“There can be virtuous military coups”

“There can be virtuous military coups”

Less than a week after overthrowing Ali Bongo’s regime, General Oligui was sworn in as Gabon’s new transitional head of state.

I swear before God and the Gabonese people to faithfully preserve the republican regime”, “to preserve the achievements of democracy”, Brigadier General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema in the red ceremonial costume of the Republican Guard (GR), the elite unit of the army that he commanded, declared in particular before judges of the Constitutional Court.

Putschist soldiers announced on August 30 the “end of the regime” of Ali Bongo Ondimba, who had ruled Gabon for 14 years (after 41 years in power of his father Omar Bongo), less than an hour after the proclamation of his re-election during the August 26 election, believing that it had been faked. The next day, they proclaimed General Oligui president of a Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI).

During this swearing-in, the new man of Gabon, a man of the seraglio who has family ties with the Bongo clan, spoke of the overthrow of power after truncated elections, explaining: “The defense and security forces had a double choice: either kill Gabonese people who had legitimately demonstrated, or put an end to a clearly rigged electoral process (…) It was with complete freedom and responsibility that we said no, never again in our beautiful country Gabon”.

From Jerry Rawlings to Charles de Gaulle

In the process, General Oligui echoed the words of the Anglican archbishop and slayer of apartheid Desmond Tutu (“If you are neutral in the face of a situation of injustice, it is because you have chosen to be on the side of the oppressor”) or one of his predecessors, author of a coup d’état in Ghana, Jerry John Rawling (“When the people are crushed by their leaders with the complicity of the judges, it is the army which gives them back their freedom and dignity). and, without batting an eyelid, like a soothing wink to France, he also appealed to Charles de Gaulle (“We, the defense and security forces, have chosen to be on the side of the people and freedom”). In the process, he announced the holding of a constitutional referendum, the need to reform the electoral code and the establishment of a “reliable penal code which guarantees everyone the same opportunities. Our country Gabon deserves strong, credible institutions, healthier governance more in line with international standards in terms of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, the rule of law (…).” No timetable has been mentioned to envisage the return of power in the hands of a legitimately and democratically elected power.

Gabon is not Niger”

Despite the calming messages launched by the new power in place, the coup was condemned – weakly – by the international community. “Impossible to let a coup pass without at least frowning”, explains, all smiles, an African diplomat who continues. “But it must be recognized that the Bongo system had become impossible to defend, especially since the stroke suffered by the President of the Republic in 2018.”

The man was terribly weakened. The image he projected was very frowned upon by the Gabonese. explains Frédéric Lejeal, author of Franco-African decline, the impossible break with the colonial pact*. He speaks of a “palace revolution against the Bongo family” and insists on “the result of the elections which pushed the military to come out of the woods in the face of the tampering at the ballot boxes. No one has forgotten the violence which surrounded the proclamation of the results of the presidential election in 2016. We can say that in the contemporary history of Gabon, there has not been a single vote which was not tainted by fraud.”

In this context of “bankruptcy of a system and a worn-out dynasty”according to the Central African diplomat, “the military coup was predictable and it had to happen quickly. If anger threw the Gabonese into the streets, the soldiers would have been murderers or exiles. By acting so quickly, they avoided a bloodbath”, continues the diplomat. Frédéric Lejeal does not hesitate: “We can say, I assume, that there are sometimes virtuous coups d’état”. The Françafrique specialist explains: “Everything obviously depends on the personality who emerges from this putsch. There are obviously soldiers who are tempted to retain power. But there are also great men, I am thinking in particular of Jerry Rawlings in Ghana or Obasanjo in Nigeria. Men who took power, who then exchanged military uniform for civilian clothing and who did enormous good for their country.”

French ambiguity in Africa

The Gabonese military coup obviously has few elements in common with what happened in Niger or more generally in the Sahel. A region where France, a former metropolis, is stigmatized for its failure in the face of increasing insecurity and the jihadist surge. “In Gabon, it is first and foremost a Gabonese affair. A cry of revolt. The United States quickly understood this and preferred to wait before condemning the coup.”, explains Frédéric Lejeal. “What is surprising is to see that Washington now seems to know this region of Africa better than Paris, which seems disoriented and which did not see anything coming in the Sahel or even Gabon. continues the diplomat who highlights the “rapid condemnation of this coup d’état. Today, we see that Paris has completely accepted the situation, that the military has given guarantees that it was not an anti-French movement pushed behind the back by Russia. As a result, Paris once again finds itself in a very uncomfortable situation in West Africa.. “One more demonstration that France is increasingly cutting itself off from Africa. She lost her knowledge of the terrain. For French diplomats, Africa has become a blemish on a CV apart from posts like South Africa, Senegal or Ethiopia. concludes Frédéric Lejeal.

* Ed. L’Harmattan.