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Gabonese Republic

République Gabonaise

CAPITAL: Libreville

FLAG: The flag is a tricolor of green, golden yellow, and royal blue horizontal stripes.

ANTHEM: La Concorde (Harmony).

MONETARY UNIT: The Communauté Financière Africaine franc (CFA Fr), which was originally pegged to the French franc, has been pegged to the euro since January 1999 with a rate of 655.957 CFA francs to 1 euro. The CFA franc is issued in coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 CFA francs, and notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 CFA francs. CFA Fr1 = $0.00192 (or $1 = CFA Fr521.74) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Day of Renewal, 12 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Africa Freedom Day, 25 May; Assumption, 15 August; Independence Day, 17 August; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Easter Monday, Ascension, Pentecost Monday, 'Id al-Fitr, and 'Id al-'Adha'.

TIME: 1 pm = noon GMT.


Situated on the west coast of Africa and straddling the equator, Gabon has an area of 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi), extending 717 km (446 mi) nnessw and 644 km (400 mi) esewnw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Gabon is slightly smaller than the state of Colorado. It is bordered on the n by Cameroon, on the e and s by the Republic of the Congo (ROC), on the w by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the nw by Equatorial Guinea, with a total boundary length of 3,436 km (2,135 mi), of which 885 km (550 mi) is coastline.

Gabon's capital city, Libreville, is located on the country's northwestern coast.


Rising from the coastal lowlands, which range in width from 30200 km (20125 mi), is a band more than 96 km (60 mi) wide forming a rocky escarpment, which ranges in height from 450600 m (1,4801,970 ft). This plateau covers the north and east and most of the south. Rivers descending from the interior have carved deep channels in the face of the escarpment, dividing it into distinct blocks, such as the Crystal Mountains (Monts de Cristal) and the Chaillu Massif. There are mountains in various parts of Gabon, the highest peak being Mt. Iboundji (1,575 m/5,167 ft). The northern coastline is deeply indented with bays, estuaries, and deltas as far south as the mouth of the Ogooué River, forming excellent natural shelters. Farther south, the coast becomes more precipitous, but there are also coastal areas bordered by lagoons and mangrove swamps. Virtually the entire territory is contained in the basin of the Ogooué River, which is about 1,100 km (690 mi) long and navigable for about 400 km (250 mi). Its two major tributaries are the Ivindo and the Ngounié, which are navigable for 80160 km (50100 mi) into the interior.


Gabon has the moist, hot climate typical of tropical regions. The hottest month is January, with an average high at Libreville of 31°c (88°f) and an average low of 23°c (73°f). Average July temperatures in the capital range between 20° and 28°c (68° and 82°f). From June to September there is virtually no rain but high humidity; there is occasional rain in December and January. During the remaining months, rainfall is heavy. The excessive rainfall is caused by the condensation of moist air resulting from the meeting, directly off the coast, of the cold Benguela Current from the south and the warm Guinea Current from the north. At Libreville, the average annual rainfall is more than 254 cm (100 in). Farther north on the coast, it is 381 cm (150 in).


Plant growth is rapid and dense. About 85% of the country is covered by heavy rain forest. The dense green of the vegetation never changes, since the more than 6,000 species of plants flower and lose their leaves continuously throughout the year according to species. Tree growth is especially rapid; in the more sparsely forested areas, the trees tower as high as 60 m (200 ft), and the trunks are thickly entwined with vines. There are about 300 species of trees. In the coastal regions, marine plants abound, and wide expanses are covered with tall papyrus grass.

Most tropical fauna species are found in Gabon. Wildlife includes elephants, buffalo, antelope, situtungas, lions, panthers, crocodiles, and gorillas. As of 2002, there were at least 190 species of mammals and 156 species of birds throughout the country.


Gabon's environmental problems include deforestation, pollution, and wildlife preservation. The forests that cover 84% of the country are threatened by excessive logging activities. Gabon's coastal forests have been depleted, but there is a reforestation program, and most of the interior remains under dense forest cover. There are two national parks and four wildlife reserves in which hunting is banned. In 2003, only about 0.7% of Gabon's total land area was protected, including three Ramsar wetland sites.

Pollution of the land is a problem in Gabon's growing urban centers due to industrial and domestic contaminants. The nation's water is affected by pollutants from the oil industry. Gabon has 164 cu km of renewable water resources. About 47% of the country's rural dwellers and 95% of its urban population have pure drinking water. As a result of population expansion accompanied by an increased demand for meat, poaching has become a significant threat to the nation's wildlife.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 11 types of mammals, 5 species of birds, 1 type of reptile, 2 species of amphibians, 12 species of fish, 1 species of invertebrates, and 107 species of plants. Threatened species included Shelley's eagle owl, the thresher shark, the sun-tailed monkey, the clawless otter, and the black crowned crane. Gabon had the world's largest gorilla population.


The population of Gabon in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 1,384,000, which placed it at number 146 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 40% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 99 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.1%. The projected population for the year 2025 was 1,809,000. The population density was 5 per sq km (13 per sq mi). Most of the people live on the coast or are concentrated along rivers and roads; large areas of the interior are sparsely inhabited.

The UN estimated that 81% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.42%. The capital city, Libreville, had a population of 611,000 in that year. Another major population center is Port-Gentil, with about 164,000 inhabitants.


Because of its limited population and booming economy, Gabon has relied heavily on laborers from other African nations, including Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Senegal. About 100,000200,000 non-Gabonese Africans were believed to be in Gabon, many of them from Equatorial Guinea or Cameroon. Foreigners made up at least 20% of the population in Gabon. However, in September 1994 Gabon enacted laws requiring foreigners to pay residence fees or leave the country. By the deadline in February 1995 some 55,000 foreign nationals left the country, and 15,000 legalized their residency.

In addition to some 1,500 urban refugees, Gabon has received two waves of refugees from the Republic of Congo. The first group, mainly government officials, arrived in 1997 following the departure of President Lissouba; the second group, comprised of several thousand refugees, arrived in 1999 as a result of continued fighting in the Congo.

In 2000 remittances to Gabon from citizens working abroad totaled $2 million or about $2 per capita. In 2004, migrants numbered 18,626, including 13,787 refugees, and 4,839 asylum seekers. In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as zero per 1,000 population, down from 7.9 per 1,000 in 1990.


There are at least 40 distinct tribal groups in Gabon. The Pygmies are said to be the original inhabitants. Only about 3,000 of them remain, scattered in small groups in the heart of the forest. The largest tribal group, the Fang (about 30% of the population), came from the north in the 18th century and settled in northern Gabon. In the Woleu-Ntem part of Gabon, their direct descendants may be found almost unmixed with other Bantu ethnic strains. The Nzebi, Obamba, Eshira, Bapounou, and Batéké are other major groups. Smaller groups include the Omyènè, a linguistic group that includes the Mpongwe, Galoa, Nkomi, Orungu, and Enenga; these peoples live along the lower Ogooué, from Lambaréné to Port-Gentil. The Kota, or Bakota, are located mainly in the northeast, but several tribes have spread southward; they are wellknown for their carved wooden figures. Other groups include Vili and the Séké. These other African groups and Europeans number about 154,000, including about 6,000 French and 11,000 persons of dual nationality.


French is the official language of the republic. The Fang language is spoken in northern Gabon, and other Bantu languages (Myene, Batéké, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi) are spoken elsewhere in the country.


About 73% of the total population are Christian, with a majority of the people being Roman Catholic. About 12% are Muslim; with a majority of these being foreigners. About 10% practice traditional indigenous religions exclusively, but it is believed that a large number of Christians and Muslims also incorporate some elements of traditional religions within their practice. About 5% of the population are atheists or claim no religious affiliation.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. While religious organizations are not required to register with the government, many do so in order to be assured of full protection of their constitutional rights. The government has banned the registration of Jehovah's Witnesses since 1970, but the government has allowed the group to assemble and practice their faith. Certain Christian and Muslim holidays are celebrated as national holidays.


