Ali Bongo's illness, the contagion effect of other recent successful coups, and power struggles within the palace are factors responsible for the recent coup in Gabon.
Its origins date back to when deposed president Ali Bongo Ondimba was the victim of a stroke in 2018.
The political crisis caused by Mr. Bongo's illness and the opaque manner in which he continued to hold the reins of power through members of his close family during his convalescence created tensions within power circles.
On the one hand, there were the critics who demanded his resignation and sought to end the Bongo dynasty's hold on power in the oil-rich Central African country. These critiques are largely responsible for the emergence ofAlbert Ondo Ossa as the consensus opposition candidate in the 2023 presidential election.
On the other side, we find the faithful members of the Gabonese Democratic Party, the ruling party. This party was founded by the former president Omar Bongo, who ruled the country from 1967 to 2009. In this group were party members who continued to play an institutional charade of meetings of government members and blindly approved laws that masked the disturbing absence and incapacity by Ali Bongo.
The group also includes powerful clan members within the Bongo dynasty who are vying for positions and wealth amid uncertainty over Ali Bongo's health.
I believe that the corrupt dynastic oil-rent regime that ruled Gabon for the last half-century ended due to a combination of three factors. These are Ali Bongo's illness, the contagion effect of other recent successful coups in Africa, and the power struggle between General Brice Oligui Nguema (the leader of the coup , who would be Ali Bongo's distant cousin) and Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, Ali Bongo's wife. The former first lady is reportedly preparing her son, Noureddine Bongo, to succeed his father.
Factors favoring the coup
Before the coup, there was little hope that Ali Bongo Ondimba would lose his third attempt at re-election.
His party held more than 80% seats in parliament, controlled regional and municipal councils, and had control over the courts and the state security apparatus.
Ali Bongo would have won 64,27% votes cast in the election, which the opposition described as a sham. According to the body in charge of the elections, Ali Bongo's main opponent, Albert Ondo Ossa, came in second place with 30,77%. This was before the military intervened.
One of the factors that encouraged military intervention in Gabon is the contagion effect of recent successful coups in Africa. A series of coups d'état in Mali (2020), Chad (2021), Guinea (2021), Burkina Faso (2022) and Niger (2022) appear to have demonstrated to the Gabonese military that a coup d'état successful was not only possible, but also acceptable.
After the coup, crowds came out in Libreville and dance in the streets.
The second factor is struggle for power between the leader of the coup, Nguema, and Sylvia Bongo. The ousted president's wife reportedly gained influence after her husband's stroke in 2018. Nguema was relieved of his duties as the president's security chief.
If it is true that Sylvia was preparing her son to succeed his father, Noureddine would have been the third generation of the Bongo family to rule Gabon. Ali Bongo has succeeded to his father in 2009.
The path to follow
Before the August 30 coup, the only thing that seemed to unite Gabon's many opposition parties (which barely managed to coalesce around a common candidate nine days before the August 26 vote) was the desire to remove Ali Bongo from office.
Now that a coup appears to have succeeded, it will be difficult for Albert Ondo Ossa to take office.
Given what appears to be the will of France and the United States to accept this palace revolution, the only question is whether Nguema will lead a transition to civilian rule, hold elections, refuse to run, or become the next member of the Bongo clan to govern.