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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Gabon Closes Border With Cameroon After Failed Coup Attempt


Gabon has closed border crossings with Cameroon since Monday's attempted coup against President Ali Bongo, halting trade and leaving Gabonese unable to return home. Goods and passengers destined for Gabon are stranded in Cameroon’s border town of Kiossi.

Trucks loaded with plantain, cocoyam, groundnuts, and other vegetables sit idle along with several hundred commuters in the town of Kiossi, on Cameroon’s southern border with Gabon.

Gabonese businessman Luc Eyene says Gabon’s border troops stopped him from crossing over from Cameroon. The government ordered the closure to protect civilians, Eyene says they told him, after Monday’s attempted coup against ailing President Ali Bongo.

He says even though Gabon is in a political crisis that could turn violent if Bongo does not recover, it is unpardonable for anyone to seal the border. It is known by everyone that Gabon depends on Cameroon for food, says Eyene. The poor are already suffering after just 24 hours of the border being closed, he says.

Traders like Eyene fear their perishable goods will not last until the border reopens.

Cameroonian businesswoman Caroline Ndifor supplies farm produce to Gabon. She says she was forced to make arrangements to take her goods to Equatorial Guinea instead.

"We are just suffering because of the control that they are blocking Gabonese. There are four control (check points), even more than four, so they are blocking Gabonese. Business is not moving here."

Handerson Quetong Konge is the highest ranking Cameroonian official along the border with Gabon. He says they have been discussing re-opening the border with Gabonese authorities in the town of Bitam, just across the border.

"We are in full discussions with my colleagues in Bitam to see how we can facilitate transit in these border towns," said Konge.

Silvanus Mba, a member of Gabon’s main opposition group, The Coalition for the New Republic, was traveling in Cameroon when the border was closed. He says his group does not have links with the rebels but added that many Gabonese, including himself, would have celebrated if the coup had succeeded.

He says Gabon belongs to all the people of Gabon, not an individual whose family has ruled for over 51 years and is not showing signs of leaving power even when his health is failing him. Ali Bongo should know that there are very competent citizens of Gabon who can lead the country out of misery, says Mba.

The rebel troops appeared on state television early Monday, announcing the coup was intended to restore democracy.

But by Monday night the government of Gabon said it had regained control and arrested seven rebel soldiers. Government forces killed two other soldiers involved in the coup attempt.

Authorities also cut the internet and imposed a curfew on Gabon’s capital, Libreville. Tanks and armored vehicles were patrolling the city and airports were shut down.

In this image from TV, a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, reads a statement on state television broadcast from Libreville, saying the military has seized control of the government, Jan. 7, 2019.

President Bongo has been in Morocco since October receiving treatment for a stroke. He acknowledged having health problems in a New Year’s Day message.

Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo as president in 2009 and narrowly won re-election in a 2016 poll marred by violence and accusations of fraud.

His family has been accused of profiting off the country's natural resources while Gabon’s two million citizens struggle to meet their everyday needs.