World in View: Gabon: Coup against the President and France

September 9, 2023

by Eugene Gogol

People feel free from years of living with the Bongos, during COVID and through economic collapse. You can really see how the rich have been getting richer and the poor getting poorer…Even if you go around Libreville, there are so many people without electricity and water. People are really fed up with the situation and would try to protest, just to say they need water, and the military would stop them right away.

—Woman resident of Libreville, Gabon’s capital

The independence of Gabon has never been real…
I think we might be witnessing a second independence, a new decolonization process.

—Danielo Mengara, founder of the exiled
opposition movement Bongo Must Leave

I think it’s important to know the history of what we call this Françafrique, in one word. This one word sums up the extremely close relationship, the fusional relationship, that France managed to maintain with its former colony in Africa, despite or thanks to the fake independence it granted to its former colonies in 1960. Gabon is the extreme example of this fake independence.

—Tomas Deltombe, French journalist
and writer on the French African empire

The military coup against Gabon President Ali Bongo on Aug. 29 was welcomed with jubilation in Gabon’s capital, Libreville. Gabon, located on Central Africa’s west coast, was a French colony, which was “given” independence in 1960. In 1967 Omar Bongo was put in as president and ruled until his death in 2009. Since then his son has “won” three presidential elections but was deposed immediately after his third by the elite Republican Guard that had previously protected him.


The coup opened up the possibility of ending the half-century domination of Gabon by the Bongo family—a domination that enriched the family by millions upon millions of dollars and francs, while the Gabon masses have struggled to survive. And yet the head of the Guard and the new leader is General Brice Oligui Nguema—a cousin of the deposed president. So the Bongo family dynasty has not necessarily ended.

Though Gabon has long been one of France’s “favorite” former colonies and its population is less than two and a half million, nearly 40% of people 15 to 24 years old are unemployed. Under both Bongos, Gabon remained a close ally of France, with French companies dominating Gabon’s oil industry. When France “arranged” for Gabon independence in 1960, it was an arrangement with “cooperative agreements” which allowed France not only economic domination but a continuous military presence. In the decades since independence, neocolonial relationships have been characterized by France’s political manipulation, financial control, military intervention, extractive commercial enterprises, and close relations with an African elite in each country.

France has intervened militarily on the African continent some 50 times since “independence” was either won or granted to its colonies. Gabon has now become the latest African country after Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Niger to have undergone a coup in recent years.

Not all coups are the same, however. The one in Gabon has much popular support. Whether that leads to a move toward civilian participation and something approaching democracy remains to be seen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.