Gabon’s main opposition candidate in the August 26 presidential election, Albert Ondo Ossa, said he won the race and called Wednesday’s coup in the oil-rich central African country a “disappointment” and a “family affair.”
Minutes after the election board said that President Ali Bongo, who has been in charge since his father died in 2009, had won a third term, coup plotters moved in.
“I think I won the presidential election,” Ossa told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview on Thursday. He also said that the election result and the military takeover were “two coups in one.”
He didn’t say much more about his claim, but he did say that a lot of Gabonese people had voted for him and that he would use the law to challenge the election results.
Six opposition parties came together to run Ossa as a candidate under the group Alternance 2023. Ossa, an economics professor, got 30% of the vote, while the incumbent got 64%.
Twelve soldiers who said they were part of “The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions” said on national TV that they were canceling the election and getting rid of all government institutions.
The putschists said they did what they did because of “irresponsible and unpredictable governance” and because preparations for the election “did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible, and inclusive ballot that the people of Gabon so much wanted.”
Later, in a video that went viral and was thought to have been taken in the presidential palace, the ousted president said that he had been held by the coup leaders, most of whom seemed to be from the Republican Guard, whose job it was to protect the president.
On Wednesday, Brice Nguema, who leads that unit and is Bongo’s cousin, was also named transitional head.
“I had imagined this coup d’etat, and it was likely,” Ossa told Al Jazeera. “I keep up with politics in the country, so I know how the institutions and presidential guard work. When I saw Brice Oligui Nguema rise to power, I knew something was up.”
Both men have met each other before. The opposition candidate was the minister of education when Bongo’s father, Omar, was in office. At the time, Nguema was a captain in the Republican Guard.
Nguema promised that the country’s institutions would be more open on Friday.
In a speech, he said, “The dissolution of the institutions that was ordered on Wednesday during the coup is temporary. They need to be set up in a different way to make them more democratic.”
Gabon was “finally on the road to happiness,” the soldiers said when they announced the coup.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of the capital, Libreville, to celebrate with the troops. Some of them hugged them as a sign of their gratitude for being free from the Bongo dynasty, which had been in power since 1967. There was also a lot of happiness in Port-Gentil, which is the second-biggest city in the central African country.
But Ossa said the coup was “a disappointment” and didn’t like it.
“You think you’re saving your country, but then you realize you’re back where you started. He told Al Jazeera, “It’s embarrassing.”
The official had told the French TV station TV5 Monde that Pascaline Bongo, who is the president’s sister, was behind the coup. He wouldn’t tell Al Jazeera anymore about her claimed involvement. Instead, he chose to talk about the new leader, whom he called a “little Bongo.”
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said in a 2020 report on the Bongo family’s assets in the United States that Nguema bought real estate with cash.
“He bought three homes in middle-class and working-class neighborhoods in Hyattsville and Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside the city, between 2015 and 2018. “Over $1 million in cash was used to buy the homes,” the OCCRP report said.
“He is Bongo’s cousin, so why should I think he is different? It’s a palace revolution, and Bongo is still in charge. This young man grew up in the house. ” I knew him as a relative of Bongo, which is something everyone in Gabon knows,” Ossa said, but he didn’t want to talk about the details of the story.
“Basically, I think the Bongo family got rid of a member who was a burden on the family. They wanted Bongo power to continue, and they didn’t want Albert Ondo Ossa to take over,” he said. “It wasn’t a coup d’etat; it was a palace change. This is a family matter, and one brother is taking the place of another.”
The person in the opposition said that the people’s joy was just a first response and that they would soon realize that the Bongo family was still in power by proxy.
Ossa said he was determined to get his job back, but he wouldn’t ask people to protest in the streets like they did in Kenya and Zimbabwe after their recent elections. Instead, he promised to put diplomatic routes both inside and outside the country at the top of his list to “make sure that Republican order returns.”