Coup in Gabon: what comes next?

The new leadership in Gabon under General Brice Oligui Nguema has promised a return to democracy, but without naming concrete steps. The military in the resource-rich Central African nation staged a coup after Ali Bongo, who has been in power since 2009, was again declared the winner of the presidential election. The UN, the African Union and governments across the globe have condemned the coup.

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Die Presse (AT) /

The time for going it alone is over

France's sphere of influence is disappearing, writes Die Presse:

“Françafrique, consisting of the French-speaking former colonies, is melting away under the sun. ... Under France's aegis the EU has invested a great deal of political prestige and military power to protect the Sahel states from Islamic terrorism and keep them from disintegrating. Now the generals are handing themselves over to the Russian neo-imperialists to secure a short-term advantage without any decisive improvement in the security situation. ... It's high time the EU appointed an Africa envoy as a first step. An agreement on a common strategy would be the second. The time for going it alone is over. France and Macron should have learned this lesson.”

The Observer (GB) /

A powerhouse with a future

The West must do all it can to improve its relations with Africa, The Observer warns:

“Surveys show that young Africans thirst for genuine democracy, yet many will support military takeovers if all else fails. ... The paradox is that, for all its problems, vibrant, booming, talented, resource-rich Africa is in many ways the future. This prospect, plus more selfish concerns about mass migration, global health security, spreading jihadist ideology and the rising influence there of authoritarian China and Russia, suggests that a radical upgrade of the West's relationship with the 21st-century African powerhouse would be in everyone's best interest.”

Keskisuomalainen (FI) /

Nothing much will change

Keskisuomalainen doubts that the coup leaders truly support democracy:

“A takeover of power is always justified with noble goals, such as the restoration of democracy. In Gabon this was easy because the country has been ruled by an autocratic and corrupt family dynasty for decades. ... The elections were a show put on by the Bongo dynasty, but when this rule is replaced by military power, not much changes. ... In countries like Gabon, the wealth of resources leads to unhealthy economic structures. ... Colonialism played a role in creating these structures, but Gabon had plenty of time during the decades since it gained independence to improve the situation, because it had the resources to do so.”

El País (ES) /

Those with the weapons wield the power

El País detects a wave of de-Westernisation:

“There have now been ten military uprisings in Africa since the first one in Khartoum. You have to go back to the golden age of coups after the independence movements to find such a phenomenon. ... The most recent one in Gabon puts an end to a presidential dynasty that came to power in 1967 with the aid of French President Charles de Gaulle. ... The process of de-Westernisation appears to accelerate where states are weak or failed, and power falls into the hands of those with weapons and international support, whether from the oil capitals of the Gulf or from Russia or China. ... And they are unlikely to relinquish that power.”

Diena (LV) /

The same old story

Diena writes:

“Gabon has always been considered one of the most stable countries in the region, so the fall of the president came as a surprise for everyone, even for Ali Bongo himself. Especially because the leader of the coup was his nephew and confidant. ... In essence, what happened can be described less as a military coup than as a court coup. Accordingly, the international response will be very muted compared to other coups, especially since the general is known for his pro-American views. ... Oligui's promise to hold democratic elections soon does not sound convincing, and experience shows that no military power has ever been in a hurry to deliver on such promises.”

El País (ES) /

Everything depends on a single person

El País fears that the overthrow will not bring any improvement:

“On Monday, General Oligui Nguema will be sworn in as 'President of the Transition'. ... The question now is whether he has come to stay or whether he will keep his promise to turn Gabon into a healthy democracy. ... That Gabon's future depends on the ambitions of a single man is not a good sign. ... The authoritarian excesses of some regimes have shown that there is a lack of control mechanisms. ... Hence the weariness of a population that cheers coup plotters. Coups d'état are reprehensible, but so are the profound evils that fuel them.”

Le Monde (FR) /

France must adopt a neutral stance

Le Monde calls on Paris to exercise more restraint in Africa to prevent further upheavals:

“It is becoming increasingly urgent to change posture and tone, probably by withdrawing militarily and adopting a strictly neutral position, because other African threats are already looming over France. In Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Togo, other unassailable potentates supported by Paris could suffer the same fate as Ali Bongo.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

The West must become a real partner

For the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the latest series of coups painfully confronts Europe, and France in particular, with the failure of its Africa policy:

“It is a lesson in humility. And a mandate to the EU foreign ministers gathered in Toledo not to fight the symptoms of the problem with sanctions, but to address the root causes. If the West wants to be perceived in Africa as a partner that is concerned about the interests of the people and not just about gaining access to raw materials, stationing soldiers and fending off refugees, it has only one choice: it must become that kind of partner.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Europe has failed in Africa

NRC columnist Michel Kerres sees signs of a geopolitical shift:

“The coups in the Sahel and this week in Gabon show that the West, and especially Europe, has failed to bring prosperity and security to the region - despite all the lofty geopolitical ambitions. Europe has no solution for the toxic combination of poverty, jihadism, and anti-colonial (anti-French) sentiment. ... The Brics group could pose a real challenge in the long term.”

Avvenire (IT) /

A second decolonization

Avvenire analyzes:

“Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and now Gabon form a new group of African countries distancing themselves from Europe and adopting a hostile attitude, particularly towards France. One can speak of a second decolonization, as that of the last century was contaminated by a neo-colonial presence that was too intrusive. ... During these decades, there has been no real transformation of the African economy, but rather an 'extractive' exploitation of resources that left the continent with very little. Moreover, the West is accused of supporting corrupt and undemocratic governments despite the values it claims to uphold.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

An understandable coup

This is the most comprehensible of the series of coups in Africa over the past three years, writes the taz:

“in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and most recently Niger, freely elected presidents have been ousted by their armies, with more or less dubious justifications. In Gabon, the ruler of the most powerful and wealthiest family in the country, if not in all of Central Africa, has now been removed from power after his family governed the country for 56 years. The Bongo clan is a central pillar of the corrupt neocolonial French-African web of interests against which disaffected youths are taking to the streets across the former colonial empire. Its downfall is not just a coup against a president, but against a system.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Is Putin behind this one too?

The coup in Gabon is another blow for France, analyses Večernji list:

“As in Niger, France has a mining company in Gabon called Eramet which has announced that it is shutting down its operations in Gabon after the latest developments. ... Eramet operates the only manganese production plant in the country and employs around 8,000 people there. ... Analysts are convinced that, after Niger, this coup is another serious blow for France, which had been making a veritable fortune on the ores it received from these countries. Although the situation is still unclear, no one would be surprised if it turns out that, as in Niger, the coup bears the signature of Vladimir Putin, who has transferred the conflicts with the US and the EU to Africa.”

La Croix (FR) /

Governments could also simply resign

The wave of coups in Africa has primarily demographic causes, explains La Croix:

“Numerous governments are at risk of being ousted from power on the African continent. This wave of coups is being largely attributed to the discontent of young populations who lack prospects for the future. In this context, those in power must show a sense of responsibility and trust in democratic mechanisms. Stability, transparency and continuity of institutions are necessary to ensure development. A change of government is preferable to a coup.”

Tygodnik Powszechny (PL) /

Muted reaction from Paris this time

Tygodnik Powszechny examines France's reaction:

“Mali, Niger, Chad, and Gabon, along with Ivory Coast and Senegal, were among France's key allies in Africa. When a coup occurred in Chad, France decided to turn a blind eye to it. But, it reacted with great indignation to the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, which turned the coup plotters, who had received their war training at French academies and training centres, against it. ... The French have now reacted very cautiously to the news of the coup in Gabon, clearly having learned from their painful experiences in the Sahel.”