Another blow to France after Niger: Gabon

After the elections held over the weekend in the Central African country of Gabon, the army took action. He overthrew President Ali Bongo, who took over in 2009 from his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for more than 41 years.

The coup announcement came minutes after it was announced that President Ali Bongo, who is running for his third term, won the election with 64 percent of the votes.

Gabon is a former French colony. Since 2020, soldiers have also seized power in the former French colonies of Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger.

Thus, it was the 6th military coup in the former French colonies since 2020.

French interests in Gabon

There are 81 French companies operating in many fields, especially oil, in Gabon. Since 1953, the French company Eramet has been operating the world’s best quality manganese deposits used for the durability of iron in the country.

Eramet earns more than 60 percent of its $3.67 billion annual turnover from Gabon by operating reserves that are the cornerstone of the industry, such as manganese and green steel.

French firm operates manganese deposits

Declaring that it made a profit of nearly 1.5 billion euros from mining production in the first period of last year, French Eramet aims to increase manganese production over 7 million tons annually as of this year.

The company, which operates the world’s highest quality manganese ores through its subsidiaries Comilog and Setrag in Gabon, operates nickel deposits in French overseas New Caledonia and Indonesia, and zircon mines in Senegal.

The French company operates the Okouma and Moanda manganese mines in Gabon, which has approximately 25 percent of the world’s manganese reserves, producing the world’s best quality ore used in steel durability and employs nearly 9 thousand people within its establishments.

On the other hand, it is claimed that the French company has “looked forward” to forests in Gabon and aims to use the trees here as fuel in order to reduce carbon emissions in manganese production.

Manganese stands out as the 4th most used metal in industry after iron, aluminum and copper. The durability of bridges, buildings and pipelines is increased thanks to the alloy obtained from manganese ore.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo with French President Emanuel Macron.  Archive Photo: AA[Gabon Cumhurbaşkanı Ali Bongo, Fransa Cumhurbaşkanı Emanuel Macron ile beraber. Arşiv Fotoğraf: AA]

The relationship between Bongo and French companies is deep

In the oil and mineral-rich country after the coup in Gabon, the assets of the dismissed President Ali Bongo and his family in France and the role played by French companies in their illegal acquisition were on the agenda.

The French newspaper Liberation brought up the “unprecedented” real estate properties of the Bongo family in France and their illegal acquisition.

According to the newspaper’s report, the French judges conducted long research on the subject. As a result, it was determined that most of the property of the Bongo family in this country was taken with a bribe by the French oil company Elf-Total, which operates in Gabon.

However, these investigations initiated in France were not without reason. Actually, at that time, the relations between the two countries were defined as “distance”. The corruption case initiated by the French police against the Bongo family, including 39 properties and 9 luxury cars, was closed 7 years later in 2017.

According to the French news agency AFP, insufficient evidence was found for the alleged “wrongful gain” and no family members were charged. The family vehemently denied all allegations during the investigation.

French companies, on the other hand, play an important role in the extraction, operation and transportation of the country’s oil and minerals. This was considered natural because, as in the former French colony, water was not leaking between the families that ruled the country and Paris.

So much so that the ousted President Ali Bongo, who took over from his father, was sent to a private school in Neuilly, a luxury suburb of Paris, at the age of 9, and then to the Sorbonne, where he studied law at the university.

His childhood and youth years outside of Gabon also led to him being seen as a “foreigner” in his country.

France was the first country to react to the coup

The first reaction to the coup in Gabon came from France. French Government Spokesperson Olivier Veran made a statement to journalists after the Council of Ministers meeting. “France condemns the ongoing military coup in Gabon,” he said.

The spokesperson said his country wants the results of the presidential election in Gabon to be implemented.

In the statement made by the French Embassy in Gabon on the X social media platform, French citizens in this country were called to stay at home due to the ongoing events in Gabon.

President Ali Bongo, who was detained by a group of soldiers in Gabon, is under house arrest.  Archive Photo: AA[Gabon’da bir grup asker tarafından alıkonulan Cumhurbaşkanı Ali Bongo, ev hapsinde tutuluyor. Arşiv Fotoğraf: AA]

Bongo survived the coup attempt

Ali Bongo suffered a stroke while visiting Saudi Arabia for an investment conference in October 2018. It remained out of sight for almost a year, when many different claims were made.

In early 2019, while calls for resignation were on the agenda, a group of rebel soldiers attempted a coup, but it was unsuccessful.

When he returned to office, he made a change of image, presenting himself as a man determined to eliminate “traitors” and “renters”, including his inner circle. This was seen as part of his efforts to portray him as a strong leader.

Nursel Cobuloglu

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