Libreville : The coup plotters in Gabon announced that President Ali Bongo was placed under house arrest, surrounded by his family and doctors, and that one of his sons was arrested on charges of “high treason.”
The commander of the Republican Guard in Gabon, General Brice Olegé Nguema, who participated in the coup, told the French newspaper Le Monde on Wednesday that President Ali Bongo Ondimba had been “referred to retirement.”
General Nguema stated that Bongo, who was placed under house arrest, “has been retired and has all his rights.” “He is an ordinary Gabonese citizen like everyone else.” He added, “He did not have the right to serve a third term, and the constitution was violated, so the army decided to assume its responsibilities.”
In a video, the president calls on his “friends” to “raise their voices” after the coup
For his part, the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, on Wednesday called on “all friends” to “raise their voices” in a video clip that spread on social media.
“I, Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon, send a message to all our friends around the world asking them to raise their voices about the people who arrested me and my family,” Bongo said in the video, in which he appeared sitting on a chair with a worried expression.
The African Union “strongly” condemns the coup attempt
On Wednesday, the African Union “strongly” condemned the military coup in Gabon, as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, issued a statement in which he stated that the Union “is following with great concern the situation in Gabon and strongly condemns the attempted coup in the country as a way out of the current crisis that followed.” The election”. The statement stated that the coup attempt is “a flagrant violation of the laws and policies of the African Union, including the African Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance.” Faki Muhammad called on “the national army and security forces to strictly adhere to their republican mission and guarantee the physical safety of the President of the Republic, his family members, and his government.” He urged “all political, civilian and military actors in Gabon to give priority to peaceful political means and a rapid return to the country’s democratic constitutional order.”
A group of senior Gabonese army officers appeared on television in the early hours of Wednesday morning and announced the seizure of power shortly after the election commission announced that President Ali Bongo had won a third term.
Appearing on Gabon 24 television, the officers said they represent all security and defense forces in the central African country. They announced the cancellation of the election results, the closure of all borders until further notice, and the dissolution of state institutions.
It was reported that gunshots were heard in the capital, Libreville, after the officers appeared on television and announced the overthrow of Bongo, whose family has ruled the oil and manganese-producing country for more than half a century.
There was no immediate comment from the government of the member state of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). There were no immediate reports on the whereabouts of Bongo, who was last seen in public when he cast his vote in the elections on Saturday.
And if this coup succeeds, it will be the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. Coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger, which witnessed the most recent coup in July, have undermined democratic progress in the region in the past few years.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing, but also impoverished, country for 56 years. His opponents and critics say he has done little to direct the country’s oil and other wealth to improve the lives of the roughly 2.3 million people, about a third of whom live in poverty.
“Today the country is going through an acute institutional, political, economic and social crisis,” the officers said in a statement, adding that the August 26 elections lacked transparency and integrity.
“In the name of the Gabonese people…we have decided to defend peace by bringing an end to the current regime,” the officers said.
The officers introduced themselves as members of the Transition and Institutional Restoration Committee. The state institutions they announced were dissolving included the government, the Senate, the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court, and the Election Commission.
Fears of disturbances
Tensions are running high in Gabon amid fears of unrest after Saturday’s presidential, parliamentary and legislative elections, in which Bongo sought to extend his rule for a third term, running against 18 candidates as the opposition pressed for change. His team rejected accusations of fraud.
The absence of international observers, the suspension of some foreign media broadcasts, and the authorities’ decision to cut internet service and impose a night curfew across the country after the elections raised concerns about the transparency of the electoral process.
As the sun rose, the streets of the capital, Libreville, seemed quiet, and crowds of curious residents gathered outside homes. Some of them cheered for a group of soldiers passing by in a vehicle, but there were no signs of widespread celebrations or apprehension in the city.
Earlier today, Wednesday, Gabon’s electoral commission said that Bongo won a third term in the presidential elections after obtaining 64.27 percent of the votes, while his main competitor, Albert Ondo Osa, received 30.77 percent.
