This video grab shows coup supporters cheering police officers in Libreville, Gabon, Aug. 30, 2023. Mutinous soldiers speaking on state television announced that they had seized power in and were overturning the results of a presidential election that had seen Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba extend his family's 55-year hold on power. ( AP Photo/Betiness Mackosso)

Gabon coup: opposition leader alleges president’s family behind coup

DAKAR, Senegal –


Gabon’s opposition leader accused the family of the recently ousted president of engineering his removal from power in order to retain their control in the oil-rich Central African nation.


Speaking to French media outlet TV5 Monde Thursday, Albert Ondo Ossa said the junta who ousted Gabon’s president on Wednesday did not engage in a coup but rather a “palace revolution” in order to continue their family’s reign.


Soldiers toppled President Ali Bongo Ondimba and put him under house arrest, accusing him of irresponsible governance that risked leading the country into chaos.


They then put Bongo’s cousin Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, head of the elite republican guard, in charge. He is expected to be sworn into office on Monday before the constitutional court.


Ossa lost the presidential election in August to Bongo by more than 30 percentage points. The vote was widely criticized by locals and the international community for irregularities and a lack of transparency.


“The Bongos have decided to put Ali Bongo aside and continue their system,” said Ossa in his interview with TV5 Monde. “The Gabonese people took to the streets at night to celebrate the departure of Bongo, but I’m saying that it’s not the Bongo family that departed. A Bongo took over from a Bongo,” he said.


On Thursday Ossa’s chief of staff, Mike Jocktane, called for a recount of the votes under the supervision of the armed forces, so that Ossa could assume the presidency.


Gabon’s coup is the eighth military takeover in Central and West Africa in three years and comes roughly a month after Niger’s democratically elected president was ousted. Unlike Niger and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali, which have each had two coups apiece since 2020 and are being overrun by extremist violence, Gabon was seen as relatively stable.


However, Bongo’s family has been accused of endemic corruption and not letting the country’s oil wealth trickle down to the population of some 2 million people.


Bongo, 64, has served two terms since coming to power in 2009 after the death of his father, who ruled the country for 41 years, and there has been widespread discontent with his reign. Another group of mutinous soldiers attempted a coup in 2019 but was quickly overpowered.


The Bongo dynasty and those associated with it through family ties have permeated state institutions and key economic activities, and it will be extremely difficult to undercut their influence, said Maja Bovcon, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.


“It is a question of whether the coup indeed ended the Bongo family rule or if we are simply witnessing another power struggle between different factions within the family,” she said.


Bongo hasn’t been heard from since a video message circulated hours after he was ousted Wednesday. In the video, he said he was being held in his residence in the capital, Libreville. He appealed to the international community and Gabonese citizens to “make noise.”


Mark Pursey, the chief executive officer of BTP Advisers, a communications firm that helped the president with polling before the elections, said after the video came out that people’s phones in the residence where Bongo was being held were confiscated and that he hasn’t been able to communicate since then.


Pursey called allegations that the Bongos were behind the coup “nonsense.”


“It’s a ridiculous thing to say. Does anyone really believe that the President Bongo would organize a coup against himself? I think Ossa in a few short sentences has demonstrated why he was not fit to hold the office of president himself,” he said.