Gabon experienced an attempted military coup overnight, which led to leaders in the central African nation shutting off the entire country’s internet. Government officials report that the coup was put down and that everything is now “back to normal” despite there being continued reports of spotty internet access.
The attempted coup started around 4:30am local time when rebels, unhappy with President Ali Bongo and his family’s rule of Gabon for the past 50 years, took control of the country’s state radio broadcaster. The broadcast, while primarily delivered via radio, was also published on social media.
“If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbors,” the radio message said in the early morning hours.
The rebels call themselves the Patriotic Movement of the Defense and Security Forces of Gabon and proclaimed that the “army has decided to put itself on the side of the people in order to save Gabon from chaos.” It’s not immediately clear how much support the rebel group actually has within the military, though there were reportedly military guards blocking the roads to the radio station during the broadcast. Five of the soldiers who took over the radio station have been arrested, according to Al Jazeera.
President Ali Bongo, who was elected to succeed his father in 2016, has been out of the country since October after reportedly suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia and seeking medical attention in the Middle East. Bongo sent a New Year’s Eve message from Morocco where it’s believed he’s still recuperating. People in the country noted Bongo’s slurred speech and inability to use his right arm, leading to calls that he be relieved of his position.
NetBlocks, a non-governmental digital rights organization that tracks internet outages, first reported a major internet disruption in the country early this morning. The current availability of internet access in the country is unknown, nor is it currently clear who is responsible for the internet shutdown.
The U.S. government has deployed roughly 80 American troops to Gabon over the weekend after a messy election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo raised concerns about potential violence in neighboring countries.
President Trump’s January 4 letter to the Speaker of the House reads:
United States Armed Forces personnel have deployed to Libreville, Gabon, to be in position to support the security of United States citizens, personnel, and diplomatic facilities in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. This deployment of approximately 80 personnel is in response to the possibility that violent demonstrations may occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in reaction to the December 30, 2018, elections there. The first of these personnel arrived in Gabon on January 2, 2019, with appropriate combat equipment and supported by military aircraft. Additional forces may deploy to Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the Republic of the Congo, if necessary for these purposes. These deployed personnel will remain in the region until the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo becomes such that their presence is no longer needed.
The oil-rich nation of Gabon has been plagued by accusations of corruption and electoral fraud, most recently when President Ali Bongo was elected in 2016 to replace his father Omar who died in office in 2009.
Countries around the world have shut down their internet for various reasons over the years. Algeria, for instance, briefly shut off its country’s internet back in June in an effort to stop students from cheating on exams. Turkey also blocked access to most social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, during an attempted coup in that country during the summer of 2016.