Military Coup in Gabon August 2023

Summary of Military Coup in Gabon

In the early hours of 30 August, the Gabonese Election Centre (CGE) announced that President Ali Bongo had won a third term in office, having received 64.27 percent vote share in Saturday’s general election. However, just after 05:00 local time, a group of senior officers from the Gabonese military announced on television channel, Gabon 24, that they had seized power with the full support of the Gabonese security and defence forces.​

Introducing themselves as members of The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions, the officials stated that the election results were cancelled, all borders were closed until further notice and state institutions – the government, the senate, the national assembly, the constitutional court and the election body – were dissolved. ​

Following the announcement, domestic and regional sources reported gunfire could be heard in the capital Libreville. However, as the day progressed, the streets appeared calm, and crowds of  citizens peacefully took to the streets. Videos circulating on social media showed multiple instances of people celebrating and cheering, often in close proximity to the country’s armed forces. So far, there has been no signs of widespread protest or alarm. Several hours after the officers’ announcement, internet access also appeared to be restored for the first time since Saturday’s vote. ​

The Gabonese government has yet to make an official statement, with President Bongo reportedly under house arrest, surrounded by his family and doctors.​

Potential for Political Unrest in Gabon

Ahead of the coup, there was significant concern over potential unrest following Saturday’s presidential, parliamentary and legislative elections that the opposition alleged were plagued by fraud. Questions over the election’s transparency were re-enforced by the lack of international observers, the suspension of foreign media broadcasts, the decision to cut internet service, and the imposing of a nationwide curfew.​

President Ali Bongo and his father, Omar Bongo, have ruled Gabon since 1967, but frustrations with the political dynasty had been growing for several years ahead of Saturday’s election. The Central African nation is a major oil producer, so much so that it is a member of OPEC, as well as being a major exporter of uranium and magnesium. Indeed, the country is home to over one-quarter of the world’s proven magnesium reserves. However, Bongo has done little to channel its oil and other wealth towards the population of some 2.3 million people, a third of whom live in poverty. ​

This is also not the first attempt in recent history to overthrow Bongo as in January 2019 he and the Gabonese government were able to foil an attempted military coup after soldiers briefly seized the state radio station and broadcasted a message saying Bongo, who had suffered a stroke months earlier, was no longer fit for office.

Find further analysis on political instability in West Africa

Situation Analysis by Solace Global

The strength of Gabon’s extractive-based economy means that it is Africa’s third most wealthy country by GDP per capita. However, with large swathes of the country still living in poverty, it is highly likely that the state has failed to transfer much of this wealth to ordinary citizens. It is likely that economic disparities have been one of the major triggers for the coup. This is likely supported by the lack of public resistance and the fact that celebrations have been seen on the streets of Libreville and other major population centres across the country.​

Furthermore, the coup has yet to be characterised by anti-French rhetoric in a similar vein to the recent West and Central African coups in countries like Niger and Mali. However, the coup is almost certainly another problem for Paris in Africa, with multiple French companies operating in the country. Unlike the other coups in Africa, it is doubtful that the Gabonese coup leaders will seek Russian support in favour of maintaining Western relations. Gabon has traditionally had weak ties with Russia and unlike much of Africa, has not been threatened with major insurgencies and security issues. Moreover, Gabon was one of the countries in Africa that voted against Russia at the United Nations in the 2022 resolution on Ukraine.​

Economically, the coup is almost certainly going to lead to price volatility in global oil and magnesium markets. Gabon has strong economic links with both France, and increasingly with China, and it is a major exporter of commodities to these nations. Reports indicate that some foreign companies like the French mining company, Eramet, have already suspended operations in Gabon in response to the coup. It is therefore highly likely that both France and China will be looking for the political situation to be resolved quickly, and there is a realistic possibility of diplomatic involvement from both Paris and Beijing. ​

In the immediate future, it is unlikely that any major protests or armed clashes will break out as the Gabonese security forces are seemingly onside, and most indications suggest the public is too. The turning on of the internet was likely a move to win over the public as well as signal a different approach to governance than the Bongo regime. However, this also presents an increased potential for demonstrations and protests, both in favour and against the coup, to occur as information is spread on social media. There is a realistic possibility of sustained demonstrations which will likely lead to disruption in major population hubs. Borders will likely remain closed for upcoming days, but if scenes remain calm, borders are likely to reopen quicker than seen in Niger and Mali.