Until the 1970s, Gabon had no railroads. A 936-km (582-mi) railroad construction program, the Trans-Gabon Railway, began in October 1974. In its first stage, completed in 1983, the project linked the port of Owendo with the interior city of Booué (332 km/206 mi). The second stage, completed in December 1986, linked Booué with Franceville (357 km/222 mi) via Moanda, thus facilitating exports of manganese from the southeast and forestry exploitation in the same region. A proposed third stage would continue the line from Booué to Belinga in the northeast, where there are iron ore deposits. As of 2004, Gabon State Railways totaled 814 km (506 mi) of standard-gauge track.

Main roads connect virtually all major communities, but maintenance work is difficult because of heavy rainfall. In 2002, the road network comprised 8,454 km (5,253 mi), of which 838 km (521 mi) were paved, including 30 km (19 mi) of expressways. A north-south road runs the length of the country, from Bitam to Ndendé. This main north-south link continues into Cameroon in the north and the Congo in the south. An eastwest road connects Libreville and Mékambo. Farther south, another road runs from Mayumba to Lastoursville and Franceville. In 1995 there were about 23,000 automobiles and 10,000 commercial vehicles in use.

The busiest ports are Port-Gentil, the center for exports of petroleum products and imports of mining equipment, and Owendo, a new port that opened in 1974 on the Ogooué estuary, 10 km (6 mi) north of Libreville. Owendo's capacity, initially 300,000 tons, reached 1.5 million tons in 1979, when the port was enlarged to include timber-handling facilities. The smaller port at Mayumba also handles timber, and a deepwater port is planned for the city. In 1998, Gabon's merchant marine owned two vessels totaling 13,613 GRT. As of 2002, there was no merchant marine. As of 2003, Gabon had 1,600 km (994 mi) of perennially navigable waterways, including 310 km (193 mi) on the Ogooué River.

Gabon had an estimated 56 airports in 2004, but only 11 of which had paved runways as of 2005. There are three international airports: Libreville (Leon M'Ba), Port-Gentil, and Franceville. Air Gabon is the national airline, serving European, West and Central African, and domestic destinations. Numerous other airlines also provide international flights. Air Affaires Gabon handles scheduled domestic service. In 2003, about 386,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


Bantu peoples began to migrate to what is now Gabon from Cameroon and eastern Nigeria at least 2,000 years ago. The Portuguese, who had sighted the coast as early as 1470, gave Gabon its name because the shape of the Río de Como estuary reminded them of a "gabao," a Portuguese hooded cloak. They also founded permanent outposts, notably at the mouth of the Ogooué River, and their missionaries followed shortly. After the Portuguese, the region was visited by the English, Dutch, and French. During the 17th century, the great French trading companies entered the slave trade. French Jesuit missionaries were active along the coast during this period, and their influence eventually extended to the powerful native kingdoms inland.

The abolition of the slave trade by France in 1815 ruined many merchants; but it did not end French interest in the Gabon coast. French vessels were entrusted to prevent the illegal slave trade; the search for new products for trade also led to French occupation of the coastal ports. In 1839, the French concluded a treaty with Denis, the African king whose authority had extended over the northern Gabon coast. The treaty ceded the kingdom to France in return for French protection. A similar treaty gave France much of the southern coast below the Ogooué, and gradually other coastal chiefs accepted French control. The present capital, Libreville ("place of freedom"), was founded in 1849 by slaves who had been freed from a contraband slave runner.

French explorers gradually penetrated the interior after 1847. During 185559, Paul du Chaillu went up the Ogooué River, where he became the first European to see a live gorilla. He was followed by the Marquis de Compiègne, Alfred Marche, and other explorers, who mapped out its tributaries. Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza explored almost the entire course of the river during 187678. In 1880, he founded Franceville. In 1885, the Congress of Berlin recognized French rights over the right bank of the Congo, an area that Brazza had explored extensively. In 1890, Gabon formally became a part of French Congo. It was separated into a district administrative region in 1903 and in 1910 was organized as a separate colony, part of French Equatorial Africa. In 1940, Free French forces ousted the Vichy government from Gabon.

Léon Mba and Jean-Hilaire Aubame had led the early independence movement in Gabon, but each had distinct political inclinations. Mba led the Gabon Democratic Bloc; Aubame led the Gabonese branch of the Party of African Reunion. The latter actively sought the formation of federal, supranational groupings in Africa, whereas the former was strongly opposed to such associations. Underlying the attitude of Mba was the belief that Gabon, with the greatest economic potential in the region, would end up supporting its poorer neighbors in any federal system.

In a referendum on 28 September 1958, the territory of Gabon voted to become an autonomous republic within the French Community. On 19 February 1959, a constitution was adopted, and a provisional government headed by Mba became the first official government of Gabon. Independence was formally proclaimed on 17 August 1960.

On 12 February 1961, Mba was elected president of the republic, heading a government of national unity in which Aubame served as foreign minister. Friction continued between Mba and Aubame, however, and after several years of political maneuvering, Aubame led a successful coup d'état on 18 February 1964. Mba was reinstated on the very next day through French military intervention, as provided for by a treaty signed between the Mba government and the French in 1960.

Mba created the post of vice president in February 1967, and at his death on 28 November of that year, power was transferred peacefully to his vice president, Albert-Bernard Bongo. On 12 March 1968, Bongo announced the formal institution of a oneparty system and the creation of the Gabon Democratic Party (PDG) as the country's sole legal political organization. He was reelected without opposition in 1973, 1979, and 1986. (It was announced in 1973 that Bongo had taken the name of Omar and converted to Islam.)

During the 1970s and early to mid-1980s, the exploitation of Gabon's huge natural resources progressed rapidly, and in 1975, the country became a full member of OPEC. In 1986, depressed oil prices caused a sharp decline in oil earnings, resulting in severe austerity measures in 1986 and 1987.

These austerities in the face of Bongo's ostentations led to internal pressures for reform in the late 1980s. In 1989, Bongo began talks with some elements of the underground Movement for National Recovery (MORENA). This divided MORENA, but it failed to stem the emergence of new movements calling for the establishment of multiparty democracy.

In MarchApril 1990, Gabon convened a national political conference to discuss changes to the political system. The PDG and 74 other organizations that attended essentially divided into two loose coalitions, the ruling PDG and its allies on one hand; and the United Front of Opposition Associations and Parties on the other. The conference approved sweeping reforms, including the creation of a national senate, decentralization of the budgetary process, and freedom of assembly and of the press. However, the killing of an opposition leader on 23 May 1990 led to riots in Port-Gentil and Libreville, which required France to send troops to protect its expatriates and corporate property.

Multiparty legislative elections were held in SeptemberOctober 1990, but they were marred by violence and suspected fraud. Opposition parties had not yet been formally declared legal. In January 1991, the Assembly passed by unanimous vote a law legalizing opposition parties. Throughout 1991 and 1992, there was endemic unrest, government clamp-downs, and economic disruption. Still, the PDG reaffirmed its commitment to multiparty democracy. On 5 December 1993, multiparty presidential elections confirmed Bongo, who ran as an independent against Father Paul Mba Abessole, as president with 51% of the vote. Opposition parties protested the result and forced a postponement of the 26 December 1993 legislative elections. International observers complained of widespread procedural irregularities but found no evidence of deliberate fraud. Independent observers, however, reported that a governmental policy of limitations on freedoms of speech, press, association and assembly, as well as the harassment of its critics.

Paul Mba Abessole, angry at the outcome, announced the formation of a rival government. Its core concerns included new presidential elections, the restoration of peace, and the maintenance of national unity. The rival administration was supported by a High Council of the Republic, later called the High Council of Resistance, composed mostly of defeated presidential candidates.

Bongo was harshly critical of the opposition government and appealed to its members to join his government in a show of unity. In January 1994, Gabon's Constitutional Court ruled that the elections had been fair. Civil unrest continued, however, as the country suffered from the devaluation of the CFA franc. Trade union demands for higher salaries led Bongo to impose a curfew, ostensibly to quell labor unrest but he also ordered security forces to destroy a radio transmitter operated by his political opponents and to attack a leading opposition figure's private house. The labor unrest lasted less than a week, but resulted in between 9 and 68 deaths, depending on whose figures are to be believed.

