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Bongo dynasty overthrown after widespread claims of electoral fraud

Putsch in Libreville is ninth military seizure of power in Africa in the last three years

Early on 30 August, a few hours after Gabon 24 announced that Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba had won a third presidential term with 64.3% of the votes in the elections held over the weekend, soldiers led by the head of the Republican Guard General Brice Fence Oligui Nguema announced the government had been overthrown and the election annulled. Ali Ben Bongo was elected to the Presidency in 2009, taking over from his father who had come to power in 1967.

After the announcement, fighting broke out between the putschists and some loyalist soldiers who now seem to have been defeated.

Gen Nguema has emerged as the interim head of the Comité de transition et restauration des institutions (CTRI) and has announced investigations into 'high treason' against the institutions of state and 'massive diversion of public funds' for corrupt purposes.

The ousted President and his son, Nourredine Valentin, are said to be under house arrest. There was no information about the whereabouts of First Lady Sylvia Valentin Bongo Ondimba, a French citizen.

The overthrow of Ali Ben Bongo is another blow to the Africa policy of French President Emmanuel Macron who visited Libreville in March to show support for the government. There are about a thousand French soldiers based in the country but there is no immediate security threat from jihadists or insurgents.

The main dissatisfaction with the Bongo government, reflected in the putschists' statement, was the persistence of grand corruption against a backdrop of deepening inequality and economic hardship.

Former education minister Albert Ondo Ossa, who was selected last week as the 'consensus' candidate for Alternance 2023, which brings together six opposition groups, immediately labelled the elections as a 'fraud orchestrated by Ali Bongo and his supporters' (Dispatches 22/8/23, Opposition candidate faces battle against time and electoral commission).

At a press conference on 28 August, Ondo Ossa's spokesperson cited intimidation of opposition supporters at polling stations and manipulation of the figures in favor of Bongo.

Moves by the government to cut off the Internet and impose a ban on the major French broadcasters as voters went to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections were seized on by the opposition who have pointed to intimidation and interference.

The Bongo government cut the internet on the evening of 26 August on polling day and put a nightly curfew in place, citing the risk of violence. There were reports of major delays and lengthy queues at polling stations.

Later the communication authority banned broadcasts by France24, Radio France Internationale and TV5 Monde, accusing them of 'a lack of objectivity and balance … in connection with the current general elections'.

It was that control of the state apparatus and electoral commission by the Bongo family after 56 years in the presidency that fed reports on social media of gross electoral fraud.

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