Advice for travellers affected in Gabon

  • Although the coup appears to be relatively peaceful, widespread unrest and violence could ignite at any time. Travellers should avoid all ongoing military activity and any large public gatherings as the security situation may deteriorate quickly and without warning.​
  • In the event of significant security development, travellers in Gabon should follow any instructions issued by the government or military authorities. If a curfew is declared it is vital to abide by the curfew rules to avoid any conflicts with security forces.​
  • If violence escalates inside the capital, consider departing from Libreville whilst commercial options are still available. ​
  • Key military and political infrastructure inside the capital are very likely to remain focal points for violence and demonstrations. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice from the local security authorities.​
  • Expect significant travel disruption and an enhanced security force posture inside Libreville in the short-term. Should any opposition movement to the coup materialise, it is likely that flights will be suspended, and roadblocks or vehicle checkpoints will be established.​
  • Always follow all instructions and orders from security forces. ​Where possible, avoid areas of active conflict and remain inside a secure location away from windows. 
  • Ensure that you always carry personal identification documents. Consider making photocopies of important documents in case of confiscation, theft or loss and keep these documents separated from the originals.​​​
  • Emergency services may be unable to support you in the short-term. Be aware of what consular support may be available to you in-country. Many countries do not provide direct consular support in Gabon. The UK’s consular services for Gabon are based in Yaoundé, Cameroon.​
  • Have emergency contact numbers saved on your phone. These should include the local authorities, medical facilities and any consular support. Ensure that mobile phones are charged in case of any losses in electricity.​
  • If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek shelter immediately and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place. ​
  • Monitor the Solace Secure platform and trusted local media for updates relevant to the coup. 

Attempted coup in Niger July 2023

Summary of Attempted Coup in Niger

On the morning of 26 July, multiple domestic and regional sources reported that a potential coup was underway in Niamey, Niger. Early indications suggested that the Presidential Guard had blocked the entrance to the Presidential Palace, and detained President Mohamed Bazoum. Concurrently, government ministries next to the palace were blockaded, with those inside, including the Minister of the Interior, detained.

By early afternoon, the Niger Armed Forces (FAN) and National Guard had both deployed in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace. The FAN and the Presidential office both released statements asserting that the ongoing coup attempt was being driven by “anti-republican” elements and gave the Presidential Guard an “ultimatum” to stand down and release President Bazoum, or face being attacked. Unverified social media reports have subsequently described armoured FAN columns entering Niamey. Further unverified reports later emerged of roadblocks appearing across the city.

The conditions in Niamey remained calm initially, however, as the situation developed businesses were reputedly told to close and residents were ordered to stay at home. Operations at Diori Hamani International Airport currently remain unaffected, with flight tracking data showing that both inbound and outbound flights were operating as normal.

Recent Instability in Western Africa

Since 2020, several coups have taken place across the Sahel region, most notably in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso. The key driver for instability has been the inability of central governments to guarantee internal security from a myriad of insurgencies and terrorist actors. Niger has been increasingly afflicted by the instability affecting the wider region. In the southeast, Niger is battling incursions from Boko Haram and in the west of the country, the government is attempting to contain threats from Islamic State’s Sahel Province.
Due to the external and internal threats posed by these actors, Niger has become a major operating base for Western nations in the region. Indeed, both France and the USA utilise the country as a base for operations in the wider Sahel.
This relationship has grown in significance for Western governments as relations with other states in the region, such as Mali and Burkina Faso, have broken down in the wake of their own respective coups, leading to the expulsion of French forces.

Further strengthening this relationship is the fact that Niger’s President was democratically elected in 2021 and is one of the region’s few remaining democratically elected heads of state. However, in February 2023 protests erupted in the capital, Niamey, with demonstrators expressing their dissatisfaction with a sustained French military presence in the country, with many believing that the foreign presence was either ineffective or had exacerbated security concerns.

Find further analysis on political instability in West Africa

Situation Analysis by Solace Global

At the time of writing, there has been no official statement from Presidential Guard. However, given the recent regional trends, it is highly likely that this attempted coup has transpired due to concerns regarding the deteriorating security of Niger.

This is further evidenced by the fact that the Presidential Guard has also apprehended the Minister of the Interior, who is the person ultimately responsible for policing and internal security in Niger. The recent uptick in attacks near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali likely provided the catalyst for the current situation.

As the situation develops, it is almost certain that key transport routes and critical locations across Niamey will be seized by rival forces. This will include Niamey’s key river crossings, which connect the main part of the city on the eastern bank of the Niger River to its western parts, the international airport, and state TV and radio offices. At the time of writing, it is believed that President Mohamed Bazoum remains in detention.