Negotiations on the creation of a unified government were held throughout 1994 to little effect. In September, the Organization for African Unity sponsored multilateral talks in Paris, which finally resulted in a tentative power-sharing agreement among Bongo's PDG and the main opposition parties. Legislative elections, which had been postponed in December 1993, were rescheduled for 1995 and Bongo agreed to bring opposition party members into a new government. The agreement essentially fell apart, however, when Bongo gave only 6 of 27 ministries to opposition members. At least two opposition members refused to participate in the government. By mid-1995, Bongo formed a functioning government with a modicum of opposition representation.

In July 1996, the Gabonese overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, calling for, among other things, a 91-member Senate. Legislative elections were held in December of that year, fully three years after they were scheduled. The PDG won a substantial majority (85 of 120 seats). When elections for the Senate were held in January and February 1997, the PDG again emerged as the dominant party, winning 54 of the 91 seats.

Opposition parties declared Paul Mba Abessole, head of the National Rally of Woodcutters (RNB), the real winner and they attempted to set up a rival government. In 1998 Omar Bongo was reelected president for a seven-year term with 66.6% of the votes. Pierre Mamboundou of UPG took a distant second with 16.5%, while Paul Mba Abessole (RNB) came third with 13.4%.

In 2002 Bongo announced his decision to set aside 10% of the country to protect its ecosystems as part of the Congo Basin Initiative. He also closed three newspapers after they reported allegations of corruption in his government. His appointment in January 2003 of Paul Mba Abessole to the post of third deputy prime minister suggested a clever move to co-opt the opposition. In November 2005, Bongo was reelected for a third sevenyear term, thus reinforcing his status as the last of Africa's "Big Men." Facing a divided opposition, Bongo won 79.2% of the votes cast. The runner-up, Pierre Mamboundou won 13.6% while Zacharie Myboto polled only 6.6%. The next presidential election was scheduled for 2012.


Gabon is a parliamentary democracy with a presidential form of government. Elected for a seven-year term by direct universal suffrage, the president, who is chief of state, appoints the prime minister, who in consultation with the president, selects and may dismiss members of the Council of Ministers. In 1967, the constitution was modified to provide for the election of a vice president, but in 1975, the office was abolished and replaced by that of a prime minister. In 1983, the constitution was amended officially to declare Gabon a one-party state. However, opposition parties were legalized in 1991.

The bicameral legislature consists of the Senate comprising 91 members who are elected by members of municipal councils and departmental assemblies. The National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale has 120 members who are elected by direct, popular vote to serve five-year terms. Legislation may be initiated by the president or by members of the assembly. The president may dissolve the assembly and call for new elections within 40 days and may also prorogue the body for up to 18 months. Legislation is subject to presidential veto and must then be passed by a twothirds vote to become law. The voting age is 18.


When Gabon became independent in 1960, there were two major political parties. The Gabon Democratic Bloc (Bloc Démocratique GabonaisBDG), led by Léon Mba, was an offshoot of the African Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Démocratique Africain), created by Félix Houphouet-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire. The Gabon Democratic and Social Union (Union Démocratique et Sociale GabonaiseUDSG), led by Jean-Hilaire Aubame, was affiliated with the Party of African Reunion (Parti de Regroupement Africain), an international movement created by Léopold-Sédar Senghor of Senegal. In the first elections after independence, neither party won a majority in the Assembly, and in the elections held in 1961, the leaders of the two parties agreed upon a single list of candidates; this joint list polled 99% of the votes. Mba became president and Aubame became minister of foreign affairs in a "government of national amity." This government lasted until February 1963, when the BDG element forced the UDSG members to choose between a merger of the parties and resignation from the government. The UDSG ministers all resigned, but Aubame was later appointed president of the newly created Supreme Court. He resigned from this post in December 1963 and resumed his seat in the National Assembly.

In January 1964, Mba dissolved the Assembly and called for new elections on 23 February 1964. The UDSG was unable to present a list of candidates that would meet the electoral law, and when it seemed that the BDG list would be elected by default, the Gabonese military revolted and toppled the Mba government in a bloodless coup led by Aubame on 18 February 1964. French military forces intervened and reestablished the Mba government on 19 February. In the parliamentary elections held on 12 April 1964, the BDG list won 31 seats; the reorganized opposition gained 16 seats.

Another election was held in March 1967, in which Mba was reelected president and Albert-Bernard Bongo was elected vice president. Mba died on 28 November 1967, and Bongo became president on 2 December of that year. On 12 March 1968, the Democratic Party of Gabon (Parti Démocratique GabonaisPDG), headed by Bongo, became the sole political party. On 25 February 1973, President Bongo was elected to his first full seven-year term. On 30 December 1979, Bongo was reelected with 99.85% of the more than 700,000 votes cast, a total that exceeded by far the number of registered voters. He was reelected again on 9 November 1986, reportedly receiving all but 260 of 904,039 votes cast. The single list of PDG National Assembly candidates was elected in February 1980, although independents were also allowed to run. In 1985, the list consisted of all PDG members, chosen by party activists from 268 nominated; only 35 incumbent deputies were retained. Thirteen women were elected. In 1983, three generals were elected to the central committee of the PDG, the first such admission of the military into high party ranks.

The Movement for National Reform (Mouvement de Redressement NationalMORENA), an opposition group, emerged in 1981 and formed a government in exile in 1985. A number of persons were sentenced to long jail terms in 1982 for alleged participation in MORENA. All were released by mid-1986. In 1989, Bongo began talks with elements within MORENA, playing on division within their ranks. The resulting split ushered in the Rassemblement National des Bûcherons, National Rally of Woodcutters (RNB), and the MORENA-Original or Fundamental.

Emerging from the legalization of opposition party activity in March 1991 was the Association for Socialism in Gabon (APSG), the Gabonese Socialist Union (USG), the Circle for Renewal and Progress (CRP), and the Union for Democracy and Development (UDD).

Legislative elections were held in 1991, just prior to the legalization of political parties; the resulting National Assembly was constituted as follows: PDG, 64; Gabonese Party for Progress (PGP), 19; RNB, 17; MORENA-Originals, 7; Socialists, 9; others, 2. Presidential and legislative elections were scheduled for 1993, but only the presidential ballot was held, on 5 December. Protests over the fairness of the presidential election caused the government to postpone legislative elections.

Elections were delayed several times over the next three years, but were finally held on 15 and 29 December 1996, resulting in a National Assembly comprised as follows: PDG, 85; PGP, 10; RNB, 7; Circle of Liberal Reformers (CLR), 7; Socialists, 2. Elections for the newly created Senate were held on 19 January and 23 February 1997, resulting in a 91-seat chamber situated as follows: PDG, 54; RNB, 19; PGP, 4; Republican and Democratic Alliance, 3; CLR, 1; Rally for Democratic Progress, 1; independents, 9; 2 seats undeclared.

National Assembly elections were held on 9 and 23 December 2001 with the resulting composition: PDG 86, RNB-RPG 8, PGP 3, ADERE 3, CLR 2, PUP 1, PSD 1, independents 13, others 3. Next Assembly elections were scheduled for 2006.

Elections into the Senate took place in January and February 2003. The results amounted to a repeat of the strength of parties after the 1997 poll. The PDG got 53 seats, RNB 20, PGP 4, ADERE 3, RDP 1, CLR 1, and Independents 9. Next elections were expected in January 2009.


Gabon is divided into nine provinces, administered by governors, which are subdivided into 37 prefectures, headed by prefects. There are eight separate sub-prefectures, governed by sub-prefects. These officers are directly responsible to the government at Libreville and are appointed by the president. In some areas, the traditional chiefs still retain power, but their position has grown less secure.


The civil court system consists of three tiers: the trial court, the appellate court, and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has three chambers: judicial, administrative, and accounts. The 1991 constitution, which established many basic freedoms and fundamental rights, also created a Constitutional Court, a body which considers only constitutional issues, and which has demonstrated a good degree of independence in decision-making. Some of its decisions on election freedoms were integrated into the electoral code of 1993, which formed the framework for the first multiparty presidential election held that year. In July 1995, the agreements to reform electoral procedures and to assure greater respect for human rights were approved by a national referendum.

