during the military takeover, prompting celebrations and reports of gunfire on the streets of the capital – but condemnation overseas.

“It is brought to the attention of the national and international community that Ali Bongo Ondimba is being kept under house arrest,” an unnamed junta spokesperson said on state TV on Wednesday morning.

The ousted president is surrounded by his “family and doctors,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, the Agence France-Presse news agency showed video footage of soldiers in the capital Libreville celebrating in support of coup leader general Brice Oligui Nguema. He was seen on the shoulders of army personnel, who were shouting “president.”

The announcement came just minutes after President Ali Bongo Ondimba, also known as Ali Bongo, was deemed the victor of a contested election.

The officers, claiming to represent “defense and security forces” in the country, made the announcement in a televised address on news channel Gabon24. It was viewed by CNN on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“On behalf of the Gabonese people and guarantor of the protection of institutions, CTRI [the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions] has decided to defend peace by putting an end to the regime in place,” a military officer said on the broadcast.

That’s from CNN. More coverage of developing events from the New York Times and Al Jazeera. Several members of his family and close advisors have been arrested as well. This certainly seems like something that’s been planned for some time. Personalist kleptocratic regimes are very bad, as are military coups and subsequent military dictatorships; I will refrain from indulging the pundit’s temptation to apply hunches or some abstract general principles to declare which is worse than the other in this case, as I know too little about recent events and the situation in the country to responsibly do so. As the New York Times story notes, this coup differs from other recent African coups (Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan) in that it was not preceded by a rising tide of destabilizing insurgent violence or evident intra-military tensions. Of the primary three world powers seeking influence and control in this region (France, China, and Wagner/Russia), it’s not clear which, if any might stand to benefit, although it’s almost certainly the biggest blow to France, who maintained close ties to and various cooperative arrangements with the Bongo regime.

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