Gabon says it has put down an apparent coup attempt after armed soldiers seized a state radio station early Monday morning and broadcast a statement declaring the nation was under their control and that a new leader would be chosen.
But within hours, government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou announced the coup had failed, saying, “The situation is under control.”
In an interview with French broadcaster RFI, Mapangou said several leaders of the attempted coup had been arrested.
The declaration of a coup was broadcast from Libreville, capital of the West African nation, in a radio address that was also shared in an online video. It featured a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Kelly Ondo Obiang, a commander in the Republican Guard and leader of the Patriotic Movement of the Defense and Security Forces of Gabon.
The incident set off confusion in and outside of Gabon, coming as ailing President Ali Bongo Ondimba — whose family has run the oil-rich country since the 1960s — continues a lengthy recovery in Morocco.
In the video, “the soldier says a new year’s message from President Ali Bongo Ondimba, which was meant to end the debate about his health after a suspected stroke, has rather reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue running the country,” NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports. “Ondo Obiang also made what appears to be a reference to deadly violence after Bongo’s disputed election win in 2016, saying this apparent power grab is in protest at those who assassinated our young compatriots in a cowardly fashion in August 2016.”
As he spoke, Ondo Obiang was bracketed by two fellow soldiers who held assault rifles and gave emphatic nods of agreement during his nearly six-minute address.
Calling on Gabon’s citizens to support the coup, Ondo Obiang said, “If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbors, in all the provinces, all the cities, all the villages — rise up as one and take control of the street.”
The soldier said a “restoration council” would work to bring democracy back to Gabon.
But the government quickly overcame the coup attempt; France 24 cites Mapangou as saying that four of five mutineers have been arrested, and that the fifth person is on the run.
Gabon has been in a deepening political crisis since late October, when reports emerged that Bongo, 59, was being treated for an illness in Saudi Arabia. After spending weeks in that country, he moved to Morocco, in a process that’s been veiled in secrecy.
During Bongo’s extended absence, new powers were granted to Gabon’s vice president, Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou. But those actions drew criticism from those who noted the country’s constitution requires new elections within 45 days of vacancy due to a president’s resignation or health.
As Monday’s coup attempt played out, African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat issued a statement saying the African Union “strongly condemns the coup attempt this morning in Gabon. I reaffirm the AU’s total rejection of all unconstitutional change of power.”