The judiciary also consists of a military tribunal, which handles offenses under military law, a state security court (a civilian tribunal), and a special criminal court for cases of fraud and corruption involving government officials. There is no longer recognition of traditional or customary courts, although village chiefs continue to engage in informal dispute resolution.

The constitution provides for the right to a public trial and the right to counsel, but there is no right to a presumption of innocence. In addition, although the constitution ensures protection from arbitrary interference with privacy and correspondence, search warrants are easily obtained from judges, sometimes after the fact. A significant deterrent to political treason is the weak independence of the judiciary in state security trials where the influence of the executive may be of some import. The State Security Court is constituted by the government to consider state security matters; however, it had not met for years so its relevance is open to question.


In 2005, Gabon maintained active armed forces numbering 4,700 personnel. The Army numbered 3,200 including the Presidential Guard. The Navy consisted of an estimated 500 sailors with two patrol/coastal vessels and two amphibious landing craft. The Air Force had 1,000 personnel and 10 combat capable aircraft, including 6 fighter ground attack aircraft and 5 attack helicopters. Paramilitary forces consisted of a 2,000-member gendarmerie. France maintained 1,560 personnel in Gabon. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $19.1 million.


Gabon was admitted to the United Nations on 20 September 1960 and has become a member of ECA and all the nonregional specialized agencies. Gabon is also a member of the African Development Bank, the ACP Group, G-24, G-77, the Central African States Development Bank (BDEAC), the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the WTO. Gabon is one of six members of the Monetary and Economic Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). Libreville is the headquarters for the 12-member African Timber Organization of timber exporters and for the Economic Community of Central African States. Gabon left OPEC in 1995. The nation is part of the Franc Zone. Gabon belongs to the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Gabon is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Gabon's per capita income is over four times that of most sub-Saharan African countries. Over 50% of Gabon's GDP comes from petroleum and mining production. The petroleum industry generates 80% of export earnings and more than 50% of government revenues. The manufacturing sector accounts for 60% of GDP overall and services account for 30%. Inefficient parastatal enterprises restrain private sector growth. Gabon received close to 22% of its total revenues from state-owned enterprises and government ownership of property in 2000. As of 2005, fewer than 10 stateowned enterprises had been completely privatized since 1997.

Gabon imports the majority of its food; it is densely forested and only a fraction of the arable land is cultivated. Yet, in 2005, 60% of its population gained their livelihood in the agricultural sector, where the staple food crops are cassava, plantains, and yams.

Gabon's cash crops are palm oil, cocoa, coffee, and sugar. Palm oil is the most important of the four. The coffee sector was hard hit in the 1980s by low world prices and lower producer prices; coffee prices strengthened again in the mid-1990s but sank again in the early 2000s. Gabon is self-sufficient in sugar, which it exports to the United States and other countries. Rubber production has been promoted in recent years.

Rich in resources, Gabon is a country that realized growth rates of 9.5% in the 1970s and early 1980s before succumbing to oil-price instability and international borrowing. In 1986 Gabon saw its GDP drop by half after a dramatic fall in the world price for oil. The economy suffered a second dramatic shock in 1994 when France suddenly devalued the CFA franc, causing its value to drop in half overnight. Immediately, prices for almost all imported goods soared as the inflation rate shot up to 35%. In the face of dramatically escalating prices, uncertainty and anger led petroleum workers to strike for a doubling of their wages. The government reacted by imposing a national "state of alert." Lootings and burnings were reported as government troops tried to silence opposition parties. High inflation was short-lived as the government's tight monetary policy helped reduce inflation to 11% in 1995 and 1.5% in 2001. During the 20012005 time period inflation averaged 1.1% per year. Unfortunately, because there is little value-added to Gabon's exports (oil and minerals), the devaluation has not helped Gabon's economy, which continues to post growth rates of between 12%.

Content to remain dependent on oil and its other primary product exports, the government has not taken the steps necessary to diversify the economy. High labor costs, an unskilled workforce, and poor fiscal management continue to inhibit economic growth. In 2000, the government signed an agreement with the Paris Club to reschedule its official debt; however, because the country's per capita income is higher than the eligibility levels set by the World Bank/IMF Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, it failed to qualify for debt relief under that program in 2003.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Gabon's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $5,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 2.1%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 1.5%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 6% of GDP, industry 58.8%, and services 35.1%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $4 million or about $3 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.1% of GDP.

The World Bank reports that in 1990 household consumption in Gabon totaled $2.96 billion or about $2,202 per capita based on a GDP of $6.1 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2.2%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 40% of household consumption was spent on food, 9% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 7% on education.


Gabon's labor force numbered approximately 640,000 in 2005. Of these workers, 60% were engaged in agriculture, 25% were in the services sector, and the remaining 15% in industry. In 1997 (the latest year for which data was available) the unemployment rate was estimated at 21%.

In 1992, the former monopoly of the Gabonese Labor Confederation (COSYGA) was abolished and disassociated from the ruling Democratic Party of Gabon. COSYGA's main union competitor is the Gabonese Confederation of Free Unions (CGSL). Since the 1990 National Conference, many small company-based unions have been started, resulting in sporadic and often disruptive strikes. Almost all private sector workers are union members. Workers have the right to strike provided that attempts at arbitration have failed and eight days notice of the intent to strike is given. The government observes the resolution of labor disputes and takes an active interest in labor-management relations. Unions in each sector of the economy negotiate with employers over pay scales, working conditions, and benefits.

As of 2002, the minimum wage was the equivalent of $61 per month. This wage does not provide a decent living for a worker and family, although many Gabonese earn significantly more. The minimum working age is 16 and in the case of Gabonese children this law is rigorously enforced. However, there have been reports that the children of the many foreign workers in Gabon work at much younger ages. The Labor Code provides many protections for workers, including a 40-hour workweek with a minimum rest period of 48 uninterrupted hours.


Since independence, the dominant position of the petroleum sector has greatly reduced the role of agriculture. Only 1.9% of the total land area is estimated to be under cultivation, and agriculture contributes only about 8% of the GDP on the average. In 2004, agricultural imports by Gabon accounted for nearly 19% of all imports. Gabon relies heavily on other African states and Europe for much of its food and other agricultural needs. Until World War II (193945), agriculture was confined primarily to subsistence farming and the cultivation of such crops as manioc, bananas, corn, rice, taro, and yams. Since independence there has been an intensive effort to diversify and increase agricultural production. Experimental stations and demonstration farms have been set up, and cooperatives have been established by consolidating rural communities. However, agriculture received low priority until the 197681 development plan, and laborers prefer to seek employment in urban areas. The development of agriculture and small business has been hindered by a lack of international competition. Another problem is lack of transportation to markets.

In 2004, Gabon produced about 230,000 tons of cassava, 155,000 tons of yams, 61,800 tons of other roots and tubers, 270,000 tons of plantains, 35,410 tons of vegetables, and 31,000 tons of corn. Sugarcane production was about 235,000 tons. Cocoa production in 2004 was 600 tons.

A state-owned 7,500 hectare (18,500 acre) palm oil plantation near Lambaréné began production in 1986. Palm oil production was 6,400 tons in 2004. A 4,300 hectare (10,600 acre) rubber project was being developed; rubber production in 2004 was 11,000 tons.


Animal husbandry is limited by the presence of the tsetse fly, though tsetse-resistant cattle have recently been imported from Senegal to a cattle project. In 2005 there were an estimated 212,000 hogs, 195,000 sheep, 90,000 goats, 35,000 head of cattle, and 3.1 million chickens. In an effort to reduce Gabon's reliance on meat imports, the government set aside 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) in Gabon's unpopulated Savannah region for three ranches at Ngounie, Nyanga, and Lekabi. Currently, however, frozen imports are the most important source of beef, costing four times less than locally produced beef. Poultry production satisfies about one-half of Gabon's consumption demand. Typical annual production of poultry amounts to 3,600 tons.


