Another Military Takeover What We Know About the Coup in Gabon

Gabon follows Niger on the list of countries that have experienced coups in Africa after the military ‘cancelled’ the Gabon general election results. Without military intervention, Ali Bongo Ondimba would have resumed his third term in office continuing a 54-year family dynasty.

Gabon gained autonomy from French rule in 1958, paving the way for its official independence in 1960. Although the country practises a democratic system, it has remained under the rule of a single family for over five decades. Additionally, the dynasty maintains close ties with France and a focus on oil exports amid socio-economic challenges. It is these challenges that have stirred the Gabon military to claim a stake in the country and oust former president, Ali Bongo Ondimba.


On 30 August 2023, Gabon’s National Election Authority announced Ali Bongo, 64, as the winner of the presidential election with 64.27 per cent of the vote. Ali Bongo had previously held this position for 14 years and this would have marked his third term. Hours after the announcement, the Gabon military made a televised statement cancelling the results and asserting control over the country.

Ali Bongo was first elected in 2009 following the death of his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who had previously ruled the country for 41 years. Omar Bongo was the second president of Gabon from 1967 to 2009 when he died. He first became vice-president in 1966 under Gabon’s first president, Leon M’ba, and eventually succeeded M’ba after M’ba’s death. Omar Bongo headed a single-party regime with the Gabonese Democratic Party until he was forced to include a multi-party system due to pressure from the public. His 41-year reign makes him one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. He only left his position after his death in 2009 and his son, Ali Bongo, who was defence minister at the time, succeeded him in the following elections.


During the 54-year legacy of the Bongos, Gabon’s official statistics have shown progress compared to other African nations. As of 2022, Gabon had a literacy rate 85.46 per cent compared to sub-Saharan Africa’s regional average of 67.27 per cent. Gabon, which had a population of 2.4 million as of 2022, also had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of $9,294.28 compared to the regional average of $1,690.4. Despite Gabon’s high GDP ranking, the reality of the Gabonese people is plagued with poverty. According to the World Bank statistics, over one-third of Gabon’s population lives in extreme poverty. The country also scored poorly in Freedom House’s assessment of political rights and civil liberties at 22 points out of 100. Gabon’s political office, turned dynasty, has also been criticized for corruption and bad governance.

Following the coup, Gabon’s military cited some of these problems, including the lack of a transparent election, as the reason for their takeover. Speaking on behalf of the ‘Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions’, one of the officers said in their televised announcement on Gabon 24, ‘Today, the country is going through a serious institutional, political, economic, and social crisis.’

The coup plotters stated that the general elections ‘did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible, and inclusive ballot. To this end, the general elections of 26 August 2023 and the truncated results are cancelled.’ They also announced the closure of their borders and the dissolution of all institutions of the republic including the government, Senate, National Assembly, and Court.

Their announcement came amid a nationwide internet shutdown placed by the government to reportedly prevent the spread of false news. The internet was restored after the military announcement. Although the coup so far appears bloodless, AFP journalists heard gunshots in the country’s capital, Libreville, during the announcement.

Ali Bongo has since been arrested for treason and is currently detained in his house. In his detainment, Ali Bongo released a video seeking help from his ‘friends around the world to make noise.’ A new interim government has also been formed, but its head remains unknown.


This coup marks the seventh military takeover in Africa since 2019 and the second this year alone as it follows the 26 July coup in Niger. The frequency of these coups raises questions about the socio-economic and political state of the continent to garner this kind of reaction from the armed forces. While international media openly condemns coups, some scholars see them as a necessary evil to bring stability back to these countries. The African Union (AU) has taken its stance by suspending Gabon from all AU activities following the coup.

By 2015, coups seemed to be fading out on the continent, but they have recently begun to gain traction once again. Since 2017, Africa has experienced more coups than any other continent, accounting for 17 out of 18 coups recorded globally. Of the 54 African countries, 45 have had at least one coup attempt since 1950. Sudan leads the group with the most attempted and successful coups (17) followed closely by Burundi (11) and Ghana (10).

Coups in Africa (and worldwide) have a history of being linked with Western powers and as such are viewed as a means of neo-colonialism. In modern cases, however, Africans seem to have internalized coup culture as an alternative means of politics when those in power divert from their institutional responsibilities. International bodies such as the United States Institute of Peace label coups as crises, yet focus should be shifted to the governments that arouse the possibilities of coups through reckless leadership. With the false democracy plaguing Africa, some even consider rigged elections a form of unofficial coups, which should receive an equal amount of international disdain as official coups. Consequently, coups are received more popularly among the masses compared to the rigged ballots. The frequency and neutral local reception of their recent coups portend that Niger and Gabon will not be the only African nations to experience coups in the coming years

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