The recent coup in Gabon has some very serious geopolitical implications in the sub-region of central Africa. It is, indeed, the first coup in the region. The region has not experienced any substantial political instability for some time, even though the heads of state in this region are all autocrats.
But the coup in Gabon now makes these heads of state rethink their strategy to maintain their grip on power. For example, following the coup in Gabon, Cameroon President Paul Biya changed his defense minister and reshuffled his cabinet in order to tame any possibility of a potential coup attempt.
Gabon is now under pressure from the international community and is likely to be subject to commercial and economic sanctions. The African Union (AU) has suspended Gabon's membership after the military seized power in a coup on Wednesday. The suspension is the first regional response to the eighth coup in West and Central Africa since 2020.
The AU's Peace and Security Council said the suspension was necessary "to preserve the democratic gains of the Gabonese people" and to "ensure the immediate restoration of constitutional order". The council also called on the military to release President Ali Bongo and other political prisoners.
The coup has been condemned by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and France. The United States has said it is "deeply concerned" by the situation and is working with its partners to "ensure a peaceful resolution".
Economic sanctions would damage Gabon's economy and make it more difficult for the country to import goods and services. This would lead to higher prices and shortages of essential goods, which would hurt ordinary citizens the most.
Financial sanctions would make it difficult for the Gabonese government to access foreign currency, which would make it difficult to pay for imports and government services. This could lead to a government shutdown and a decline in economic activity.
The coup in Gabon is the latest in a wave of military takeovers in West and Central Africa. In recent years, there have been coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sudan, and Chad. The AU has been criticized for its failure to prevent these coups and for its lack of a strong response.
The suspension of Gabon's membership is a sign that the AU is taking a tougher stance on coups. However, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to deter future coups.
The coup in Gabon is also a reminder of the fragility of democracy in the region. In fact, democracy never truly existed in the Central African region since each of the countries has been ruled autocratically. Gabon has been ruled by the Bongo family for almost 50 years. Ali Bongo's father, Omar Bongo, was president for 42 years. The coup has raised questions about the future of democracy in Gabon and in West and Central Africa as a whole.
The military junta did not make a clear statement of what its intentions were. So far, what we know is their claim that their seizure of power ought to be transitory. But will it truly be transitory? When observing the coups that occurred in West Africa, none of the military rules handed power back to civilian rule. It is unlikely that the military junta in Gabon would hand power back to civilian rule.