While there have been recent improvements in the fishing industry, it is still relatively undeveloped. Traditional fishing accounts for two-thirds of total catch. The waters off the Gabonese coast contain large quantities of fish. Gabonese waters are estimated to be able to support an annual catch of 15,000 tons of tuna and 12,000 tons of sardines. The fishing fleet was formerly based chiefly in Libreville. A new fishing port, however, was built at PortGentil in 1979. Port-Gentil is now the center of operations for the industrial fleet. Plans for a cannery, fish-meal factory, and refrigerated storage facilities are underway. The total catch in 2003 was 44,855 tons, 80% from the Atlantic. By international agreement and Gabonese law, an exclusive economic zone extends 200 mi off the coast, which prohibits any foreign fishing company to fish in this zone without governmental authorization. However, since Gabon has no patrol boats, foreign trawlers (especially French and Spanish) often illegally capture tuna in Gabonese waters.


Gabon's forests, which cover an estimated 77% of its land surface, have always supplied many of the necessities of life, especially fuel and shelter. The forests contain over 400 species of trees, with about 100 species suitable for industrial use. Commercial exploitation began as early as 1892, but only in 1913 was okoumé, Gabon's most valuable wood, introduced to the international market. Forestry was the primary source of economic activity in the country until 1968, when the industry was supplanted by crude oil as an earner of foreign exchange. Gabon is the largest exporter of raw wood in the region, and its sales represent 20% of Africa's raw wood exports. Forestry is second only to the petroleum sector in export earnings, at $319.4 million in 2003. Gabon's reserves of exploitable timber include: okoumé, 100 million cu m (3.5 billion cu ft); ozigo, 2535 million cu m (882 million1.2 billion cu ft); ilomba, 2030 million cu m (7061,060 million cu ft); azobe, 1525 million cu m (530882 million cu ft); and padouk, 1020 million cu m (350706 million cu ft).

Gabon supplies 90% of the world's okoumé, which makes excellent plywood, and also produces hardwoods, such as mahogany, kevazingo, and ebony. Other woods are dibetou (tigerwood or African walnut), movingui (Nigerian satinwood), and zingana (zebrano or zebrawood). Roundwood removals were estimated at 4 million cu m (143 million cu ft) in 2004, with 13% used as fuel wood.

Exploitation had been hampered, to some extent, by the inadequacy of transportation infrastructure, a deficiency now alleviated by the Trans-Gabon Railway and Ndjole-Bitam highway. Reforestation has been continuously promoted, and selective thinning and clearing have prevented the okoumé from being forced out by other species. Over 50 firms are engaged in exploitation of Gabon's forests. Logging concessions covering about five million hectares (12.3 million acres) have been granted by the government, with the development of the least accessible areas largely carried out by foreign firms. Traditional demand in Europe for African lumber products has declined in recent years; during the 1980s, European demand for okoumé dropped by almost one-third. Markets in Japan, Morocco, and Israel, however, have become more receptive to African imports.


Gabon was the richest of the former French Equatorial African colonies in known mineral deposits. In addition to oil, which accounted for 80% of the country's exports in 2004, Gabon was a world leader in manganese. Potash, uranium, columbium (niobium), iron ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, marble, and phosphate have also been discovered, and several deposits were being exploited commercially. Ownership of all mineral rights was vested in the government, which has increased its share of the profits accruing to foreign companies under development contracts.

The high-grade manganese deposits at Moanda, near Franceville, are among the world's richest. Reserves were estimated at 250 million tons with a metal content of 48%52%. Production had been limited to a ceiling of 2.8 million tons a year, corresponding closely to the capacity of the cablewayat 76 km, Africa's longest overhead cableused to transport the mineral to the Congo border, from where it was carried by rail to the port of Pointe Noire. The Trans-Gabon Railway provided an export outlet through the Gabonese port of Owendo. Use of the railroad has cut shipping costs by $20 million per year. Manganese was exploited by the Mining Co. of L'Ougoué (Comilog, an international consortium), which ranked among the world's lowest-cost producers. In 2004, an estimated 2.4 million metric tons of metallurgical-grade ore were extracted, up from 1.95 million metric tons in 2003. Annual production capacity at the Moanda Mine was 2.5 million tons, with reserves estimated to last 100 years.

Gabon also produced an estimated 350,000 metric tons each of clinker and hydraulic cement in 2004. Also in that year an estimated 500 carats of diamonds (gem and industrial) were produced, along with 70 kg of gold.

The Mékambo and Belinga iron fields in the northeastern corner of Gabon were ranked among the world's richest. Reserves were estimated as high as 1 billion tons of ore of 60%65% iron content, and production could reach 20 million tons a year. Although iron was discovered there in 1895, it was not until 1955 that a full-scale commercial license was issued. Exploitation still awaited the establishment of a 225 km extension of the Trans-Gabon Railroad from Booué to Belinga; construction has been considered unprofitable, because of unfavorable market conditions.

The potential for new developments in columbium, gold, manganese, and possibly phosphate suggested a continued role for mining in the economy. The lack of adequate infrastructure inhibited new grassroots exploration and remained a major constraint on development of the well-defined iron ore deposit at Belinga.


Gabon is the fourth-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, and has the region's third-largest oil reserves. Oil prospecting began in 1931. Deposits were found on the coast or offshore in the vicinity of Libreville and Port-Gentil, in the northwestern part of the country. Later, large deposits were found in the south. Oil from the northwest is channeled by pipeline to Cape Lopez, where there are loading facilities for export. Huge additional deposits were found on Mandji Island in 1962. The Rabi Kounga oil field is Gabon's largest oil field. In 1997, it produced a peak of 217,000 barrels per day. As of November 2004, it was producing 55,000 barrels per day.

Although Gabon's proven petroleum reserves rose from 1.3 billion barrels in 1996 to 2.5 billion barrels in 2004, the government is concerned about long-term depletion of resources. Total production of crude oil fell from a peak of 371,000 barrels per day to an estimated 289,700 barrels per day in 2003. Gabon's production goes primarily to Argentina, Brazil, France, the United States, and, more recently, Taiwan. Net oil exports in 2003 are estimated at 289,680 barrels per day.

As of 1 January 2004, reserves of natural gas reserves estimated at 1.2 trillion cu ft, by the Oil and Gas Journal. Production and consumption of natural gas in 2002 were estimated at 3 billion cu ft, each. Gross output stood at 81.22 billion cubic feet in 2002, of which 55.09 cu ft was flared or vented off, and 19.42 billion cu ft was reinjected.

Hydropower accounts for 76% of Gabon's electric power output. In 2002 there were hydroelectric stations at the Kinguélé and Tchimbélé dams on the Mbei River and at the Petite Poubara Dam, near Makokou on the Ogooué. Production and distribution of electricity are maintained by the Energy and Water Company of Gabon (SEEG), which was formed in 1963 and incorporates a number of smaller private and quasi-public entities. In 2002, electric power output totaled an estimated 1.16 billion kWh, with capacity estimated as of 1 January 2002 at 0.406 million kW. Consumption of electricity was 1.275 billion kWh in 2002. Natural gas is the principal fuel for the thermal plants.


Gabon's industry is centered on petroleum, manganese mining, and timber processing. Most industrial establishments are located near Libreville and Port-Gentil. Virtually all industrial enterprises were established with government subsidies in the oil boom years of the 1970s. Timber-related concerns include five veneer plants and a large 50-year-old plywood factory in Port-Gentil, along with two other small plywood factories. Other industries include textile plants, cement factories, chemical plants, breweries, shipyards, and cigarette factories. Gabonese manufacturing is highly dependent on foreign inputs, and import costs rose significantly in 1994 when the CFA franc was devalued. Increased costs and oversized capacity have made the manufacturing sector less competitive and it mainly supplies the domestic market. The government has taken steps to privatize parastatal enterprises.

Due to the fact that the Gabonese economy is dependent upon oil (crude oil accounts for over 80% of the country's exports, 43% of GDP, and 65% of state revenue), it is subject to worldwide price fluctuations. Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest crude oil producer and exporter, although there are concerns that proven reserves are declining and production has declined as well. Thus the country has taken steps to diversify the economy, and to engage in further petroleum exploration. The Sogara oil refinery at Port-Gentil is the sole refinery in Gabon. The country produced 302,000 barrels of oil per day in 2001, which was a decrease of 9% from 1999 production levels. Gabon's proven oil reserves were estimated at 2.5 billion barrels in 2002, and its proven natural gas reserves were estimated at 1.2 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).


