Attempted Gabon Military Coup: Ali Bongo’s Health and Other Controversies

Alao Abiodun
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On Monday morning, 7th of January 2019, at about 4.30am, a small group of junior military soldiers seized the national radio station in Gabon, an oil-rich country in central Africa, and declared a coup.

It was reported that a nationwide internet disruption was detected by global internet observatory (NetBlocks) starting at approximately 7:00am UTC among other things, Lieutenant Kelly Obiang delivered the attempted coup message (in French) on national radio.

Who led the Coup? – Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang

The military spokesman and leader of Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, stated on national radio and state television on early Monday morning that he and his supporters were disappointed by President Ali Bongo’s message to the nation on New Year’s Eve, calling it a “relentless attempt to cling onto power”.

Kelly Obiang also claimed they were setting up a “National Restoration Council for restoring democracy” in Gabon.

He said “The eagerly awaited day has arrived when the army has decided to put itself on the side of the people in order to save Gabon from chaos”.

“If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbours … rise up as one and take control of the street,” he added, calling on Gabonese to occupy the country’s airports, public buildings and media organisations.

Gabonese Government

The Gabonese government was quick to have thwarted the attempted military coup on Monday, retaining control of the oil-rich West African nation after two plotters were killed and other army officers including Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, got arrested.

Five army officers who took over state radio in the coup attempt have been arrested, government spokesman Guy-Betrand Mapangou, told Radio France International.

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Authorities have regained control of the state broadcasting offices and a major thoroughfare in the capital, Libreville, which were the only areas taken over by the officers, according to the spokesman.

Ali Bongo’s Health

Ali Bongo, in power since 2009, has been out of the country since October amid reports that he had a stroke. He recently addressed the country in a New Year’s message that was filmed in Morocco, where he has been receiving medical treatment.

In his brief New Year’s speech, the 59-year-old Bongo declared that the country was “indivisible” and acknowledged his health problems without giving details. “A difficult period,” he called it, and a challenge that he surmounted “thanks to God.” He promised to put all of his efforts into improving the daily quality of life for Gabon’s people.

The French-educated Bongo, who was the country’s defense minister before becoming president, narrowly won re-election in 2016 while opposition rival Jean Ping claimed irregularities and continues to call himself the country’s real president

Oil-rich Gabon has been ruled for more than half a century by Bongo and his father, Omar, who died in 2009. Critics have accused the family of profiting from the country’s natural resources while not investing enough in basic services for the population of more than 2 million.

Africa’s Historic Coups

Of the 40 African countries that have seen coups, Morocco, Kenya, Cameroon are the three countries where none have been successful. In 12 of those 40 countries, coups occurred within five years of gaining independence. In total, 23 African countries have seen at least three coups. Indeed, only 14 around a quarter of Africa’s 54 countries are yet to experience a military coup.

Burkina Faso, land of Thomas Sankara, is the coup capital of Africa after witnessing 10 attempts—the most on the continent.

Togo was the first country in West Africa to experience a military coup on the 13th, January 1963, Togolese soldiers, demobilised from the French colonial armies and facing unemployment as a result of refusal of their applications to join ‘the miniscule Togolese army, staged an armed coup that led to the assassination of President Sylvanus Olympio.

However, In many ways, a lot of African countries possess a cocktail of ingredients that stir coups with long-term leaders who invest power in themselves at the expense of weakened institutions.


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