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Coup in Gabon: Military officers say they have seized power

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

There's been yet another military takeover in Africa - the eighth in three years - this time in Gabon. Early this morning, a group of senior military officials in the Central African country declared on state television that they had seized power. Now, the announcement came shortly after the electoral commission declared that President Ali Bongo Ondimba had won a controversial third term, which the opposition called a sham. The president's whereabouts and condition - not clear, and very few details are emerging out of the country where the internet has been largely cut since the vote on Saturday. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us now from Lagos. Emmanuel, very fast-moving situation. What more can you tell us, though, about what happened last night?

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Yes, exactly. You know, there's celebrations of hundreds of people in the capital, Libreville, out in the streets, you know, hugging soldiers. In the last few minutes, soldiers have actually said that the president, Ali Bongo, is under house arrest, along with his family and medical staff. His son has been arrested for treason. And the head of the presidential guard appears to have played a key role. He's been declared president on state TV. That's General Brice Oligui Nguema. And all of this started early this morning with an image we've become used to - you know, soldiers on state television declaring military takeover. But this situation is different to many of the recent coups that have happened in West and Central Africa. And actually, it's different in a way that is probably more troubling for the rest of the region.

You know, the elections in Gabon were problematic in a way that's not too dissimilar to elections we've seen elsewhere. There's been an internet blackout for days, although that's just been restored. And that fed a suspicion that the government was basically cooking the results. You know, there's deep antipathy towards the president, Ali Bongo. He took over from his father in 2009, who himself had been in power for 40 years. And Ali Bongo had installed his son into a key position and was likely to succeed him. So people in Gabon have had - basically have had kleptocratic rule by a single family for a lifetime.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, all of this happened just minutes after the Gabonese election center announced that Bongo had won the election. Probably the timing wasn't an accident.

AKINWOTU: Exactly. You know, the polls this time, like previous ones, had several problems. International observers were prevented from monitoring, actually even from entering the country. You know, people reported irregularities. So it was no surprise, really, to see Ali Bongo had won by a huge margin. And many people concluded that the results, in a sense, were its own kind of coup and that this was a stolen mandate.

MARTÍNEZ: It kind of feels like a trend, though, Emmanuel - I mean, latest Niger. I'm wondering, though, Gabon, does it face the same challenges some of those other countries are facing in terms of Islamist insurgencies and things like that?

AKINWOTU: Well, the situation in Gabon is different. There's no threat of armed groups like in the Sahel and West Africa. Dynamics behind the coup in Niger last month are different to the dynamics in Gabon. But the crisis of trust in government, you know, that people in Gabon feel are going to resonate across all the former French colonies in West and Central Africa that have had coups, and maybe even more so in countries like Cameroon and Togo that haven't had coups yet. And, you know, these are countries that have been ruled by one family since independence, basically. And Gabon has vast oil reserves, but 40% unemployment. And, you know, this is a region with many young people but very, very few opportunities.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Emmanuel Akinkuotu in Lagos. Thanks a lot.

AKINWOTU: Thanks very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAD LAWSON'S "LOVE IS THE FLOWER OF LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.