The military coup in Gabon

Image: Joel Kueng
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By MAX BLUMENTHAL*

Before being ousted, Ali Bongo, an essential player in the war of destruction in Libya, was courted by Barack Obama and celebrated from Washington to Davos

When a military junta arrested President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Aug. 30, Gabon became the ninth African nation in a row to overthrow its government in an armed coup. As citizens of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali did before him, throngs of Gabonese took to the streets to celebrate the ousting of a Western-backed leader whose family boasted a luxurious lifestyle while more than a third of the country's population lived in misery.

“Irresponsible and unpredictable governance has led to a steady deterioration in social cohesion, threatening to plunge the country into chaos,” declared a Gabonese junta leader, Colonel Ulrich Manfoumbi, as he seized power.

The arrest of President Ali Bongo was met in Washington and Paris with outraged condemnations from those who supported him as he plundered his country's vast oil wealth. His ousting was also a particularly stern warning to former President Barack Obama, who had smeared the Gabonese autocrat's image clean, selling her as one of his closest allies on the continent, and relying on him for the diplomatic backing he needed as he waged war. in Libya that unleashed terror and instability across the region.

The bond between Barck Obama and Ali Bongo was so close that the magazine Foreign Policy went so far as to label the Gabonese leader as “Obama's man in Africa”. With Obama's help, Bongo sought to present himself as a modernizing reformer. He traveled several times to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum, where he was named a “Contributor to the Agenda”. There, he pledged to accelerate Africa's Fourth Industrial Revolution by rolling out lucrative digital identification and payment systems among his country's remarkably impoverished population.

Ali Bongo's biography in website of the Davos Forum identifies him as “Africa's spokesperson on the topic of biodiversity” and “author of musical pieces”. His interests would include “history, football, classical music, jazz and bossa nova”. The self-proclaimed man of arts and culture managed to get along with Obama, give his opinions to Klaus Schwab, the president of the Davos Forum, and shake hands with Bill Gates. But at home, among the struggling masses of Gabon, he found few friends.

The “global citizen” finds his destiny at home

Ali Bongo rose to power as the son of the late Gabonese autocrat Omar Bongo Odinmba, who ruled the country from 1967 until his death in 2009. In 2004, a year after entering into a $9 million image-washing contract with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff – who would soon fall out of favor and be condemned by several scandals –, Omar Bongo managed to arrange a meeting with President George W. Bush. When he died five years later, he left behind a $500 million presidential palace, more than a dozen luxury homes from Paris to Beverly Hills, and a country plagued by inequality.

After a brief stint as a disco artist, in 1977, his son, Ali Bongo, studied at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and prepared to lead the country. When he was sworn in as president in 2009, he picked up where his father left off, looting public funds to pay for a Boeing 777 plane and a fleet of luxury cars, while landing hefty contracts with international public relations firms. According to a court filing, Bongo's sister, Pascaline, would have spent more than 50 million dollars on vacation in mansions jet set while his family cultivated influence in Paris by siphoning stolen funds from the Bank of Central African States into the campaign coffers of former French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

However, nothing in the Bongo family's long and well-documented record of corruption seemed to bother President Barack Obama as he embarked on a regime change operation in Libya, ironically justified as an exercise in "democracy promotion". With Washington's help, Gabon was transferred to the UN Security Council, where it served as the seal of approval for US resolutions in February 2011 calling for sanctions and a no-fly zone over Libya.

Ali Bongo's cooperative spirit earned him a visit to Barack Obama in Washington four months later. There, while at the president's personal residence, he became the first African leader to call on Gaddafi to relinquish power.

“They could call any African leader with private cell phone numbers,” noted the then US Ambassador to Gabon, Eric Benjaminson, to the magazine. Foreign Policy, referring to Bongo's team. "They knew Gaddafi and they knew his chief of staff very well, and we were looking to work using the Gabonese people to get Gaddafi to step down without military action." Eric Benjaminson added, “Barack Obama kind of liked him.”

The US-led war of regime change in Libya quickly transformed the once stable and prosperous nation into a hellish, despotic landscape ruled by warlords affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. With virtually unlimited access to former Libyan military weapons depots, jihadist bands began to attack the Sahel region. Covert assistance for their attacks came from Qatar. The Gulf monarchy, which partnered with France and the United States to remove Gaddafi, allowed a jihadist coalition to establish a de facto caliphate in northeastern Mali in 2012.

“The violence that has plagued once-stable Mali since late 2011 should come as no surprise to Western governments, as it is a direct function of NATO intervention in Libya,” observed o influences think tanks Council on Foreign Relations, magazine editor Foreign Affairs.

Despite the growing French and US military presence – or perhaps precisely because of it – jihadist attacks multiplied across the region in 2014. In August of that year, Obama rewarded Ali Bongo with an invitation to attend his Summit of United States-Africa Leaders, in Washington. During the summit's gala dinner, Obama emphasized Ali Bongo's pivotal role in his Africa strategy, sitting beside him as they were treated to a performance by the legend. pop Lionel Richie.

Just a month after being re-elected, via a shady vote, in 2016, Bongo has been summoned back to the United States, this time by the notoriously obscure Atlantic Council, sponsored by NATO, to receive a “Global Citizen Award” at the gala meeting of think tanks in New York. But as doubts persisted in his country about election fraud, including a 95% vote in his favor and a near 100% turnout in one region, he was forced to cancel the trip.

"The Atlantic Council respects Gabonese President Bongo's decision to forego receiving the Global Citizen Award this year due to the key priorities he has in his country," announced the think tanks, in a scandalously artificial statement, published in its website.

Meanwhile, in the Malian capital, Bamako, a group of citizens calling themselves “Patriots of Mali” began collecting millions of signatures demanding the removal of all French diplomatic and military personnel from their country. They called for Russian troops to replace them, urging them to expel the Islamic delinquents who had plagued their society since the Obama-led war in Libya.

The simmering anger of the average Malian sparked a military-popular coup in 2021 and set the stage for another the following year in neighboring Burkina Faso, where citizens were seen celebrating the actions of the military junta with Russian flags sewn into their homes.

When the coup d'état took over the government in Gabon on August 30, ending the reign of one of Washington's favorite kleptocrats, Bongo recorded a video message at an unknown location, desperately appealing to "all the friends we have around the world, so that they make a lot of noise.”

At this point, however, it was unclear if Obama could hear him or even if there was anything he could do to save "his man in Africa."

Max blumenthal is a journalist, founder and director of the website The Greyzone. He is the author, among other books, of Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (Nation Books).

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Published theoriginally on the website The Greyzone.


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