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Fear grips African leaders due to Gabon coup

The military coup in Gabon has rekindled fear and tension among African leaders, particularly in the countries where democracy or civil rule is still operational.

They are jittery and afraid that the ill wind of coups that seems to be fast engulfing the whole continent of Africa might soon blow towards their countries.

Recall that in the last two and a half years, the continent of Africa has witnessed a resurgence of military coups, particularly in the west and central African sub-regions.

At the last count, no fewer than seven African countries, including Chad, Sudan, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and most recently Gabon, had fallen into the hands of the military juntas through bloodless coups.

It started from Chad in April 2021 and continued to Sudan in October 2021 and Guinea in September 2021. It spread to Mali in May 2021, Burkina Faso in January 2022, Niger in July 2023 and now in Gabon on August 30, 2023.

When President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger was removed and put under house arrest by the leader of the military junta, Adbourahamane Tchiani, African leaders were unsettled, particularly those in West Africa as they quickly condemned the development and made move to restore the ousted Bazoum.

The concern was not restricted to the West African sub-region; continental and international community was equally jolted by the development.

Western countries like France, United States of America and the United Kingdom were spontaneous in their reaction to the Niger coup as they all condemned and rejected the development.

Also, the regional body, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and the continental body, the African Union (AU), equally rejected the coup and suspended Niger as a member state from the two organisations.

But just as the ECOWAS was deploying every arsenal within its disposal, including threat of war in the event that diplomacy failed to restore constitutional democracy in Niger, another coup happened in Gabon.

The Gabonese army officers, under the aegis of the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI) on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, sacked President Ali Bongo, placed him under house arrest and took over power in the oil rich central African country.

Incidentally, the coup took place on the same day Bongo was announced as the winner of the country’s presidential election for a third term. Gabon’s electoral authority had announced that Bongo, believed to be a French ally, whose family has ruled Gabon for 55 years, had won a third term with 64.27 percent of the votes; a development many believe, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Bongo’s three election victories were believed to have been deeply disputed, sometimes, sparking violent nationwide protests. Last week’s election has been decried by the opposition as fraudulent, but Bongo’s team has rejected the allegation of electoral irregularities.

The military officers noted that a serious institutional, political, economic, and social crisis in the country, as well as a flawed presidential poll of August 26, 2023, were some of the factors responsible for the coup, which they stressed was necessary for the progress of Gabon.

Expectedly, the international community has expressed concern as Gabon became the seventh African country to fall to a military coup.

They have equally deplored the wave of military coups in Africa. The United Nations, the European Union, the Commonwealth of Nations, the United States of America, Russia and France, as well as Nigeria’s president, Bola Tinubu, have all reacted, condemning the military putsch in Gabon.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has condemned the coup, saying, “It was not the best way to resolve the post electoral crisis in Gabon.”

His counterpart in the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, also expressed concern over the situation, saying, “The Commonwealth charter is clear that member states must uphold the rule of law and the principles of democracy at all times.”

Also, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, said the EU defence ministers would discuss the situation in Gabon as it would heap more instability in the region.

“The whole area starting with Central African Republic, then Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and now Gabon is a very difficult situation, and certainly, the ministers need to have a deep thought on what is going on there and how we can improve our policy in respect to these countries. This is a big issue for Europe,” he said.

The US, through the White House national security spokesman, John Kirb, said it was closely watching the development in Gabon.

“We are going to watch this closely and we are going to continue to do everything we can to support the idea of democratic ideals that are expressed by the African people,” he stated.

Russia and France were not left out, as the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: “We are deeply concerned about the situation in Gabon. We are closely following what is going on there.”

France said it was equally following with a lot of attention, and reiterated its desire to see the results of the election respected.

The Head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also condemned the coup, describing it as flagrant violation of the legal and political instrument of the AU.

However, even as the international community, regional and continental bodies condemn the military putsch that is fast engulfing the African continent, there are others who warned that more African countries would suffer the same fate sooner or later.

There is a growing opinion in some quarters that the inspiration for the latest coup in Gabon likely came from the Sahel where the spate of coups has been witnessed over the last three years.

Apart from such inspiration or what some people may call the bandwagon effect, analysts have adduced at least three different reasons that are responsible for the growing incidence of coups in Africa.

There is a school of thought that blamed the development on the sit-tight posture of some African leaders.

They argued that a situation where some leaders would hold on to power for over 30 years was no longer fashionable and that soldiers are prepared to correct such injustice through the barrel of a gun.

For instance, in the case of Gabon, the president’s family has been ruling for over 55 years against the popular will of the people.

Again, those who are conversant with international politics would also argue that foreign interference is another major factor that is responsible for the growing coup in Africa.

Those holding on to this view believe that some African leaders have become puppets in the hands of the western capitalist nations, and would do anything, including subjecting their citizens to a life of misery, to serve the interest of their foreign masters.

Throwing his weight behind this argument is a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, who equally agreed that one of the remote causes of the recent coups in Africa is the ruthless exploitation of the mineral resources of the African countries by foreign governments.

Yet, there are others who believe that corruption and rigging of elections by African leaders are the major reasons for the resurgence of coups in Africa.

