Military officers in Gabon seized power on Wednesday, putting President Ali Bongo under house arrest, shortly after the Central African state's election body announced he had won a third term.
Nicolas van de Walle is a professor of government with special focus on the democratization of Africa; and the politics of economic reform. He notes the coup is surprising given that Gabon has been a stable civilian dictatorship since independence, with firm control over the military.
Van de Walle says:
“Will this coup undermine the progression of democracy in Gabon? That seems unclear at present. The Bongo family stranglehold on the country’s political institutions has hardly promoted democratic rule despite regular elections in recent years. It has been characterized by egregious corruption benefiting the ruling family, and remarkably little economic development for a country with substantial oil revenues.
“Still, the international community has unanimously condemned the coup. France has forcefully argued the military should return to the barracks and respect the results of the last election, which Ali Bongo officially won amidst allegations of massive fraud. On the other hand, the coup leaders have argued their action was motivated by their rejection of the last election as fraudulent, and many of the people protesting in the streets of Libreville seem to think the Coup advances the prospects for democracy.
“It will be important in the coming weeks for the international community to put pressure on the coup leaders to state clearly their commitment of a transition to elected civilian rule. If they do that, it is certainly possible that getting rid of the Bongo dictatorship will prove to be a step in the right direction.”