Ali Bongo (64 years old) assumed the presidency, succeeding his father, Omar Bongo, in 2009, and was re-elected in 2016 in a vote that also sparked conflict.
The government has previously said that cutting off internet service and imposing a curfew are necessary to prevent the spread of fake news and protect public security.
And in 2016, the parliament building was set on fire when violent street protests erupted over Bongo’s re-election for a second term, in a move that also sparked controversy and conflict at the time, and the government then cut off internet services for several days.
The White House is “closely monitoring” the situation in Gabon after the coup
In Washington, the White House announced that it was “closely following” the situation in Gabon.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: “The situation is very worrying. We are watching this closely and will continue to do all we can to support the idea of democratic ideals expressed by the African people.”
In her comment, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Bourne said on Wednesday that her country is closely following the situation in Gabon, while delivering a speech before a meeting of ambassadors in Paris.
“This year, the work of the French diplomatic network has been marked by the handling of several major crises: the ongoing war in Ukraine, the situation in Sudan and the wonderful organization of the evacuation of our nationals from it, the coup in Niger and now the situation in Gabon which we are watching with the utmost interest,” Bourne said.
Bourne saluted the French ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Etienne, who was given a 48-hour deadline by the putschists, which ended on Sunday evening, to leave the capital, Niamey, but he insisted on his refusal, supported by his country’s position, which considered that the putschists “have no capacity” to make such a decision.
For his part, government spokesman Olivier Veran condemned the coup in Gabon, and demanded that the election results be respected.
“France is watching the situation with great interest, and hopes that the election results will be respected as soon as they are announced,” he said in a press conference after the cabinet meeting in Paris.
For his part, Josep Borrell, European Union foreign policy official, said that the defense ministers of the bloc countries will discuss the situation in Gabon, and if a coup is confirmed there, it will bring more unrest to the region, describing what is happening in West Africa as a major problem for Europe.
“If confirmed, it would be another military coup that would increase unrest in the entire region,” he added, speaking at a meeting of European Union defense ministers in Toledo, Spain.
In turn, Russian presidential spokesman (Kremlin) Dmitry Peskov said, on Wednesday, that the situation in Gabon is of “deep concern” and that Moscow is closely monitoring what is happening.
This came in statements to reporters, in response to a question about whether there is concern about the escalation of conflicts in Africa following the military coup in Gabon.
“I will not generalize any conclusions, but the situation in Gabon is of deep concern, and we are closely watching what is happening there,” Peskov said.
For her part, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “We urge our compatriots to refrain from traveling to Gabon at this time,” according to the official Sputnik agency.
French miner Eramet, which owns Gabon’s manganese-producing unit Comelog, said on Wednesday it had suspended all operations in the country following developments overnight in the country.
The company’s stock fell about 5 percent in the wake of the announcement.
“As of this morning, all Comelog and Stragg operations have been suspended, as well as rail transportation,” a company spokesperson said.
Niger coup : American settlement is better than the confrontation supported by France and Africa
London : The “Foreign Affairs” magazine published an article by writer Hanna Ray Armstrong, in which she said that coups in Niger are a relatively routine matter, and are a bloodless redistribution of power to the elites of the capital. Over the past six decades, the country has witnessed five coups. However, the latest coup is different.
It comes just two years after the first democratic transfer of power in a country now widely seen as the West’s last bulwark against terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region. On a visit to Niger in March, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared the country a “model of democracy”. But the West, says Armstrong, deluded itself into thinking that Niger was on a more stable path than it really was.
Washington’s moves carry great weight. And unlike France, the United States still enjoys a good reputation and good will throughout the Sahel.
Armstrong commented that, in this case, the current crisis should not be surprising, pointing to the role of the West in its manufacture.
