On the Coup in Gabon

By Raimi Akegbejo, International Liaison Personnel of the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard (RSV), Nigerian Section of the RCIT, 4th September 2023. www.communism4africa.wordpress.com





The coup in Gabon sparked initial excitement amongst the polity including welcoming acclamations from the masses. However, it is now crystal clear that the coup was simply a political gambit by extended relatives of the Bongo family against the continued line of succession which is suspected to pass down from Ali Bongo to Noureddin Bongo his son. Albert Ondo Ossa, Bongo’s main opposition candidate in the August 26th elections has alleged that the ouster was the result of an orchestration headed by Pascaline Bongo, Ali Bongo’s sister.¹ Experts say “while there were legitimate grievances about the vote and Bongo’s rule, his ousting is just a pretext for the junta to claim power for themselves … “The timing of the coup, following the announcement of the implausible electoral results, and the speed with which the junta is moving suggests this was planned in advance,” Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said. “While there are many legitimate grievances about the vote and Bongo’s rule, that has little to do with the coup attempt in Gabon. Raising those grievances is just a smokescreen.”²


The motivation for the ouster is what you would expect from a dynasty whose rivals vie for more power and influence in which case all the cards are on the table:


“Protesters set fire to the country’s Parliament building after his reelection in 2016. Even then his main rival was his former brother-in-law, Jean Ping, a half-Chinese diplomat who recently held high ranking posts within the elder Bongo’s cabinet. Ping had two children with Omar’s daughter Pascaline, also a government minister. Many questioned Bongo’s fitness to lead after a serious stroke in 2018. He wasn’t seen publicly for nearly a year but he began making political changes after a failed coup attempt in 2019. He sacked his sister, Pascaline, from her role as high-representative to the head of state, and side-lined his half brother Frederic Bongo as head of state to military attache in South Africa. Bruce Laccruche Alianga, a high ranking French Gabonese was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in 2021 in what Bongo framed as a crackdown on corruption. “Laccruche Alihanga used to be a very influential chief of staff but because he reportedly showed too much ambition during Ali Bongo’s recovery period he was charged over corruption allegations and put in jail”, explained Bovcon. After Laccruche’s removal Bongo appointed his eldest son Noureddin as his aid with the title of coordinator of presidential affairs. The Bongo family stayed resilient to the military coups happening in West Africa by buying off opponents and moving relatives into strategic positions. Yet Bongo’s attempt to coup-proof his cabinet might have helped hand power to Nguema. In 2009 when Bongo took over from his father he had dismissed Nguema was an assistant to the late president. But following the coup attempt Nguema, who had been serving as an attache to the Gabonese embassies in Morocco and Senegal was brought back and promoted to head of the Republican Guard. … “Part of the Bongo clan is happy with the coup and maybe understood the wisdom of not having someone with the surname Bongo too closely involved”.”³


Bongo might also have strayed with his apparent veering away from French imperialism (He brokered the admission of Gabon into the British Commonwealth). Gabon is an oil rich country and “a member of the Opec oil cartel, with a production of 181,000 barrels of crude a day, making it the eighth-largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa”. So that its small population of 2.5 million people affords it one of the top tier positions in the GDP per capita list for African countries yet “nearly 40% of Gabonese aged 15-24 were out of work in 2020, according to the World Bank.“⁴


Socialists oppose the coup; it is the product of in-fighting between a reactionary ruling dynasty that has had its grip on the Gabonese people for 56 years. Given the popular resentment towards the perennial rule of the Bongos and the neo-colonial regime they represent coupled with the outbreak of coups spreading throughout the continent. The different filial groups of the same dynasty saw the opportunity to eliminate a target. We also oppose any “return to democracy” where Ali Bongo — the utterly corrupt lackey of Western imperialism — is reinstated as president.


Many Pan-Africanists unwittingly heap praise on the coup-plotters, like other members of the intelligentsia, career activists, and mainstream media they declare the end of the Bongo dynasty. Some even go as far as advocating for new coups in other African countries and paint the coups as “revolution” etc. This is due to the chronic susceptibility of this milieu to populism as a result of their undying attachment to petty-bourgeois orientation which can take many forms. For the Pan-Africanists it is the preservation of a colonial template disguised as “unity” even though they claim to fight for freedom for the continent. Such glamorization of the coup leaves a dangerous precedent as the civil war in Sudan that has led to the genocide of the people of Dafur demonstrates. The coups can lead to wars whether through a fall out between the plotters or when other ruling class factions resist. To add another example to this category, the junta in Burkina Faso overthrew General Damiba only months after he staged his own coup. In cases where the legitimate resistance of the masses ensues the past praise of the previous coups can lead to confusion. Worse still, this can lead to a fruitless dissipation of the revolutionary energy of the masses. No, brothers and sisters, the Bongo dynasty is not dead, it has only shape-shifted.


