An apparent coup in Gabon has U.S. officials “deeply concerned,” a State Department release said Wednesday evening.
A group of military officers claimed they had taken over the West African country’s government and placed its president under house arrest early Wednesday, overthrowing 55 years of rule by President Ali Bongo Ondimba and his late father.
A “transitional committee” set up by the military is led by Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, Bongo’s cousin. Bongo was elected to another term on Wednesday, hours before the mutiny.
“The United States is deeply concerned by evolving events in Gabon. We remain strongly opposed to military seizures or unconstitutional transfers of power,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday night. “We urge those responsible to release and ensure the safety of members of government and their families and to preserve civilian rule.”
The statement also noted concerns over “the lack of transparency and reports of irregularities surrounding the election.”
Crowds in the capital of Libreville – an opposition stronghold – celebrated the coup as Bongo’s reign faced widespread discontent. The country’s oil riches are often kept by a small group of wealthy citizens, with as many as 40 percent of the county unemployed in 2020, according to the World Bank.
A similar mutiny attempt by military officers in 2019 was overpowered by the government.
A spokesman for the new government said “unpredictable, irresponsible governance” risked leading the country into chaos. In a later statement, the coup leaders said people around the president had been arrested for “high betrayal of state institutions, massive embezzlement of public funds (and) international financial embezzlement.”
Nine members of Bongo’s family are under criminal investigation in France for embezzlement and money laundering.
The country’s largest airport and port both stopped activity Wednesday, according to reports.
Both the United Nations Secretary General and France, the county’s former colonizer, have condemned the government takeover. “France condemns the military coup that is underway in Gabon and is closely monitoring developments,”
French government spokesperson, Olivier Veran, said Wednesday.
The coup comes just a month after a military takeover in Niger, where a military junta overthrew a democratic government. National Security Council John Kirby said it’s too early to say whether Gabon is part of a “domino effect” of military takeovers on the continent.
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, however, did go that far, saying there is a “contagion of autocracy we are seeing spread across our continent,”
The statement said he is conferring with other heads of state and the African Union, whose commission condemned the coup and called for a return to “democratic constitutional order.”