Over the past decade, efforts to stabilize the Sahel region, led by France and supported by the United States, have continuously weakened civil institutions in the region and failed to provide security. Western intervention led the military rulers to seize power in four of the five Sahel countries, and after it withdrew its support for those new regimes, the military junta in Mali and Burkina Faso turned to Russia for security assistance.
The writer believes that the West’s appreciation of the ousted President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, “was separate from the reality on the ground in Niger, where he faced growing discontent since he assumed office in 2021.” She says that the current stakes resulting from the current coup are higher than previous coups. The crisis continues to acquire new and frightening dimensions.”
Immediately after the coup, the Nigerian military junta canceled French defense agreements and met with Wagner leaders to discuss possible forms of cooperation. At the same speed, attacks launched by groups allied with Al-Qaeda and ISIS on its borders multiplied. Meanwhile, two former rebel leaders allied with Bazoum launched new armed movements to return him to power.
Efforts to stabilize the Sahel, led by France and supported by the United States, have continually weakened the region’s civilian institutions and failed to provide security.
The failure of the West
Armstrong says that internal tensions were the direct driver of the coup. But the crisis was also the culmination of a decade of ill-considered stabilization policies led by external powers in the Sahel region. In 2013, when jihadist groups appeared to be preparing to seize Bamako, France sent several thousand troops to Mali. Its pursuit of them caused the spread of jihadists across central Mali and to the border region alongside Niger and Burkina Faso.
In late 2010, facing widespread rural insurgencies, France established counterterrorism partnerships with ethnic militias allied with the Malian government. As sectarian tensions rose, combatants slaughtered civilians, and communities that had previously lived in relative peace were forced to arm themselves for self-defense.
The spread of violence turned many ordinary Sahelians against the regimes that had partnered with France, and civilians increasingly came to view their leaders as agents of Paris. Escalating violence and a sharp rise in anti-French sentiment led to coups in Mali in 2020 and Burkina Faso in 2022. In August of that year, as its relations with Bamako deteriorated, France completely withdrew its forces from Mali. But Paris did not send its soldiers home, it shipped a lot to Niger.
An unpopular president
Western countries promoted the two rounds of elections in Niger in late 2020 and early 2021 as a miracle, ignoring the number of Nigerians who viewed the elections as a farce. Bazoum, a former government minister, emerged from the inner circle of his predecessor, Muhammadu Issoufou. The latter chose him as his successor, and to facilitate his path to power, Issoufou ordered the arrest of Bazoum’s main opposition candidate on false charges of child trafficking. In February 2021, when state media announced that Bazoum had won by a narrow margin, hundreds of opposition supporters took to the streets to declare that the results were fraudulent. Soon, the Yosovo police arrested nearly 500 people and shut down the internet for weeks.
Even after Bazoum came to power, the population did not expect any change during his reign. He tolerated corruption and maintained repressive policies dating back to the Issoufou era, such as the 2019 cybercrime law used to prosecute journalists, bloggers, and civil society activists who protested government repression and abuses by security forces.
However, Bazoum’s decision to allow France to make Niger its new base for its military operations in the Sahel region was decisive, and hurt him more than others.
Armstrong: Bazoum’s decision to allow France to make Niger its new base for military operations in the Sahel region was fatal, and it hurt him more than others.
To strengthen its position in the Sahel region, in mid-2022, France deployed 1,000 soldiers to Niger. And Paris Bazoum gave an additional €70 million in new grants and loans for much-needed food and infrastructure. This was a risky deal for Bazoum, but he bet he could keep the French presence a secret.
Bazoum felt confident in his bet because the West supported him. America wants a friend in stable Niger, in addition to building security interests for it in it, from a military base for marches used by the CIA to monitor airspace in southern Libya. It also invested more than $100 million in an air base in the northern regional capital, Agadez, to expand US intelligence capabilities in the region. The United States maintains about 1,000 of its soldiers on bases there and in the capital, Niamey.
Armstrong says Bazoum’s love affair with the West alienated him from his people. France took advantage of its presence and sometimes used corrupt methods to obtain Nigerian uranium at reduced prices in order to feed nuclear power reactors, in a way that deprived the country of benefiting from a national wealth.
