In a surprising turn of events, the West African nation of Gabon has witnessed a coup d'état, shaking the very foundations of what was once considered an enduring stronghold of French influence on the continent.
On 30th of August, 2023, the African nation of Gabon was thrust into chaos as a group of military officers staged a coup against President Ali Bongo Ondimba, overthrowing the corrupt family dynasty that has dominated the former French colony of Gabon for the past 55 years.
This audacious act not only shook the foundations of Gabonese politics but also sent shockwaves across the international community. As news spread like wildfire, many began to speculate on what this could mean for the future of the country and its relationship with the west.
As news broke that soldiers had seized control of key government buildings in Libreville, the capital city, questions arose about what this means for not only Gabon but also for France's historical imprint in its former colonies. With tensions escalating and uncertainty mounting, it seems that this brazen act could perhaps pave the way for a new chapter in Gabon's political landscape.
France has always aimed to maintain a significant presence in its former African colonies, but a military coup on Wednesday in the oil-rich West African country of Gabon marked its latest setback.
“France condemns the military coup that is underway in Gabon and is closely monitoring developments in the country, and France reaffirms its wish that the outcome of the election, once known, be respected,” French government spokesman Olivier Veran said.
The Fall Of The Bongo Dynasty
The junta has placed Gabon's president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, under house arrest. He was shown in a viral video calling Gabonese and friends to "make noise." However, there were no reports of violence at the time.
He was deposed shortly after the election results showed that he had won another term in office. For the past 55 years, Bongo and his father have ruled mineral-rich Gabon, amassing massive fortunes through corruption.
The Bongo family is accused of squandering the country's natural resources, causing one-third of Gabon's 2.5 million inhabitants to live in poverty, and up to 40% of young people to be unemployed.
The Awakening Of Niger
The military takeover in Gabon adds to France's escalating African difficulties, which hit a critical point on July 26 with the coup in Niger.
Since then, tensions in Niger have grown increasingly serious. Other West African countries, supported by France and the US, are considering military intervention to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum's deposed government.
Massive crowds flocked to the streets in Niger after the military took over, expressing anti-French sentiment, and attacking the French embassy in Niamey, Niger's capital.
Many Nigeriens also expressed their support for Russia and the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization whose rising influence and involvement in Africa is a major source of concern for Western countries.
“The recent military coup in Niger marks the point of no return for the unraveling of France’s dominant economic and military influence across West Africa,” wrote Michaël Tanchum, an Africa expert at the University of Navarra in Spain, in a recent analysis.
“Occurring solely among francophone West African nations, the assumption of power by military elites in these impoverished yet mineral-rich countries was justified as an effort on their part to end exploitative neo-colonialist relationships with France,” Tanchum said.
The Interests Of France In Sovereign Niger
The military junta of Niger and France may be approaching a dangerous crossroads in their standoff.
The junta wants France to withdraw its armed forces from the nation as well as its ambassador, Sylvain Itte. President of France Emmanuel Macron has instructed the ambassador to remain.
Macron criticized his Western friends on Monday for not adopting a tougher stance on Niger. Although most African countries are wary of starting a bigger regional conflict, Paris has not ruled out supporting an invasion of Niger.
In addition to operating a significant military drone station there, France has approximately 1,500 troops and a military installation there. The conflict with Islamist organizations has involved French and American forces.
Niger has long been vital to France's goals and interests in the Sahel, the sub-Saharan region where France previously held huge colonial holdings and still plays a significant role.
Niger provides up to 20% of the uranium required by France for its nuclear power reactors and military. For more than 40 years, French businesses have mined uranium in Niger.
Uprising In Mali And Burkina Faso
Coups in Mali and Burkina Faso have caused France to withdraw its military presence from both countries since 2020.
For the past decade, France has urgently attempted to impose itself in the Sahel by stationing hundreds of troops in the huge semiarid region on the southern rim of the Sahara Desert.
After 2013, French soldiers fought alongside the military forces of Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania against armed groups of jihadists and insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State — such as Boko Haram — and al-Qaeda.
The objective of France was to prevent jihadists from taking full control of the region. It set up army bases, opened civilian radio stations, ran a fleet of military helicopters, conducted patrols across the Sahel, trained African soldiers and attacked rebel groups.
However, critics warned that France's policy was failing because it had not prevented terrorist attacks while worsening relations between ethnic groups and communities and increasing hostility among Sahelian people who perceived European forces as colonial power.
France had first sent troops to Mali in early 2013 at the request of the Malian government, following the outbreak of an insurgency in the country's impoverished and long-neglected northern regions.
At the time, weapons and jihadists flooded into Mali from Libya, which had devolved into civil war following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship by rebel forces backed by the US and France.
After the arrival of the French troops, the jihadists withdrew into hiding, but later reappeared and launched strikes outside of Mali. By 2014, France's purpose in the Sahel had evolved as well: it had expanded its fight into Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania, all of which had long had a French presence as colonizers and as a post-colonial force.
The efforts of France were backed by other European countries because the Sahel had become a safe passage for jihadists and criminal groups to run human, drug and weapons trafficking into Europe. The violence in the region also was forcing people to flee and many were heading toward Europe.
However, France's stance sparked outrage since it was perceived as supporting unpopular dictatorial governments and military, despite allegations of human rights violations, profound corruption, and tragic neglect of parts of their countries.
Could this coup be seen as a turning point in history, signaling an end to French imperialism in Africa?