Above photo: Deposed president of Gabon Ali Bongo shakes hand with then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010.
Military leaders in Gabon have taken power, placing the president under house arrest following disputed elections. The military takeover follows recent coups d’état in the former French colonies of Niger (earlier this year), Burkina Faso (2022), Mali (2020 and 2021), and Guinea (2021). Gabon’s military was likely inspired by the recent military coup in Niger, which France and its allies, including Nigeria and the US, have been unable to overturn.
“I think, obviously, the soldiers have been inspired by the coups in other countries, beginning primarily in 2020 with Mali,” said Milton Allimadi of Black Star News. “They have seen that, in spite of international denunciation and a call by the West, a call by the United States, France, by ECOWAS—which is a regional economic organization, the Economic Community of West African States—for the people who initiated the coups to reverse them and surrender power to civilians, in each successive state they’ve seen that the people who carried out the coup have survived… After the military takeovers, you have seen the scenes of people coming out and celebrating in the streets. So, obviously, there is a major contradiction when a call for the military to reverse the coup is coming from Western leaders and organizations that people believe are actually propped by the West.”
Fifty-five-year family dynasty overthrown
The incumbent in Gabon’s recent election, Ali Bongo Ondimba, was declared the winner of presidential elections on Wednesday. Ali Bongo has led Gabon since 2009, and his father, Omar Bongo, was president of Gabon from 1967–2009.
Although it is sparsely populated, with only 2.4 million inhabitants, the Central African country of Gabon, located on the Atlantic coast of the continent, has significant reserves of oil—accounting for about 80% of Gabon’s exports—manganese, and timber that have been exploited in recent decades. As a result, Gabon’s GDP is much greater than that of many African countries. According to Gabon’s 2022 GDP per capita, based on purchasing power parity (PPP), Gabon is the sixth-wealthiest nation on the continent. Nevertheless, about 40% of the population lives in poverty, and unemployment is widespread.
Gabon’s Bongo dynasty has traditionally been an ally of the West during its 55 years in power, backing the illegal NATO bombing of Libya and assassination of Muammar Gaddafi, for example. Gabon’s economy is heavily dependent on links with France. However, in recent years, tensions between Gabon and France have developed. Numerous members of the Bongo family are currently implicated in French corruption investigations.
The Bongo administration had recently banned French media outlets France24 and RFI for their alleged bias in coverage of the elections. This was viewed by some as retaliation for the investigation into Bongo dynasty corruption.
The military leaders announced on state television that General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema of the country’s presidential guard has been designated president of a transitional committee to lead Gabon. It has been widely reported that Oligui is a cousin of Ali Bongo, and it is unclear whether the change in leadership represents a new direction for the country in terms of its relations with France and the West.
“The biggest question is, is the coup a result of the aspirations of the people of Gabon or the government of France?” wrote African Streams on social media.
As a former French colony and part of the Franc Zone, Gabon’s currency is the Central Africa CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro, and France has hundreds of soldiers permanently deployed in Gabon. France’s mining giant Eramet is the second-largest private employer in Gabon.
Cold War context
Speaking on Sputnik News’ The Critical Hour, historian Gerald Horne placed the most recent coup in the context of the new Cold War between the imperialist West, led by the US, and the emerging powers of China, Russia, and the global majority. In addition, Horne suggested that the spate of coups on the African continent, particularly in former French colonies, may continue.
“There are some intriguing aspects to this regime change in Gabon, and this is what your audience should focus on,” Horne noted. “That is to say, you could see this, in many ways, as the final chapter of the Cold War, because, before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, you had a plethora of states on the African continent that were pledging themselves to follow the socialist route. That included Benin, for example, that included Mozambique, that included Angola, that included the present Republic of the Congo—which, by the way, might be next on the list for regime change. It is a former French colony. In fact, it has been so close to France that during the Nazi occupation, the so-called free French set up their headquarters in Brazzaville, in the present-day Republic of the Congo. In fact, the then People’s Republic of Congo hosted a large delegation from the Black Panther Party during the good old days of the battle against global imperialism, before the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
“After the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Horne continued, “these nations were frog-marched into being free market autocracies, so to speak, and now we see an ongoing rebellion against that. We see, in fact, we can fairly predict, that probably next on the list will be Cameroon, where Paul Biya is now 89 years old and has been serving for decades. He is trying to match the record of the late Omar Bongo. And there is restiveness in Cameroon, not least because he has imposed a very autocratic regime on those who do not speak French, believe it or not, and that has led, in fact, to an armed uprising in Cameroon.”
“There is one figure your audience may want to follow in the coming days with regard to Gabon,” suggested Horne. “I am speaking of Jean Ping, a former high-level official at the African Union, in Ethiopia, a high-level official in Gabon [Ping ran against Bongo in Gabon’s 2016 presidential elections], who has been detained up until the last few months. Interestingly enough, his father is Chinese and his mother is Gabonese, and there is a suggestion that the post-Bongo regime in Gabon, like many African countries—Zimbabwe, for example, South Africa, for example—will be looking eastward. And that means, of course, looking towards China, where Jean Ping will play a pivotal role.
“Between Washington and Paris.” added Horne, “there was this de facto agreement that Washington would step aside and let France maintain this neocolonial empire as long as it could keep the lid on it. But it can’t keep the lid on it, and Washington is now concerned about the encroachment of China, the encroachment of Russia in Africa, and whether their [US] stranglehold over natural resources will be jeopardized. Inevitably, this will lead to tensions with France. I might be tempted to say that we are officially in a new order, a new post-Cold War order.”