Gabon’s ousted former President Ali Bongo is to be allowed to leave the country
A bail agreement published on Wednesday 6th August has sanctioned former President Ali Bongo Ondimba's release from house arrest with the freedom to move within the state and to travel overseas for medical purposes.
The popular uprising by the military which took place in Gabon on August 30th, followed the announcement that the two-time President Ali Bongo Ondimba, intended to add to his 14 years in power in order to serve a third term, based on an election widely regarded as rigged.
Bloodless overthrow anoints the cousin of the deposed former President to lead the country
The bloodless overthrow, which removed Ali Bongo from power, was lead by General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, the former head of the elite republican guard, cousin of Ali Bongo and the personal bodyguard of Ali Bongo’s father. General Nguema, was carried through the streets of Gabon’s capital on the shoulders of celebrating supporters after the overthrow. He was subsequently, on Monday this week, anointed as Gabon’s new head of state in a lavish ceremony.
The news of Ali Bongo’s release will be a surprise to many, given calls for him to face charges in respect embezzlement, money laundering and other forms of corruption, along with of at least nine other members of the Bongo family who have ruled Gabon for more than 5 decades. Video footage of suitcases found at Ali Bongo’s residence filled with millions of Euros, Francs, Pounds and dollars have gone viral on social media.
A statement read on National Television by Colonel Ulrich Manfounbi, stated:
‘The Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions, CTRI, reaffirms that given his state of health, the former President of the Republic Ali Bongo Ondimba has freedom of movement’
Bail agreement gives Ali Bongo freedom of movement and the opportunity to leave the country
It will be especially surprising that Gabon’s new leader, General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, was responsible for signing the document announcing Ali Bongo’s release from house arrest. The bail statement, which was released on Wednesday 6th September, gives Ali Bongo complete freedom of movement throughout the state and the ability to leave the country on medical grounds. His freedom to travel abroad is founded on the basis that Ali Bongo had suffered a stroke 5 years ago and was in need of specialist care.
A spokesperson for the military, Colonel Manfoumbi, said:
‘Given his state of health, the former President of the Republic Ali Bongo Ondimba is free to move about. He may, if he wishes, travel abroad for medical checkups’
Ali Bongo's wife and son, remain under house arrest and await a court appearance on charges of high treason
It is notable that the published statement does not include a similar waiver for the wife of the former president or his son, still detained under house arrest in the presidential palace and soon to attend court to face charges of high treason.
Gabon’s new leader, General Nguema and his interim government have attempted to reframe the context of the overthrow, arguing that it was not a military coup, but more a ‘palace revolution’, with the purpose of correcting irregularities and restoring transparency of government.
Cautious and nuanced responses from the international community
The response to the overthrow from the international community has been mixed, especially in light of recent overthrows in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. In the aftermath of the overthrow in Gabon, the US issued a statement saying:
‘The United States is deeply concerned by evolving events in Gabon. We remain strongly opposed to military seizures or unconstitutional transfers of power,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday night’
The French government spokesperson, Olivier Veran, released a statement saying:
‘France condemns the military coup that is under way 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’
The African Union, which is facing criticism for its stance on imposing sanctions on Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, was perhaps best described as somewhat nuanced, although a spokesperson for the Head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said that he had openly condemned what he referred to as ‘the coup attempt’ calling on the security forces to ‘peacefully return to democratic constitutional order. He added:
‘He calls on the national army and the security forces … to guarantee the personal safety of the president, the members of his family and those of his government’
Gabon's new leader promises to re-write the constitution and to hold free and fair elections
Nguema and his government have pledged to rewrite the constitution and the electoral code to reflect international norms. He has promised a return to civilian government, with free and fair elections held at the earliest possible juncture.