The success of the ongoing attempted coup remains to be seen. Initial signs suggest that the FAN and National Guard have remained loyal to President Bazoum and are willing to fight. If this remains the case, it is unlikely that the coup succeeds due to the disparity in military firepower between the two sides. This result would ultimately see the Presidential Guard purged.

However, should the coup succeed, civil unrest, both in favour and against, will highly likely occur. A transitional military council will likely take over the government and immediately revise the stationing of foreign militaries in Niger. The removal of the last remaining Western forces in the region will likely create a security vacuum, that will almost certainly benefit the insurgencies and terrorist groups in Niger and the wider region.

Election violence in Kenya

Situation Summary of Election Violence in Kenya

On 15 August, violence erupted at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had been scheduled to release the results of the Kenyan general election. Live footage from the venue showed physical altercations breaking out between attendees, with military
personnel intervening to break up the violence.

Earlier on 15 August the IEBC had announced a delay in releasing the results, although did not specify a reason for the delay. Separately, four commissioners of the IEBC held a press conference at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi, in which they stated that they could not “take ownership of the results” due to concerns over their opaqueness. As the violent scenes emerged and news broke of the division within the IEBC, it
was announced that riot police across the country had been placed on standby, with Kenya’s highest bishop calling for calm and peace to prevail.

In the days since the 9 August election, the IEBC has been verifying the vote tallies provided by the country’s polling stations. In this interim period, both main presidential candidates have alluded to voting irregularities and of fighting the result in courts. Meanwhile, the delay between voting and the announcement of a result had only led to further speculation and disinformation around the legitimacy
of the vote.
Around 20 minutes after the initial chaotic scenes at the Bomas of Kenya, and despite four of the seven IEBC commissioners stating they could not back the results, the IEBC announced that William Ruto had won the election with 7,176,141 votes – amounting to 50.49 percent of the total valid votes. The pre-election favourite, Raila Odinga, received 6,942,930 votes – representing 48.85 percent of the votes cast.

Solace Global Comment

In 2007, post election violence resulted in more than 1,500 civilian deaths, whilst in 2017 at least fifty were killed and the election result was seen as so contentious that the country’s Supreme court ruled the vote should be re-run. Odinga has run for president on five occasions and has lost each time he has run.
He has also disputed the final election result following each loss, which set the conditions of suspicion and mistrust, and ultimately precipitated previous outbreaks of post-election violence. Given that Odinga was seen as the favourite to win the Presidency during the 2022 election, the closeness of the declared result and the inconsistency from the IEBC on 15 August, it is highly likely that he will once more
attempt to contest the election results.

Regardless of whether Odinga officially disputes the result, it is highly likely that his supporters will rally against the result. Any such unrest is highly likely to become violent. The city of Kisumu, which is home to a large pro-Odinga voting bloc, has already begun to see protests break out against alleged vote rigging, whilst in the Kibera area of Nairobi there are reports that riots have begun to break out. Further
unrest is likely to remain centred on the political centres of gravity in Nairobi, with the State House, Central Business District, and Serena Hotel all probable areas of unrest in the short term.

It is noteworthy that this was the first election in which there was no candidate from Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu. As a result, if election violence and unrest begins to spread across the country, there is a realistic possibility that it will avoid the traditional split along ethnic and tribal lines. Consequently, post-election violence may occur more widely across Kenya, as it would not be centred on tribal population centres, although it may be less extreme than levels observed during previous elections in which a Kikuyu candidate was participating.

Solace Global Advice

• Widespread unrest and violence remains possible in the short term. Travellers should avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may escalate quickly and without warning. Immediately vacate the area if caught in unrest.
• In the event of a significant security development, travellers in Kenya should follow any instructions issued by the Kenyan government or local authorities.
• Areas where political figures are known to gather are likely to be focal points for political activism and unrest, especially sites associated with the Presidential office or known protest hotspots. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice from the local security authorities.
• Expect localised travel disruption and an enhanced security force posture in the short-term. Allow for additional time when travelling in-country, as protest action and increased security force presence may result in road closures or blockades.
• Ensure that you always carry personal identification documents. Consider making photocopies of important documents in case of confiscation, theft or loss.​

• Make sure you are familiar with contact details for the emergency services in Kenya – dial 999 / 112 / 911 to request police, medical assistance or fire brigade.
• Exercise increased caution, remain vigilant, be aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious activity to security personnel as soon as possible.
• If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek shelter immediately and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place.
• Report any suspicious items and behaviours to the nearest security or police officials.
• Monitor the Solace Secure platform and local media for updates.

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