Event

On 7 January, Gabon foiled a military coup attempt. Junior army officers briefly took the radio station announcing 59-year-old President Ali Bongo was no longer fit for office due to a stroke. Only hours after, two suspected plotters were killed and seven others were arrested. Security forces quickly disbursed the roughly 300 people that came to the streets in support of the coup while internet access was temporarily cut.

Impact

The Bongo family has been in power for 50 years as Ali Bongo took over after his father died in 2009. In 2016, Bongo got re-elected president after fraudulent elections leading to violent protests and an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation on human rights abuses. After a ‘national dialogue’ took place and certain opposition members were included in the new government, President Bongo managed to dodge the imposition of EU sanctions against him and his allies. Since the October 2018 contested legislative elections that were won by his ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), Bongo has been getting medical treatment in Morocco. Popular anger about his long absence and the seemingly weakened government has been growing. Moreover, the small oil-dependent economy is affected by falling oil production and low oil prices quelling public finances and raising popular discontent. Budgetary derailments and weak debt management cause bad payment behaviour by the public sector, both to domestic and international creditors, and might spoil recent fiscal consolidation efforts. In the near term, social unrest about worsening living conditions and public sector strikes are likely to intensify.

Although the coup attempt in itself indicates frustration with the regime and the weakened strongman, the fast termination of the coup and lacking military support for an ouster at the high military ranks suggest Bongo’s position remains firm. Therefore, Bongo is generally expected to remain in power until the end of his term in 2023, if in better health. Henceforth, Credendo’s country classifications for Gabon are not immediately downgraded as these classifications are already relatively high owing to the sequence of fickle political events and rising financial vulnerabilities.

Analyst: Louise Van Cauwenbergh – l.vancauwenbergh@credendo.com