By Mariama Diallo
The new leader of Gabon’s junta is due to be sworn in as president of the central African republic on Monday, but the opposition is asking for power to be handed over to civilians.
Gabon is the latest country to fall into the hands of a military junta, adding to a record-setting eight coups in three years in sub–Saharan Africa.
While the coups bear some similarities, this latest one has notable differences, according to Sean McFate, professor at the National Defense University.
“The major difference is that Gabon is close to Paris unlike, say, Mali or Burkina Faso where there is a lot of anti-French sentiment in the population and in the government,” McFate said. “Another thing that is different is that the president really isn’t … it’s questionable about the validity of his elections. You’ve had one ruling family there since 1967.”
The military junta, under the leadership of Brice Oligui Nguema, annulled last week’s election results that would have handed a third term to President Ali Bongo, who’s under house arrest.
“This is not the Niger coup, where you have a democratically elected president who has been removed in a scenario that appears that the coup makers were advancing personal interest rather than national interest,” said Kwaku Nuamah, a senior lecturer at American University’s School of International Studies. “In the Gabonese case, you have someone whose family has dominated the country, for a long time has misruled and is not popular.”
Bongo’s family has been in power for 56 years in the manganese, timber, and oil-rich central African country of Gabon.
Some of the countries bordering Gabon, including Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo, have some of the longest-sitting presidents on the continent.
“There is a likelihood we can see contagion in other places where the military has to step in to remove long-serving civilian rulers who are under performing. That’s the danger,” Nuamah said.
The African Union suspended Gabon’s membership on Thursday. The Economic Community of Central African States condemned the coup as well, saying it will convene a special session to discuss this most recent military takeover in the region.
But Nuamah said he hopes the meeting won’t be one of issuing unenforceable ultimatums — which was the case recently with Niger versus the West African economic bloc.
The coup in Gabon was unexpected, he said, but given the past three years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“It appears as if the regional and continental measures for resolving these coups or preventing them are not working. Everybody is watching how ECOWAS handles Niger,” Nuamah said. “Mali has resisted pressures to return to constitutional rule, Burkina Faso, so they look around and see the international community is unable to punish coup makers, so they plan their coups.”
ECOWAS slapped heavy sanctions and gave the Niger junta one week to hand over power or face possible military intervention. But for now, the organization says it’s giving diplomacy a chance.
For McFate, military coups are a dangerous trend for the continent, and he questions the response or lack thereof from some international organizations.
“In the world of international diplomacy, credibility is your only currency and ECOWAS blew it badly,” he said. “Also, where is the United Nations in all of this, where is the African Union? Beyond strongly worded condemnations, they are absent, they are AWOL.”
McFate and Nuamah also say democracy has recently taken a hit in many countries around the world. And while some countries like Niger and Gabon might be temporarily embracing their military juntas, the analysts say it’s no indicator the future will be better.