President Bongo, the military, the gendarmerie, civil society.
On 30/08/2023 a group of military commanders announced a coup d’etat on national television, saying they were not pleased with the results of the elections announced the day before.
Gabon held elections on 26/08/2023, but the results were only announced yesterday evening. President Ali Bongo won and was re-elected with 64% of the votes, according to the electoral commission, but the opposition denounced the results as fraudulent. President Bongo is the son of Omar Bongo, who had been president of the country since 1967 and who died in 2009 handing over power to his son, who has been in power since. The coup leaders have since put President Bongo under house arrest and announced that they have support throughout the country and military.
The Internet was shut down for a few hours after the election results came in but has since been restored by the coup leaders.
Like previous coups in Niger, CAR, Mali and Burkina Faso, the special forces of the army of Gabon seem to be heavily involved in the coup. These forces are all trained and supplied by US special forces.
French mining company Eramet has halted all operations in the country, which is a former French colony and has had close ties with France ever since.
The US and the EU have condemned the coup d’etat. The US has close military ties to Gabon and uses the country as staging grounds for operations in Africa.
It is likely that the coup d’etat will be challenged by forces loyal to President Bongo. A coup attempt in 2019 was thwarted by Gendarmerie Special Forces, loyal to President Bongo. At the moment, the Gendarmerie has not yet responded to this coup attempt but in 2019 were very resolute and killed and arrested the then coup leaders. There have been reports of gunfire in the streets of Libreville, but it is uncertain whether this is confrontational or celebratory fire.
France seems to be reluctant to get involved with the coups d’etats that have recently happened in former French colonies. However, big French multinational companies like Total and Eramet have a large stake in the Gabon oil and mining industry, which makes French neutrality unlikely in the long-run. France’s support of President Bongo is well known and it is very likely that Paris will push the African Union to denounce the coup and perhaps intervene militarily.
The United States will likely take a more neutral stance towards the coup leaders. They will publicly condemn the coup, but they are interested in keeping Gabon as a staging ground for operations in Africa, especially since Niger’s coup d’etat. The US has invested a lot of money and manpower into training and equipping the Gabon army the past years.
China and Russia have voiced their concerns over the coup d’etat. China has good economic ties with president Bongo’s government and may noy want to renegotiate deals with the coup leaders. Russia on the other hand is likely to see the coup as another opportunity to send in affiliated mercenaries to support the coup leaders. However, it is not likely that the coup leaders will want to share power with mercenary groups like Wagner, since they claim their coup is to establish a democratic government in Gabon. There are also no terrorist groups in Gabon that are overwhelming the army as is the case for Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso, which reduces the need for calling for an external military intervention.
As of the time of publication, there is not enough information that could help understanding how this coup attempt will unfold. The coup leaders are from different branches of the army but it is not known how far-reaching their actual influence is. The Gendarmerie’s support (or lack thereof) for Bongo remains the cardinal question mark. Countries like France, the EU, but also Russia and China have denounced the coup publicly. It is, however, unclear what the covert interests of these countries are.
The African Union’s reply to the coup d’etat will clarify their stance and the possibility of a military intervention of African nations.