The government in Gabon says the “situation is under control” and that rebels there have been arrested after military officers seized state media and announced they had leadership of the country.

The officers declared their dissatisfaction with President Ali Bongo and said they had seized power to “restore democracy” in the Central African nation.

However, government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told French news outlet RFI that defense forces have now taken back control of state TV and radio.

“It seems it was a group of troublemakers because military officials say they weren’t aware of this group,” Mapangou said, adding that four have been arrested and that a fifth is “on the run.”

What happened?

In a video which circulated on social media appearing to show the events, several officers stood in a radio studio dressed in military fatigues.

A man, who described himself as commander of the Republican Guard and president of the Patriotic Movement of the young security forces of Gabon, said in a lengthy statement that there has been a decline in the President’s health and in his presidential capacities. He said, as two men dressed as officers stood behind him with guns, that the Patriotic Movement would preserve the integrity of the nation.

The officer said it was disappointed by Bongo’s message on December 31 from Morocco where he is recovering from a stroke. Bongo has been battling ill health since October and acknowledged the speculation about his health during his New Year’s speech while reiterating that he was recovering.

African Union’s Commission chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said the AU totally rejects “all unconstitutional change of power.”

Disputed election

Bongo was sworn in as president of Gabon for his second seven-year term in 2016, after a disputed election, that was followed by protests that turned deadly. Bongo’s re-election extended his family’s half-century rule over the oil-rich nation of 2 million.

After a court validated the election results, Bongo’s challenger at the time called the decision “biased” for “pointedly ignoring the urgent calls for transparency launched by the national and international community.”

Bongo casts his vote at a polling station during the presidential election on August 27, 2016 in Libreville.
Bongo casts his vote at a polling station during the presidential election on August 27, 2016 in Libreville.

The French Embassy in Gabon’s capital Libreville said on Monday that it was closed and urged citizens to avoid moving around the Central African nation.

The German Foreign Office also urged travelers to restrict movements, avoid crowds and stay in secure accommodation. “On the morning of January 7, 2019, clashes took place and shots were fired in the capital, Libreville,” it said in a statement. “Military vehicles block roads; shops and banks in the city have initially remained closed.”

Long-time rule

Bongo’s family has ruled Gabon for more than five decades.

Ali took over from his father, Omar Bongo, who died of cardiac arrest while receiving treatment for intestinal cancer in a Spanish clinic in 2009, following 42 years in office.

The elder Bongo came into power in 1967, seven years after the country’s independence from France.

He ruled over the small nation with an iron fist, imposing a one-party system for years and only allowing multi-party rule in 1991, though his party retained its grip on government.