Gabon has a shortage of trained scientists and technicians and relies heavily on foreignmostly Frenchtechnical assistance. In Libreville there are a French bureau of geological and mineral research, a technical center for tropical forestry, a research institute for agriculture and forestry, and a center for technical and scientific research. A laboratory of primatology and equatorial forest ecology is at Makokou, and an international center of medical research, concentrating on infectious diseases and fertility, is at Franceville. The University Omar Bongo, founded in 1970, has a faculty of sciences, schools of engineering and of forestry and hydraulics, and a health science center. The University of Sciences and Techniques of Masuke, at Franceville, founded in 1986, has a faculty of sciences. The Interprovincial School of Health is located in Mouila. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 29% of college and university enrollments. The African Institute of Information, at Libreville, trains computer programmers and analysts. In 1986, research and development expenditures totaled CFA Fr380 million.

In 2004 there were 61 scientists and engineers per million people that were engaged in research and development.


Most local produce is sold directly to consumers or to intermediaries at local markets in villages and towns, while imported goods are disposed of at the same time. Company agents and independent middlemen buy export crops at local markets or directly from the producers for sale to large companies. Both French and domestic companies carry on wholesale and retail trade in the larger cities. Nearly 70% of food products are imported. Large commercial companies generally sell hardware, food, clothing, tools, electrical goods, durable consumer goods, and cars. Medium-sized merchandise retail establishments are mostly operated by Syrian, Lebanese, or Asian expatriates. Small private companies are often owned by expatriates from elsewhere in West Africa and operate from market stalls. Gabonese have been trained in retailing in newly built stores. Those who qualify after training have been encouraged to buy the stores with government-sponsored loans. Advertising is carried by local newspapers, company publications, handbills, billboards, and radio and television stations.

Business hours are 8 amnoon and 36 pm, Monday through Friday, and 8 am1 pm, Saturday. Banks are open 7:3011:30 am and 2:304:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Mainly French is spoken.


Gabon has a record of trade surpluses. Until the late 1960s, timber was Gabon's main export. By 1969, however, crude petroleum had become the leader, accounting for 34% of total exports. Petroleum's share increased to 40.7% in 1972 and to 81.9% in 1974; it stood at 82.5% in 1985 and currently hovers around 80%.

Gabon's most lucrative export commodity is crude petroleum (81% in 2005). Wood accounts for a substantial amount of export revenues (9.3% in 2005), as does manganese (6.2% in 2005). Most of Gabon's oil goes to the United States.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 2,600.2 956.1 1,644.1
United States 1,628.0 106.4 1,521.6
China 175.3 7.1 168.2
Australia 143.8 143.8
France-Monaco 116.6 421.4 -304.8
Korea, Republic of 96.7 5.3 91.4
Trinidad and Tobago 82.6 82.6
Areas nes 59.2 84.8 -25.6
Korea (DPRK) 39.2 39.2
India 32.3 5.7 26.6
Spain 27.8 29.7 -1.9
() data not available or not significant.


Gabon's traditionally favorable trade balance does not always result in a favorable balance on current accounts, largely because of dividend payments and other remittances by foreign enterprises but also because of payments on large debts accumulated in the 1970s. Generally, however, an increasingly strong export performance and rising inflows of private and government capital have made Gabon's payments position one of the strongest of any African country.

The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that in 2005 the purchasing power parity of Gabon's exports was $5.78 billion while imports totaled $1.53 billion resulting in a trade surplus of $4.25 billion.


The bank of issue is the Bank of the Central African States (Banque des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale-BEAC), the central bank for UDEAC members.

Commercial banking in Gabon is largely controlled by French and other foreign interests. At the end of 1999 there were five major commercial banks, including the Banque International de Commerce et d'Industrie du Gabon (BICIG, a branch of BNP France), the Union Gabonaise de Banque (UGB, a branch of Credit Lyonnais), the Banque Gabonaise et Francaise Internationale (BGFI, formerly Banque Paribas), Citibank, and The French Intercontinental Bank (FIBA).

The Gabonese Development Bank (BDG), 69% Gaboneseowned, is the nation's development bank. Other institutions concerned with development are the Credit Foncier du Gabon (CREFOGA, for housing), the Fund for Development and Expansion (FODEX, for small, to medium-sized firms), and the Banque Gabonaise de Credit Rural (loans for agriculture).

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $453.2 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $773.1 million. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 6.5%.

There is no securities market in Gabon, but in 1999, President Bongo spoke of opening a Gabon stock exchange.


In 1974, a national company known as SONAGAR was created, 36% owned by the government. In 1986, there were four French insurance companies represented in Gabon. As of 1995, at least ten insurance companies were doing business in Gabon.


The oil sector brings in over 50% of government revenues. Government finances are generally poorly managed. Large deficits have required borrowing from foreign creditors, although the government's failure to privatize state-owned enterprises and to fully account for oil revenues has soiled its reputation with international financial institutions. After the 1994 devaluation of the currency, Gabon was forced to rescheduled its debt with the World Bank/IMF, the London Club of creditors, the African Development Bank, and the Paris Club. In April 2002, an 18-month stand-by arrangement with the IMF expired, without Gabon fulfilling its responsibilities.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Gabon's central government took in revenues of approximately $2.4 billion and had expenditures of $1.6 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $845 million. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 29.5% of GDP. Total external debt was $3.857 billion.


A graduated income tax ranging from 555% is imposed on civil servants and others who are paid fixed salaries or who have sufficient

Current Account 390.4
     Balance on goods 1,588.3
         Imports -910.5
         Exports 2,498.8
     Balance on services -586.1
     Balance on income -568.9
     Current transfers -43.0
Capital Account 5.4
Financial Account -686.8
     Direct investment abroad -73.9
     Direct investment in Gabon -156.6
     Portfolio investment assets 22.4
     Portfolio investment liabilities -0.7
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -109.0
     Other investment liabilities -369.1
Net Errors and Omissions -106.7
Reserves and Related Items 397.8
() data not available or not significant.

income. A complementary tax is levied at 1% for incomes up to CFA FR100,000 per month and 5.5% on incomes over that figure. Additional taxes are levied on business transactions and on real property. There is a value-added tax on all goods and services at rates ranging from 514%. In April 1995, a value-added tax (VAT) was introduced, replacing three turnover taxes. The standard VAT rate in 2005 was 18%,. Other taxes include a 2.6% payroll tax, a property tax, and a financial transactions tax.

The standard corporate tax rate is 35% after deduction for business expenses, with a minimum of 1.1% on turnover. There is a 20% withholding tax on dividends. Payments of interest, royalties, and for services are taxed at 10%. Government oil revenues are derived from royalty payments, a tax on petroleum company profits, a tax on exploration permits, and dividends paid by the petroleum companies.


Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Congo are joined in a customs union, the Union Douanière et Economique de l'Afrique Centrale (UDEAC). Gabon is a part of the franc zone, within which goods and capital flow without obstruction.

Import duties consist of a fiscal duty applied to all goods entering the UDEAC area, whatever their origin. Customs duties and taxes are based on the cost, insurance and freight (CIF) value. Basic products are taxed at 7.2%, raw materials at 29.8%, intermediate products and most food products at 53.4%, and luxury items 99.42%. In addition, there is an entry fee, a value-added tax (VAT) of 18% payable by all companies with a turnover of more than $400,000, a complementary import tax, and a special fee on postal and border imports. Imports from outside the franc zone and the European Union are subject to licensing fees and prior authorization is required. Export duties and taxes are levied on specific commodities.


Gabon has benefited from considerable private investment centered on the development of petroleum resources. French investments predominated, accounting for over 73% of foreign investment, with the United Kingdom (21%) following. Since independence, however, Gabon has sought additional sources of investment and US companies have invested in the lumber industry, oil exploration, and mining. French influence by sector is estimated at 63% in construction, 50% in petroleum, 30% in timber, 20% in chemicals, and 29% in transportation. The biggest French company in Gabon is Shell Gabon. Foreign direct investment ranged from $30 million in 2002 to $323 million in 2004.

