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The latest on the coup in Gabon

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Overnight there was a coup - another one - in Africa. This time in the central African nation of Gabon. In what has become a well-worn script across the region, first, came the early morning statement from military officers broadcast on national TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MILITARY OFFICER: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: They announced they had seized power, placed the president under house arrest after a questionable election. Then came the sporadic celebration on the streets...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

KELLY: ...Followed by an appeal to outside nations from the deposed president, Ali Bongo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ALI BONGO: I'm to send a message to all the friends that we have all over the world to tell them to make noise. For the people here have arrested me.

KELLY: OK. This is the eighth coup in the last three years in a former French colony in the region. And there are similarities, but also much that makes this coup different. NPR Africa correspondent, Emmanuel Akinwotu, is tracking things from Lagos, Nigeria. Hey, there, Emmanuel.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. So it seems like every time I speak with you, it's been a bad day for another sitting leader of another African country. Catch us up on what is happening today in Gabon.

AKINWOTU: Yes. Today in Gabon there's been elation in the capital Libreville, people cheering soldiers and the apparent end of President Ali Bongo's government. You know, early this morning, the electoral body announced he'd won a controversial reelection, a third term, which surprised no one after so many irregularities and a lack of transparency. You know, the internet was cut during polling day on Saturday, supposedly to combat misinformation, according to the government. So when the results were announced, it had very little legitimacy. You know, soldiers, including members of his own elite presidential guard, executed a takeover that was likely preplanned and arrested him. And the head of the presidential guard, who is also his cousin, will now head a new transition body in charge of the country.

KELLY: OK, so there were just elections. Now there is this apparent coup. We'll see if it sticks. What is the feeling among ordinary people in Gabon? Will they be sad if this does mean the end of the Bongo family's turn in power?

AKINWOTU: Well, Ali Bongo largely was an unpopular figure. You know, Gabon is notionally a democracy, but he's part of a family that have ruled this oil-rich, biodiverse country since 1967. You know, before he entered politics, he studied law, had a reputation for being a bit of a playboy. And actually was a funk singer at one point, releasing an album in 1977, including this track.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT TO STAY WITH YOU")

BONGO: (Singing) I used to mess around beggars. Found myself alone...

AKINWOTU: But eventually politics was a family business, and he succeeded his father when he died in 2009. And his son was tipped to succeed him. You know, this government has been accused of widespread corruption, theft, been reelected in, you know, elections marred by irregularities like this last poll. And he's amassed wealth in the U.S. and France, which is, you know, Gabon's former colonial ruler and a close ally of his. And meanwhile, a third of the country lives in poverty.

KELLY: You know, you mentioned the U.S. and France. And I do want you to step back for a second and just situate this among this rash of coups on the continent. Are the U.S. and its allies worried about a domino effect?

AKINWOTU: Yes, the U.S. have said today it's concerned and condemned any efforts by military powers to take over by force. France, you know, a former colonial ruler, they've also condemned the coup. And these countries and regional countries, they're going to have to contend with the reasons that led us here. You know, we now have a belt of countries right from the Atlantic to the Red Sea run by military governments. There's a crisis of trust in governments right across the region. And Nigeria's President Tinubu said today - he spoke of coup contagion. And the conditions for that contagion appear to be major failings in the way these so-called democracies work.

KELLY: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu updating us on the very fast-moving developments underway in Gabon. Thank you.

AKINWOTU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE HENDERSON'S "INSIDE YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.