Anti-Bongo protesters from Gabon in Paris in 2018, photo Jeanne Menjoulet/CC
Anti-Bongo protesters from Gabon in Paris in 2018, photo Jeanne Menjoulet/CC
  • No to all capitalist looters – civilian or military
  • Working people need to build a movement for democratic rights and socialist change

Peluola Adewale, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria)

“In the name of the Gabonese people”, on 30 August, the military coup leaders declared that they had put “end to the current regime”. There was no open forum where the military leaders had secured the mandate of the Gabonese people.

But the announcement enjoyed popular support. Jubilant crowds trooped onto the streets.

Jules Lebigui, a jobless 27-year-old, joined crowds in Libreville, the capital. He aptly captured the prevailing mood: “I am marching today because I am joyful. After almost 60 years, the Bongos are out of power.”

The coup has ended Ali Bongo’s political dynasty. It came a few hours after the official declaration of Bongo as the winner of the 26 August presidential election. Despite his poor health, he was about to begin his third term.

Ali Bongo came to power in 2009, to replace his father Omar, who had ruled the country from 1967 until his death. Between father and son, the Bongo dynasty had ruled the oil-rich, but poverty-stricken, central African country for over half a century.

Bongo supposedly won with 64% of votes cast. That election has been described as lacking transparency. In the real sense, however, it was by all means farcical.

International observers were not allowed to monitor the poll, while some foreign broadcast media were suspended. Gabonese authorities cut the internet, and imposed a night-time curfew nationwide after the poll.

Bongo’s previous two elections in 2009 and 2016 were also widely disputed and considered fraudulent. This triggered protests which resulted in repression, and claimed many lives.

There is no significant support amongst the mass of the Gabonese people for Bongo. In a video done while under house arrest, Bongo called on his friends all over the world to make noise. This viral video has become the butt of a joke on social media.

Understandably, to many Gabonese, there is no difference between a military coup and perennial rigged election, which has put the same family in power for decades. Besides, the majority of the 2.5 million population have not benefited from the enormous wealth of the country in the 55 years the Bongos were in power.

The country is rich in oil, cocoa, and has the second largest manganese deposit in the world – a mineral used in steel making and batteries.

Looting rulers

During his presidency, Bongo senior, had the reputation as a kleptocrat – one of the richest men in the world, with a fortune stolen from Gabon’s oil wealth. His son, Ali, was also implicated in many reports as patently corrupt.

French investigators once charged four of Bongo’s siblings with embezzlement and corruption. Omar and Ali may have benefited from a fraudulently acquired real estate empire worth at least €85 million, according to France 24.

Despite their pillage of Gabon’s wealth, the Bongos continued to enjoy the patronage and backing of French imperialism. Omar was regarded a pillar of ‘Françafrique’ – France’s economic and military grip on its ex-colonies. Ali was recently feted by French president, Emmanuel Macron, while on a state visit to Paris.

Beyond Bongo’s family, the country’s wealth is appropriated by a few thieving elites. Despite having one of sub-Saharan Africa’s highest average yearly incomes per head – almost $9,000 – over a third of its population live in poverty.

Support for the coup is a reflection of the failure of capitalism in a neocolonial country with a corrupt ruling elite, as well as growing disillusionment in capitalist ‘democracy’ to guarantee basic needs for the vast majority, despite huge mineral resources.

One jubilant Gabonese told Associated Press: “It is an expression of the popular dissatisfaction… The country has been experiencing a deep crisis on all levels, due to bad governance, the rising cost of food, the high cost of living.”

But this is not peculiar to Gabon,  as evidenced by the resurgence of military coups in Africa, especially in the west and central regions, where there have been eight military takeovers in the three years.

Associated Press revealed: “At least 27, or half, of the 54 countries in Africa are among the 30 least developed in the world… Most are in west and central Africa, often endowed with natural resources whose rich profits are little seen by everyday citizens.”

So, it is not accidental that the research network Afrobarometer found that the number of people supporting democracy and elections in Africa has fallen. Only 68%, across 34 countries, preferred democracy to any other system of government, down from 73% a decade ago.

While the decline is relatively small, it underscores the reversal of a past trend towards civilian rule. But in Mali, one of the countries that set the path for the recent domino effect of coups in west and central Africa, the figure is striking. 82% of people trust the military “somewhat” or “a lot”.

This result reflects the more complicated situation in Francophone west Africa. Palpable grievances over the inefficiency of the local corrupt capitalist leaders, amidst the growing wave of jihadist insurgency in the region, intersect with historical resentment at the role of ex-colonial master, France, which backs the crooked leaders. All this produces a powerful anti-colonial mood that local military adventurers are exploiting for their own goals.

In their tow is Putin’s Russia, which is trying to take advantage of the situation to establish a footprint in the region. Previously it acted through Wagner mercenaries.

“Contagion of autocracy”

In many countries, like Nigeria, there has been progressive decline in the voter turnout. Only 27% of eligible voters cast ballots in the last presidential election – a massive lack of faith in capitalist democracy.

In the absence of a genuine mass working people alternative, amidst mass discontent, the possibility of a coup in Nigeria, while it is low at present, cannot be ruled out in the future.