For instance, the remote and immediate cause of the coups in Niger and Gabon was traced to manipulation of the electoral process as well as corruption in the system.

Former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose has also expressed joy over the development in Gabon, saying a situation where one person would hold on to power for so long was unacceptable. He also reiterated that what the military should do in Gabon is to pave way for a democratic system of government.

He said: “I am very happy with what happened in Gabon. I don’t like military incursions in politics but I want to say that Nigeria is different. We have a reasonably stabilised democracy.

“We have our flaws but you can see the uninterrupted democratic process. After four years, there will be an election. Nigeria has gone from one party to another party and from one person to another person within a space of time.

“But, in a country where one man is spending 30 to 40 years, you have to boot him out of the place in whatever way. The military incursion should pave way for a democratic system in Gabon.”

However, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar argued that as bad as coups are, Africans might have to focus on dealing with the disease instead of the symptoms that give birth to coups.

“The coup in Gabon stands condemned. Democracy and democratic governance have come to stay as a preferred norm of government and everything should be done to enthrone, nurture and sustain it.

“As I suggested in the case of the Niger Republic, the ECOWAS and AU authorities should open a window of diplomatic engagement that will pave the way for the soldiers to return to the barracks.

“The latest coup brings the number of military takeovers in Central and West Africa to eight since 2020. This is worrisome and calls for introspection. We may have to focus on dealing with the disease and not the symptoms that birth coups,” he said.

For the African Director, International Association of World Peace Advocate, Dr. John Metchie, it is becoming clear by the day that there seems to be a deliberate plan by some military and political forces from within and outside the continent to trigger a realignment of governance order in Africa.

He warned that the gladiators must be made to avoid causing social upheavals that would inflame the continent and consume the population especially children, women and the vulnerable.

Metchie, therefore, called on the AU, the ECOWAS and other regional blocs in the continent, to as a matter of urgency, schedule meetings where the burning issues could be tabled with a view to finding peaceful and lasting solutions that would avert destruction.

He identified bad governance, injustice, corruption and refusal of sit-tight leaders to vacate office when due, as some of the reasons for the political instability rocking the continent, saying that Africa must return to the part of true democracy where leaders are elected through credible processes, accountability, justice, transparency and selfless service to the people.

“It has become obvious, or so it seems, that this whole chess game is a deliberate plan by some military and political forces from within and outside the continent to trigger a realignment of governance order in Africa.

“But, even if we can’t help with immediate solution, the gladiators on either sides of the divide must be made to avoid triggering social crises and upheavals that would inflame the continent, worsen the terrible fate, as well as consume the people of Africa, especially children, women and the vulnerable.

“Political chess players bidding for the soul of Africa should appreciate the fact that people of the continent are already worn out with the heavy burden and yoke they bear as they struggle through all forms of deprivations, including but not limited to poverty, diseases, lack of water, toiletries, shelter and decent clothing.

“If the west, Europe, Asia and others cannot help to alleviate the sufferings of the African people, they should also not compound or add to their misery through political adventures, or instigate crises in order to sell or test new weapons of war as that would only worsen the already miserable condition of Africans.

“It is on this note that I call on well-meaning Africans, especially the committee of elders, African Union, ECOWAS and other regional blocs, to as a matter of urgency, call for meetings in order to address the issues leading to these coups.

“In addition, African leaders should begin to purge themselves of leadership of impunity, selfishness, indifference to the feelings of the people, corruption and injustice, among such other adult delinquencies, as ways of earning confidence of the people they govern,” Metchie said.

However, contributing to the discourse, the President of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr. Pogu Bitrus described the development as a reawakening for Africans, especially the francophone countries.

According to him, citizens in the francophone countries have come to the realisation that they cannot allow stooges of France to continue exploiting their economy and controlling them as if they were still colonies and they are breaking loose.

“Many of the so-called democracies in Africa are not really democracies. The powerful and the mighty manipulate elections and stay in power, and they are all extensions of the colonial regime of France.

“The people are saying that they can’t continue like that. They want to control their economy and resources, and so the military coups are happening all over the place.

“The relationship between France and Francophone countries in Africa has been that of ‘Assimilation,’ even right from the colonial days. The British tried and used ‘Indirect Rule’ in the case of Nigeria and other Anglophone African countries, but in the Francophone countries, it was total ‘Assimilation.’

“So, it is happening with the Francophone countries but it doesn’t necessarily mean it might end there. Other countries that are not Francophone might follow suit because when people see democracy as not wholesome and things are not moving fine, the tendency of military coup as the way out is likely to happen,” he stated.

He noted that other African leaders who are not in Francophone countries like Nigeria have every reason to be jittery and concerned, stressing that “when people feel that governance or the so-called democracy is not working as it should and they are not seeing the benefits of democracy, of course, there would be agitations and there could be coups.”

“The truth is that people are becoming more enlightened and because of that, they are beginning to ask question as to whether or not democracies we have are true democratic governance, or they are just moneybag taking over power and dishing out what they feel like, and serving us extension of western countries, whether it is in Gabon, Niger, Mali or any other one that might again happen.

“It is unfortunate but it is a reality that we cannot wish away,” he submitted.

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