Gabon's investment code of 1989 gives preferential treatment with regard to taxation, duties, importation of certain equipment and raw materials, and royalties to all enterprises considered important for the development of Gabon's economy. The government reserves the right to give preferential treatment to Gabonese-owned industry. Free transfer of capital is guaranteed and there are no restrictions on area of activity. All new industrial, mining, farming, or forestry operations are exempt from income tax for the first two years.

In January 1996, the government passed a new law on privatization that resulted in the sale of the electricity and water monopoly (SEEG) in 1997 to a French firm. Other companies to be privatized include Transgabonese Railway (OCTRA) and the International Telecommunications Office (OPT).


Economic liberalism tempered by planning is the basic policy of the Gabonese government, which seeks to make the most of the country's rich natural resources. Priority is being given to the agricultural sector, to reduce imports, and to diversify the economy. Limiting migration to the cities is also an important element in this strategy. Industrial development efforts are centered on resource processing industries. Building the infrastructure is also an identifiable priority.

The devaluation of the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc in 1994 did not stimulate local production and discourage imports as expected. Realizing the need for structural adjustments to restore economic competitiveness, the government developed a new strategy in 1995 that encouraged private sector development, promoted privatization of state-owned enterprises, and increased the government's efforts in providing health and education services. A 1997 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on Gabon criticized the government of overspending and failing to meet structural reform schedules. The government negotiated an 18-month stand-by arrangement with the IMF in 2000, which expired in 2002; Gabon met few of its targets.

Oil production fell in 2001, and non-oil activity rose by 4%. Oil prices were high in the early 2000s, and Gabon's current account balance improved from a deficit of 8.8% of GDP in 1999 to a surplus of 3.2% in 2000; it fell to a deficit of 1% of GDP in 2001, in part due to lower oil exports. The IMF in 2003 encouraged Gabon's government to develop the non-oil sector as a way of replacing the oil and government sectors as the primary catalysts for economic growth and development. According to the IMF's staff report on the fourth review of Gabon's stand-by arrangement, Gabon's exports are expected to increase modestly in 200607, even though oil production is forecast to remain constant, at 13.4 million tons (266,928 barrels/day).


Old age, disability, and survivor pensions are available to all employees and are funded by contributions from employees and employers. Special systems are in place for civil servants, military personnel, the self-employed, and state contract workers. Other benefits include maternity and medical coverage, and workers' compensation. A family allowance is available to all salaried workers with children under the age of 16. Agricultural workers and subsistence farmers are not covered by these programs.

Women have many legal protections and participate in business and politics, although they face discrimination in many areas. Polygamy is still common, and the property rights of women in polygamous marriages are limited. Women are required by law to obtain permission from their husband before leaving the country. Domestic abuse is prevalent, especially in rural areas. There is limited legal and medical assistance for rape victims.

Minority Pygmies maintain their indigenous community and decision-making structures. However, they suffer societal discrimination and severe poverty. Gabon's human rights record has improved in recent years, although there continue to be reports of the use of abuse by security forces. Prison conditions are harsh and life threatening.


Most of the health services are public, but there are some private institutions, of which the best known is the hospital established in 1913 in Lambaréné by Albert Schweitzer. The hospital is now partially subsidized by the Gabonese government.

Gabon's medical infrastructure is considered one of the best in West Africa. By 1985 there were 28 hospitals, 87 medical centers, and 312 infirmaries and dispensaries. As of 2004, there were an estimated 29 physicians per 100,000 people. Approximately 90% of the population had access to health care services. In 2000, 70% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 21% had adequate sanitation.

A comprehensive government health program treats such diseases as leprosy, sleeping sickness, malaria, filariasis, intestinal worms, and tuberculosis. Rates for immunization of children under the age of one were 97% for tuberculosis and 65% for polio. Immunization rates for DPT and measles were 37% and 56% respectively. Gabon has a domestic supply of pharmaceuticals from a large, modern factory in Libreville.

The total fertility rate has decreased from 5.8 in 1960 to 4.2 children per mother during childbearing years in 2000. Ten percent of all births were low birth weight. The maternal mortality rate was 520 per 100,000 live births as of 1998. In 2005, the infant mortality rate was 55.35 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy was 55.02 years. As of 2002, the overall mortality rate was estimated at 17.6 per 1,000 inhabitants.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 8.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 48,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 3,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

World Health Organization specialists and the government of Gabon took immediate action against the mid-1990s reemergence of the Ebola virus.


Credit institutions make small loans for the repair of existing houses and larger loans (amounting to almost the total cost of the house) for the construction of new houses, but the cost of homeownership and maintenance has still been beyond the reach of most average citizens. Because of their higher credit rating, salaried civil servants and employees of trading companies receive most of the loans. The government has established a national habitation fund, and there have been a number of urban renewal projects. As of 2000, 73% of urban and 55% of rural dwellers had access to improved water sources. About 25% of urban and 4% of rural dwellers had access to improved sanitation systems. It has been estimated that the housing deficit within Libreville alone is about 100,000 dwellings.


The educational system is patterned on that of France, but changes are being introduced gradually to adapt the curriculum to local needs and traditions. The government gives high priority to education, especially the construction of rural schools. Education is free and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. Primary school covers five years of study. Students then choose either general secondary courses or a technical school program, each of which cover seven years. The academic year runs from October to June. The primary language of instruction is French.

In 2001, about 13% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2001 was estimated at about 78% of age-eligible students. The same year, enrollment in secondary schools was at less than 50% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 74% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 49:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 28:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 29% of primary school enrollment and 30% of secondary enrollment.

Omar Bongo University, at Libreville, includes faculties of law, sciences, and letters; teachers' training schools; and schools of law, engineering, forestry and hydraulics, administration, and management. In 1999, about 7% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 1995 was estimated at about 63.2%, with 73.7% for men and 53.3% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.9% of GDP.


The National Library (founded in 1969), National Archives (1969), and Documentation Center (1980) together form a collection of 25,000 volumes. The Omar Bongo University in Libreville has 12,000 volumes. The Information Center Library in Libreville has 3,500 volumes. There are also American and French Cultural Centers in Libreville housing modest collections. The Museum of Arts and Traditions at Libreville is a general interest museum. The National Museum of Gabon is also in Libreville.


The Ministry of Information, Posts, and Telecommunications provides domestic services for Gabon and participates in international services. There are direct radiotelephone communications with Paris and other overseas points. In 2003, there were an estimated 29 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 224 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Radio-Diffusion Télévision Gabonaise (RTG), which is owned and operated by the government, broadcasts in French and indigenous languages. Color television broadcasts have been introduced in major cities. In 1981, a commercial radio station, Africa No. 1, began operations. The most powerful radio station on the continent, it has participation from the French and Gabonese governments and private European media. In 2004, the government operated two radio stations and another seven were privately owned. There were also two government television stations and four privately owned. In 2003, there were an estimated 488 radios and 308 television sets for every 1,000 people. About 11.5 of every 1,000 people were cable subscribers. Also in 2003, there were 22.4 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 26 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were six secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

The national press service is the Gabonese Press Agency, which publishes a daily paper, Gabon-Matin (circulation 18,000 as of 2002). L'Union in Libreville, the government-controlled daily newspaper, had an average daily circulation of 40,000 in 2002. The weekly Gabon d'Aujourdhui, is published by the Ministry of Communications. There are about nine privately owned periodicals which are either independent or affiliated with political parties. These publish in small numbers and are often delayed by financial constraints. Foreign newspapers are available.

The constitution of Gabon provides for free speech and a free press, and the government is said to support these rights. Several periodicals actively criticize the government and foreign publications are widely available.


There is a chamber of commerce at Libreville. UNIGABON, a national organization established in October 1959, conducts liaison work among mining companies, labor unions, public works societies, and transportation companies. There are some professional organizations, such as the Association of Editors of a Free and Independent Press and the Association of Sports Medicine.

Church organizations are active in the country and have a sizable following. They operate several mission schools and health centers. In rural areas, cooperatives promote the production and marketing of agricultural products. Among the tribes, self-help societies have grown rapidly, particularly in the larger towns, where tribal members act together as mutual-aid societies. There are youth and women's organizations affiliated with the PDG. The Alliance of YMCA's is also a major youth organization in the country, as are several scouting programs.