However, a coup in Nigeria has high potential of plunging the country into civil war and disintegration, given the degeneration of the unresolved national question, and the escalation of ethnic identity politics in recent times (See ‘Nigeria could erupt following post-election crisis’ at

Meanwhile, in reaction to the situation in Gabon, Nigeria president Bola Tinubu, whose election was characterised by rigging and manipulation, and where his official victory is currently being challenged by opponents in court, talked about a “contagion of autocracy” spreading across Africa.

By ‘contagion of autocracy’, Tinubu meant the current coup epidemic in Africa. But many of the African leaders that Tinubu sits with at the Ecowas and African Union regional blocs are autocrats.

They have rewritten the constitutions of their respective countries. And periodically conduct farces described as elections to perpetuate themselves in power. Therefore, beyond the façade of elections, they are not fundamentally different from military juntas.

Already, some of these autocrats are now living in mortal dread of a military coup that could chase them out of power. For instance, hours after the coup in Gabon, president of neighbouring Cameroon, Paul Biya – who’s been in power for 40 years – shuffled his military leadership.

And, Rwandan president Paul Kagame “accepted the resignation” of a dozen generals, and more than 80 other senior military officers. Kagame has been in power since 2000, and has changed the constitution so he can remain in power at least until 2034.

Anti-French sentiment

However, a major element in the recent spate of coups in Africa is a strident sentiment against French imperialism. It is not boldly seen at present in the coup in Gabon – unlike Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. But, this is another coup in a former French colony, and just over a month after Niger’s.

These coups have been described as the ‘Francophone Spring’. This is a series of military conspiratorial actions, and not like the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ – a wave of independent mass uprising of the people against different authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and north Africa. Nonetheless, these coups have been enjoying mass support and acceptance.

France is seen as the prop for corrupt leaders, who enjoy its protection in exchange for allowing the continued economic exploitation and political control, including direct military intervention in domestic affairs.

This post-colonial arrangement was put in place by France to protect its sphere of influence in resource-rich African countries, against competing interest from rival imperialist powers. As a result, the economy, including exploitation of mineral resources, is dominated by French businesses and multinationals. Therefore, France is directly linked to the economic failures of these African leaders.

Another element of the arrangement is that the currency of 14 Francophone countries in west and central Africa, the CFA franc, is pegged to the euro. This reportedly requires these countries to deposit half their foreign exchange reserves with the French treasury.

This, together with the existence of French and other Western military bases, is seen a colonial relic. Thereby, a source of growing mass anger in many francophone countries, especially among the young people.

Opportunist coup

Apparently, there is an internal conflict within the capitalist ruling elite, including top military brass. But it is the mass discontent with political leaderships that the opportunistic military officers, some of whom are true blue members of the robber elite, are riding on to power.

For instance, General Oligui Nguema – the Gabonese coup leader – was head of the Republican Guard, an elite military unit responsible for many of the repressive actions of Ali Bongo. He is first cousin of Ali Bongo, and served Omar Bongo closely. The story is similar for Niger coup leader Abdourahamane Tchiani.

Implicated in a 2020 investigation into the Bongo family’s assets in the United States, Nguema was said to have invested in real estate, paying over $1 million. He was unabashed when journalists questioned him about the properties: “A private life is a private life that [should be] respected.”

Socialist alternative

In Gabon, there is not likely to be any improvement in the quality of life of the vast majority. The new military government will implement fundamentally the same capitalist policies and arrangements that worsen the economic woes of the country, despite its huge mineral resources.

It is not likely the military rulers will undermine the interests of French multinationals and businesses, which dominate mineral resources. It will continue the tradition of a few local elites appropriating wealth for themselves.

But even if the junta leaders decide to break with France, this would not necessarily be cause for celebration, as they are likely to simply embrace another imperialist master. Perhaps Russia or China, as we already see in Burkina Faso and Mali.

African leaders have a history of jostling among different imperialist masters hoping to get the best available deal. Ali Bongo himself took Gabon, a French-speaking country, into the British-dominated Commonwealth last year.

It will require mass struggles, like the 2019 mass protest of students that forced Bongo to suspend a planned attack on access to university education, to extract any concessions from the new military junta.

Socialists understand why such coups can have initial support, as was the case in Nigeria in the 1980s. But we will support any pro-democracy movement for full democratic rights, opposing military rule, while striving to build independent organisations of the working class and poor.

Socialists should call for a democratically based revolutionary constituent assembly to determine the country’s future. And argue that, for lasting democratic rights and the majority to benefit from the resources of the country, there has to be a working people’s government, on a socialist programme.

Such a programme should include the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, such as oil, gas, mines, banks, etc – placing them under democratic management and control of working people themselves. This will enable the start of socialist planning that can guarantee provision of the basic needs of life for the vast majority, begin to develop the economy, and prevent economic sabotage.

Given the domination of the economy by multinationals, such a government will draw the rage of imperialist powers, including France and elsewhere. Therefore, especially in a small country like Gabon, such a government has to be built on a revolutionary mass movement, and appeal for the solidarity of the working class internationally – in Africa and especially inside the imperialist countries.

In Gabon, at present, there is no such mass socialist consciousness or movement. But, as the military proves not to be different from the civilian section of the ruining capitalist elite, the quest for change and better quality of life that prompted the support for military coup in the first instance, will most definitely propel the mass of Gabonese working people and youth on the path of searching for a better political and economic alternative.

This could open possibilities for the ideas of mass struggle and a socialist alternative to gain support.

  • Read more ‘The Nigerien coup and the potential for regional war and instability’ at
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