Despite the suspension of Gabon by the African Union, Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and international condemnation by the World Powers, the Gabon coup lacks any revolutionary content or potential unlike the coups that preceded it in Niger, Mali and other parts of West Africa that bore or at least bolstered hostile sentiments against Western imperialism. By executing the coup minutes after the election results were announced, analysts have accused the coupists of preempting a popular revolt which was to be more massive than that of the post-2016 elections. Thus, the coup was not only reactionary but also counter-revolutionary.


The coup in Gabon was the indirect result of armed insurgency in other African countries and this shows that the coups are bound to spread irrespective of the disparities in African states which are basically neo-colonies. The comprador bourgeoisie know it and are spooked by this reality so they frantically find ways to shore up their power. That is why Paul Biya in Cameroon and Paul Kagame in Rwanda have retired senior military officers replacing them with those who should be loyalists yet all this is an attempt in futility since, for example, General Nguema was reappointed as head of the praetorian guard by Bongo to avert future coups after the failed coup of 2019. The spread of military takeover across the continent is not found in the military brass but the decay of the capitalist system which is reflected as the decline of the hegemony of US/Western imperialism cum liberal capitalism and the rise of Russian/Chinese imperialism cum bonapartist capitalism.


Of course, this is only the political overview of the current and rather perpetual capitalist decay, the economic facet is national insolvency; inflation and over the roof levels of unemployment. Under such vapid conditions the lackeys of imperialism in the semi-colonial countries like the countries of Africa must employ more brute force and see to the acute shrinking of the democratic space if the vacuum pump system which siphons mineral, natural and even human resources to the imperialist countries must remain functional. At any rate then, autocratic administrations become normalised preparing grounds for mass complaisance in the advent of a military coup.


Moreso, these shifts in imperialist influence and capitalist models give the varying factions of the comprador bourgeoisie — the lackeys of imperialism — more room to maneuver against their rivals as there now exists new imperialist powers — Russia and China — who want to trade backing any local regime for increased geopolitical influence. The push-back of French/Western imperialism against the coup plotters in Gabon is bound to be mild since, first and foremost, it does not have any revolutionary prospects but most importantly because they wish not to scare away their stooges into the arms of their imperialist rivals like the example of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger show. This has been the main reason the US State Department delayed characterising the coup in Niger has a military takeover.


Nguema may preside over a short transition period and transfer power to another member of the family inner circle that covertly backed the coup. Or he may remain the face of the dynasty for a more protracted period. In one of our recent statements on the Niger coup “socialists must identify the progressive, counterrevolutionary forces at every turn of this dynamic situation and formulate positions accordingly. For now the main task is to stop the invasion of Niger.“⁵ In Gabon revolutionaries must begin a campaign for the removal of the 400 French troops in the country. They must show solidarity with the protests for French, UN and all imperialist troops to leave Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo (which has been bloodily put down) and for their military bases to be closed.


We call for a campaign to shut down all operations of French and all multinationals in Gabon coupled with the nationalisation of the mining sectors of the country under public control. Socialists must take the bull by the horn now and join the wave of anti-imperialist campaigns going on across the continent. If neo-colonialism must end in Africa, its mother capitalism must die. For this we advocate for a workers and poor peasant government which will fight for the liberation of African nations and genuine independence of its people as steps towards the cause of complete decolonisation.






[1] https://apnews.com/article/gabon-mutiny-president-bongo-bf34a2f16ab2a3a406270b3a735ef78f


[2] ‘Family affair’: Gabon opposition lambasts coup, claims election victory https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/1/family-affair-gabon-opposition-lambasts-coup-claims-election-victory


[3] Has Gabon’s ‘all-powerful’ Bongo dynasty really lost its 55-year grip? https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2023/9/1/has-gabons-all-powerful-bongo-dynasty-really-lost-its-55-year-grip


[4] https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/30/gabon-coup-military-takeover-gabonese-election-disputed


[5] See on this: Defend Niger! Down With ECOWAS Military Intervention!
End the Occupation of West Africa by Imperialist Troops! Statement of the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard (RSV), Nigerian Section of the RCIT. 8th Aug. 2023.