Gabon Coup: Officers Say They Are Seizing Power

A group of senior military officers appeared on television in the oil-rich Central African nation of Gabon early Wednesday and announced they were seizing power, hours after the incumbent president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, was declared to have won a third term in office.

The officers, who claimed to represent the major arms of the security forces, said they were canceling the results of the recent election, suspending the government and closing the country’s borders until further notice.

There was no immediate reaction from Mr. Bongo or the government. Bursts of gunfire could be heard in the capital, Libreville, shortly after the broadcast ended, Reuters reported.

“We have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” one of the officers said on the Gabon 24 station. If it succeeds, the coup would be the latest in an extraordinary run of military takeovers in Western and Central Africa — at least nine in the past three years, including one in Niger last month.

Many of the earlier takeovers occurred in countries that had been destabilized by insurgent violence, like Mali and Burkina Faso, or by intramilitary tensions, like Sudan. In Gabon, the coup seemed to be driven by anger toward one of Africa’s most enduring political dynasties.

The Bongos have ruled Gabon, a country of 2.3 million people on Africa’s Atlantic coast, for over half a century. Mr. Bongo, 64, was about to begin his third term since becoming president in 2009. He took over from his father, Omar Bongo, who had been in power since 1967.

The voting last weekend was tense, with loud opposition claims of rigging and fears that, as in many previous elections in Gabon, it would end in violence. Many people had left the capital for the weekend, fearing trouble. After the polls closed, the government imposed a nightly curfew and restricted internet access.

Early Wednesday, the national electoral authority declared Mr. Bongo the winner with 65 percent of the vote. It said his main rival, Albert Ondo Ossa, got 31 percent.

Hours later, the mutinous officers, calling themselves the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions, appeared on national television, announcing they were “putting an end to the regime.”

Denouncing what they called “irresponsible and unpredictable governance,” a spokesman said that Mr. Bongo’s rule “ran the risk of leading the country into chaos.”

“People of Gabon, we are finally on the road to happiness,” he said.

But the statement offered few clues about the identities of the group, its level of support across the military, or its intentions for a country that is the fourth-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

The coup could be a new blow to French influence in Africa. Gabon is a former French colony; Mr. Bongo, who was educated in France, met with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris in June.

France has been grappling with a wave of anti-French sentiment across several former colonies, including Mali and Burkina Faso, where it has been forced to withdraw thousands of soldiers who had been helping to fight Islamist militants.

Nearly 90 percent of Gabon is covered in rainforest — an asset Mr. Bongo’s government has been trying to monetize by selling carbon credits potentially worth billions of dollars to foreign businesses and governments.

Despite those riches, though, poverty is endemic in Gabon. Nearly 40 percent of Gabonese aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed, according to the World Bank.