The 30 August coup in Gabon is the latest in a string of coups that have spread throughout West and Central Africa. Nearly a month earlier, the coup in Niger took place, and before that, there were coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. Since 2020, eight coups have taken place in the region, making it a belt of active coups.
In particular, the spread of terrorist contagion from the Sahel countries to coastal countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea causes the circle of transitional stages and political instability to widen, democratic progress to stagnate, security vulnerabilities to worsen, and the activities of terrorist groups to increase.
Against this backdrop of upheaval, the background, motivations, and consequences of the Gabon coup are explained briefly here.
Chaotic Environment and Diverse Motives
The announcement that current President Ali Bongo had won a third term in office, following presidential elections that began on 27 August, led to a coup d’état led by military officers representing all security and defense forces in the country and the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions. With 64.27 percent of the vote, Bongo easily defeated his main opponent, Albert Ondo Ossa, a professor of economics and a former Minister of Education, who received 30.77 percent of the vote. As with the previous elections in 2016, in which Bongo won a second term, the opposition criticized many aspects of the election process, claiming it lacked credibility and integrity due to the blocking of foreign media coverage, the shutting down of the Internet for security reasons, and the worsening of electoral violence in the country.
As the dispute over the election results grew, the armed forces intervened to approve a series of measures, as stated in a statement broadcast on Gabon 24, including annulling the election results, closing all borders until further notice, enforcing a nighttime curfew across the country, and dissolving the State institutions, including the Federal Government, the Senate, the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court, and the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council.
The military group that staged the coup offered justifications for this based on a variety of factors and goals, including contesting the results of the election, the lack of credibility and integrity of the process, preserving societal peace, and toppling the Bongo family’s rule, which had been controlling the country’s wealth and power for nearly 50 years. Additionally, the country’s institutional, political, economic, and social crises were made worse by the country’s dependence on oil exports and the decline in those revenues, combined with the disruption of global supply chains.
The coup has a number of potentially disastrous consequences, both domestically and in terms of the country’s relationship with France, which views Gabon as a key ally in the Central and West African region. Gabon is home to the largest French base in West Africa, with over 450 soldiers. There is a cluster of French mining and transportation firms operating in Gabon. However, tensions started to rise when the French company Eramet, which operates in the manganese mining industry, suspended its operations. The railway industry’s transportation operations were impacted by the French transportation companies’ decision to cease operations.
Furthermore, since Gabon is a member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), which also includes Cameroon, Gabon, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Equatorial Guinea, it is possible that the coup contagion will spread to Central African countries that are experiencing late paths toward democratic transformation. These countries experience declining democratic indicators and political brittleness.
The European Union (EU) responded by announcing that its defense ministers would discuss the situation in Gabon in Toledo, Spain. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy stated that the situation in Gabon is “a big issue for Europe and would heap more instability on the region”. France is closely monitoring the situation, while China has announced the need to ensure President Bongo’s safety.
The coup in Gabon could be a spark igniting a fire that spreads to the heart of the region’s ruling systems, inspiring the rest of the Central African region’s armies to make similar attempts, especially in light of the growing discontent among the populace in this region as a result of the long tenures of these countries’ leaders.
In sum, the coup in Gabon is seen as further evidence of the decline of France’s spheres of influence and a portent of the demise of the France-Africa policy and the rise of EU influence in the region. Senegal, Ivory Coast, Chad, and Gabon were essential focal points for France in this crisis region. With the deteriorating situation in Gabon, France’s interests are jeopardized, and the door is opened for other powers to step up. China stands out in this competition due to its massive long-standing investments in Gabon.