Gabon Coup: An indication of a nation gripped by uncertainty

“Gabon on (very dangerous) automatic pilot,” a now banned opposition newspaper headlined early in November
Gabonese soldiers stand in front of the headquarters of the national broadcaster Radiodiffusion Television Gabonaise (RTG) in Libreville on January 7, 2019 after a group of soldiers sought to take power in Gabon while the country’s ailing president was abroad. – Soldiers burst into state radio offices at dawn and called on the public to “rise up”, an appeal made as President Ali Bongo remained in Morocco after suffering a stroke last year. The chief military rebel who led a thwarted coup has been arrested and two of his commandos killed after they stormed into a public radio station, the presidency said. (Photo by Steve JORDAN / AFP)

Although some level of calm has returned to the Gabonese capital Libreville, it has left several questions on the lips and desires in the hearts of residents.

The coup attempt on Monday could have been prompted by the near deafening silence in government since President Ali bongo suffered a stroke in October while visiting Saudi Arabia. Questions continue to be raised concerning his state of health and his lengthening absence.

The brief attempt on power has prompted many to ponder the flux gripping a country where political change has been negligible for more than half a century.

Gabon has been without effective government since October, when President Ali Bongo suffered a stroke while visiting Saudi Arabia.

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Bongo, 59, is the son of Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

In the kingdom of “kongossa” — gossip in local slang — tongues have wagged over the lack of detailed information about Bongo’s health.

The head of state has been flown to Morocco where he recorded a New Year’s Eve address marked by slurred words and a squint that critics said raised even more alarming questions about his health.

In his lengthening absence, a small group of soldiers stormed the state broadcasting headquarters in the capital on Monday and went on the air urging the Gabonese people to “rise up.”

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The coup attempt turned out to be short lived. Security forces attacked the building and arrested the leader, killed two and freed radio technicians and journalists who had been held hostage.

The army was deployed in the capital and armoured vehicles patrolled the streets, but on Tuesday most shops and restaurants were open and the seafront avenue, where the broadcasting centre is located, reopened to traffic.

The internet, which had been cut, was restored, although the round-the-clock state-run news channel Gabon 24 was off the air.

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