He succeeded, even
though despite all his mistakes, Bazoum achieved successes, in terms of searching for a policy to address security risks, an open “hand policy,” dialogue with the rebels, and amnesty for dissidents. And enhanced security at the border with the support of French and American aviation. He succeeded in reducing levels of violence by 80% between 2021 and 2022. Bazoum also built relationships with the northern elites, who have been historically excluded from power. But the philosophy teacher was not given an opportunity to promote education, especially for women, in a country with a fertility rate of 6.8 births per woman, an illiteracy rate of more than 63%, and a country suffering from food security problems.
The problem with the Western response, and even the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), is that these achievements are linked to Bazoum, and Niger cannot be saved without returning him to power. ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Niger and announced its willingness to deploy military forces, and France stated that it would support those military efforts.
However, Washington distinguished its position by calling for a peaceful settlement, and its position came as a surprise. The United States, in general, was content to follow France’s footsteps in the Sahel region in return for supporting American endeavors in the Middle East. But the United States stopped short of calling the situation a “coup d’etat,” a declaration that, under US law, would require it to cut off military aid to Niger. Three full weeks after the military council seized power, the Pentagon was still describing the crisis as an “attempted coup.” Blinken has clearly stated that the Niger crisis “has no acceptable military solution.” He and other American leaders have repeatedly called for a peaceful solution and the release of the president, not his reinstatement. This acknowledges that the junta has removed Bazoum from power.
Armstrong says we are now faced with two tracks: one that calls for the use of force to thwart the coup in Niger, which would enhance long-term security, and those who believe that military intervention must be avoided.
On August 9, Blinken hosted Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf in Washington. Algeria is the most powerful mediator country in the Sahel region. Ataf announced in an interview that his country’s goal is a peaceful solution to the crisis. The African Union has also distanced itself from the explicit threat posed by ECOWAS.
According to a senior African diplomat, who spoke anonymously, the memory of Libya’s collapse greatly influenced the governance of the African Union. He added, “Now, you have a bad government in Niger. But if you bomb them, you won’t get a government. Only jihadists and armed factions.” He pointed out that 12 years after NATO’s intervention in the Libyan uprising, there is still no official government in Tripoli.
Although supporters of military intervention raise fears of the possibility of increased Russian influence in Niger, the current path taken by Washington is correct, and US policymakers must resist calls for intervention.
The problem with continuing the settlement path is that it may require, in the near term, the United States’ recognition of the military council. This contradicts President Joe Biden’s foreign policy. But it would also be helpful for Nigeriens to see a Western power finally acknowledge their deep desire to see an approach based on diplomacy, not more foreign forces sweeping through their villages.
For a peaceful solution to yield long-term results, the United States must urgently turn its attention to two specific challenges.
First, Bazoum’s intelligent security approach to the tri-border area is collapsing. With the soldiers’ attention turned toward the capital, the rebels exploit the breach. Perhaps the new military leaders in Niger will find a strategy based on dialogue too lenient, and follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in Burkina Faso and Mali and recruit volunteers for the militias. Because the United States runs training programs for Nigerien military officers, it already has close ties with some of the junta’s leaders. By convincing them of the benefits of Bazoum’s approach, U.S. partners should encourage the continuity of security policies that have been working.
Second, the United States should be concerned about the risks of rebellions in the north. The northern economic, political, and military elites enjoyed close ties to Bazoum and his predecessor. But fundamentally, Niamey never fulfilled most of its pledges in the 1995 peace agreement to end a four-year war with northern rebels, especially its pledge to help the people of northern Niger profit more from their uranium resources. Indeed, two of Bazoum’s loyalists opened new rebel fronts, seeking arms, recruits, and foreign support to resist the military council.
In sum, Washington’s moves carry great weight. And unlike France, the United States still enjoys a good reputation and good will throughout the Sahel.