Gabon Government Says It Quashed Coup by Army Mutineers

(Bloomberg) -- Gabonese authorities said they put down an attempted coup by a group of mutineering soldiers who’d seized control of the national broadcaster and vowed to “save a democracy in danger.”

Communications Minister Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told Radio France Internationale on Monday that order had been restored, and the capital, Libreville, was largely quiet. His statement came hours after army Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly read a statement on state TV saying young army officers were disappointed with a speech by President Ali Bongo on Dec. 31 that he broadcast from Morocco, where he’s been convalescing for two months after a stroke.

Gabon Government Says It Quashed Coup by Army Mutineers

“While he attempted to quickly end the debate on his health, the speech only reinforced doubts about his capacity to handle the heavy responsibilities that come with the position of president of the republic,’’ Kelly said. That’s why the Patriotic Movement of Young Defense and Security Forces decided “to take its responsibility to finally defeat all these maneuvers that are under way to confiscate power,” in an apparent reference to senior Gabonese officials who are running state institutions in Bongo’s absence.

Yields on the nation’s $1.5 billion of sinkable bonds due 2024 jumped as much as 56 basis points before paring the rise to end little changed at 8.36 percent on Monday.

Oil-dependent Gabon is the second-smallest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. While a majority of the population of less than 2 million lives in poverty, the Bongo family is among the wealthiest in central Africa, according to a French government probe that resulted in the seizure of real-estate assets in Paris in 2016.

The movement urged army officers to seize weapons and ammunition and join the group, and called on all Gabonese to “take control of the streets” and “save Gabon from chaos.” At least five soldiers, including Kelly, were arrested because of their suspected involvement in the coup attempt, RFI reported.

The events indicate a split within the Republican Guard, the security forces closest to the president, said Anaclet Bissielou, a sociology professor at the Omar Bongo University and a member of the opposition. The chaos the mutineers managed to create in Libreville on Monday “suggests that there are more people behind this than the five soldiers the government says it has arrested,” he said.

Helicopters circled overheard in the capital and gunfire rang out across the capital, Libreville, on Monday morning, prompting most residents to stay indoors. The internet and mobile-phone lines were cut a few hours after the coup announcement.

Bongo has only appeared in public twice since he was rushed to the hospital while attending an investment conference in Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24. He has been in power since elections that were held months after the 2009 death in office of his father, Omar Bongo, who was at the time the world’s longest-serving president.

Bongo’s prolonged absence is likely to spark new waves of civil unrest over the coming months, Maja Bovcon, senior Africa analyst at U.K.-based risk-advisory company Verisk Maplecroft, said in an emailed note.

“The current situation is untenable and the government and the security forces will struggle to maintain the status quo for much longer,” she said. The presence of French and U.S. troops in the country offers some protection against the spread of violent protests, though are unlikely to intervene to preserve Bongo’s rule, given the criticism by both governments of Bongo’s disputed re-election in 2016, Bovcon said.

The 2016 presidential vote was marred by a violent police crackdown as opposition supporters protested election results that few considered plausible, leaving scores of people dead. Bongo defeated his main challenger, Jean Ping, by less than 6,000 ballots due to a voter turnout of 99 percent in Bongo’s home province. European Union observers criticized the elections for lacking transparency and the French government called for a recount.

Former colonial ruler France, which has a military base in the central African nation, condemned the coup attempt. “The stability of Gabon can only be assured by a strict respect of the constitution,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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