LIBREVILLE: Gabon’s main opposition group, Alternance 2023, urged the international community on Friday to encourage the junta that overthrew President Ali Bongo this week to hand power back to civilians.
Military officers seized power in a coup on Wednesday minutes after an announcement that Bongo had secured a third term in an election, ending his family’s nearly 60-year hold on power.
They placed him under house arrest and installed Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema as transitional leader.
The coup — West and Central Africa’s eighth in three years — drew cheering crowds onto the streets of the capital, Libreville.
But the opposition, which says it is the rightful winner of Saturday’s election, has raised objections.
“We were happy that Ali Bongo was overthrown but ... we hope that the international community will stand up in favor of the republic and the democratic order in Gabon by asking the military to give back the power to the civilians,” Alexandra Pangha, spokesperson for Alternance 2023 leader Albert Ondo Ossa, told the BBC.
She said that the junta’s plan to inaugurate Nguema as head of state on Monday was “absurd.”
Bongo was elected 2009, taking over from his late father who came to power in 1967.
Opponents say the family did little to share Gabon’s oil and mining wealth.
Before being detained, the Bongos lived in a luxurious palace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
They own expensive cars and properties in France and the US, often paid for in cash, according to a 2020 investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project or OCCRP, a global network of investigative journalists.
Meanwhile, almost a third of the country’s 2.3 million people live in poverty.
Military leaders ordered the arrest of several members of Bongo’s Cabinet early on Wednesday on accusations ranging from alleged embezzlement to narcotics trafficking.
State broadcaster Gabon 24 said on Thursday that duffel bags stuffed with cash wrapped in plastic have been confiscated from the homes of various officials.
Its footage included a raid on the house of former Cabinet director Ian Ghislain Ngoulou.
He told the channel that the money was part of Bongo’s election fund.
The coup in Gabon follows others in Guinea, Chad and Niger, plus two each in Mali and Burkina Faso since 2020. The takeovers have erased democratic gains in a region where insecurity and widespread poverty have weakened elected governments, worrying international powers with strategic interests at stake.
Alternance 2023 has said it wants a full vote count from Tuesday’s election, which it said would show Ondo Ossa had won.
Gabon’s election commission said after the election that Bongo had been re-elected with 64 percent of the vote, while Ondo Ossa secured almost 31 percent.
Ballot counting was done without independent observers amid an internet blackout.
Pangha said the opposition hoped to get an invitation from the junta to discuss the Central African country’s transition plan but said it had not received anything yet.
The junta has not made its transition plans public.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council demanded on Thursday that the military refrain from any interference in the political process and called for fair and transparent elections.
It said it will impose sanctions on the coup leaders if they do not return to barracks and restore constitutional order.
France, Gabon’s former colonial ruler, and other Western powers have condemned the military takeover.
Gabon’s sovereign dollar bonds rebounded slightly on Friday, with the 2025 issuance gaining 1.46 cents.
On Wednesday, when news of the coup hit markets, bonds fell at the fastest daily pace fall since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and at 85.29 cents on the dollar, it remained 7.7 cents below the pre-coup traded level.
Gen. Nguema has blasted corruption among state contractors in a fiery address, telling business leaders they must commit to the “development of the country.”
On Thursday, he summoned around 200 Gabonese business leaders to a meeting, where he lashed out against firms overbilling for their services.
The speech was broadcast on state television on Friday.
Opponents of the ousted regime had regularly accused contractors close to the government of massively overbilling on state contracts in return for kickbacks to high-ranking government officials.
“It is difficult to perceive, at this stage, your commitment or patriotism when it comes to the development expected by our compatriots,” Nguema said, vowing to make sure the overcharged money “comes back to the state.”
“This situation, for me, cannot continue, and I will not tolerate it.”
National TV also showed rolling images of the deposed president’s son Noureddin Bongo Valentin and other arrested officials in front of suitcases filled with cash allegedly seized from their homes.
The military has accused them of treason, embezzlement, corruption and falsifying the president’s signature, among other allegations.