Volunteer service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs International and Rotary Clubs, are also present. There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society and Caritas.


Gabon's tourist attractions include fine beaches, ocean and inland fishing facilities, and scenic sites, such as the falls on the Ogooué River and the Crystal Mountains. Many visitors come to see the hospital founded by Albert Schweitzer at Lambaréné. In addition, there are two national parks and four wildlife reserves. Hunting is allowed in certain areas except during October and November.

Tourism accommodations are limited. In 2002 there were only 2,450 hotel rooms with a 70% occupancy rate. An estimated 222,257 tourists arrived in Gabon in 2003. Visitors must have a valid passport, visa, and evidence of yellow fever immunization.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily expenses of staying in Libreville at $246. Elsewhere, expenses were as low as $135 per day.


The best-known Gabonese are Léon Mba (190267), the president of the republic from 1960 to 1967, and Omar Bongo (AlbertBernard Bongo, b.1935), president since Mba's death. Born in Alsace (then part of Germany but now in France), Albert Schweitzer (18751965), a world-famous clergyman, physician, philosopher, and musicologist and the 1952 winner of the Nobel Prize for peace, administered a hospital that he established in Lambaréné in 1913.


Gabon has no territories or colonies.


Barnes, James Franklin. Gabon: Beyond the Colonial Legacy. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992.

Decalo, Samuel. The Stable Minority: Civilian Rule in Africa, 19601990. Gainesville, Fla.: FAP Books, 1998.

Dun and Bradstreet's Export Guide to Gabon. Parsippany, N.J.: Dun and Bradstreet, 1999.

Gardinier, David E. Gabon. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1992.

. Historical Dictionary of Gabon. 2nd ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

. Historical Dictionary of Gabon. Boulder, Colo.: netLibrary, Inc., 2000.

Gray, Christopher J. Colonial Rule and Crisis in Equatorial Africa: Southern Gabon, c. 18501940. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2002.

McElrath, Karen (ed.). HIV and AIDS: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Gabonese Republic

Major City:

Other Cities:
Franceville, Lambaréné, Mouanda, Oyem, Port-Gentil, Tchibanga


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated August 1992. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


GABON , the first part of French Equatorial Africa to be settled in the middle of the 19th century, has enjoyed a remarkably stable relationship with its former colonial power. From 1968 to 1990, Gabon was a one-party state dominated by the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). In February 1990, amid widespread social, political, and economic discontent, the Gabonese president declared that the PDG's monopoly of power would be dissolved, a new constitution written, and all opposition parties legalized. The first multiparty elections took place in 1993.

Gabon became a republic within the French Community in 1958, and two years later achieved full independence. Léon M'Ba, who formed Gabon's first political party (the Mouvement Mixte Gabonais) in 1946, became the country's first president. M'Ba was overthrown by a military coup in 1964, but was restored by French troops. M'Ba died in 1967. He was replaced by his vice-president, now known as El Hadj Omar Bongo in 1967. Bongo remains in power to date. Gabon's major strides in economic development, principally stimulated by vast oil resources, have made it a country of increasing economic importance in Central Africa.



Libreville, the capital, is an attractive, modern city, which has been transformed in the past decade from a sleepy town reminiscent of the colonial era into a metropolis of about 419,000. Included in this number is a predominantly French expatriate community.

The entire city has undergone extensive modernization. For years, dozens of huge cranes have shared the skyline with newly completed high-rise office and apartment structures. The downtown core of Libreville is surrounded by residential districts where modern apartment buildings and houses are erected next to African huts with palm-leaf roofs. One side of the city is bounded by broad expanses of palm-lined, sandy beaches which are excellent for swimming or sunning; on the other side, new construction continues to push back the dense equatorial rain forest that covers nearly 75 percent of Gabon's land area. The high annual rainfall and ample sunshine encourage the growth of lush tropical vegetation, creating a charming overall impression.

For visitors, the city offers several luxury hotelsthe Okoumé Palace Inter-Continental, Rapontchombo-Novotel, Dowe-Novotel, Sheraton, Monts de Cristal, and the Gamba. Libreville is one of the most expensive cities in the world, with scant accommodations available in all but the luxury class. However, due to overbuilding, hotel rates have dropped slightly in recent years.

For its permanent or expatriate residents, it boasts one of Africa's largest supermarkets and a number of interesting small shops and markets. Because nearly all goods are imported, usually from Europe, prices are extremely high. However, almost everything is available locally to those willing to pay the price.


The American International School, in residential Quartier Louis, was opened in 1975, and offers a full curriculum from kindergarten through grade eight. A curriculum similar to American schools is offered with English as the language of instruction. French is taught as a foreign language.

Several public and parochial schools in Libreville provide instruction (in French) through the equivalent level of high school. The curriculum is satisfactory and includes athletics; however, teaching standards, particularly in the upper grades, are low and classrooms tend to be seriously overcrowded.

In the city of Port-Gentil, the American School of Port-Gentil was opened in 1985. Sponsored by the Amoco Gabon Exploration Company, the school is located in a large, refurbished villa near the city's airport. The curriculum from kindergarten through eighth grade is similar to American schools; however, classes are taught in French. Sports such as tennis, soccer, swimming, and softball are offered. Art, music, drama, computer instruction, yearbook, and the school newspaper are popular extracurricular activities.


The ocean provides the city's main recreation. At the edge of town are long, palm-lined beaches where swimming and sun bathing are possible year-round. Many fishing and water-skiing enthusiasts maintain motorboats in the area. The deeper waters offshore abound in many types of game fishtarpon, barracuda, sailfish, marlin, sea bass, and occasional sharks. Protected waters closer to the coast allow for skin diving. Sailing and wind surfing are extremely popular.

The largest of Libreville's sports clubs is the Mindoube Club, which offers tennis, riding, a swimming pool, and a small bar and restaurant for its members. There are five lighted tennis courts, and stables where horses may be boarded or rented. Membership is easily arranged, but fees are relatively high.

The Golf Club de l'Estuaire offers a challenging 18-hole course. The fairways and sand greens are moderately well maintained, but the rough is dense during the rainy season.

Several other sports and hobbies are represented by clubs in Libreville. An aéroclub offers flying instruction and the opportunity for licensed pilots to use light aircraft, at rates well below those charged by charter operators. There also is a club for parachutists, and several for the martial arts. Bridge, chess, and philately groups welcome new members.

Governmental controls on firearms and hunting privileges have made sport hunting increasingly difficult, to the point where outings might be arranged only through personal intercession with a few expatriates or Gabonese who still have access to preserves.

Touring in Gabon is a popular form of recreation. The internationally renowned hospital founded by the late Dr. Albert Schweitzer, 160 miles from the capital in the town of Lambaréné, offers a pleasant weekend excursion. It can be reached by air, or by a four to five-hour drive through an attractive forested landscape. New roads are now providing shorter alternate routes. With suitable advance notice, adequate accommodations (including meals) can be obtained at Sofitel Ogooué Palace, a small hotel in town. The hospital staff extends a warm welcome to visitors and provides guided tours of the facilities, including both old and new hospital buildings and a small museum devoted to Dr. Schweitzer's life and work. Either the hospital staff or the hotel can also arrange a trip by motorized pirogue (dugout canoe) on the Ogooué River and into a series of adjacent lakes. Such a trip, which can last from one hour to an entire day, offers an opportunity to see hippopotami, crocodiles, monkeys, and colorful birds.

All parts of Gabon can be reached by air, but plane fares are expensive. Travel by road continues to be made easier with the building of new arteries, although many places still can be reached only by four-wheel-drive vehicles during the rainy season. The Transgabon Railway, begun in 1974 and the largest civil engineering project in Black Africa not financed by international aid, has opened new passenger-rail possibilities that were previously unavailable.

Most provincial capitals now have adequate hotel facilities, and several private companies in the interior will offer hospitality to visitors if given prior notice. This increased availability of accommodations, combined with an active program of road construction, is making travel by car more practicable than ever before, but such trips will continue to require a pioneering spirit for several years to come. For those willing to make the effort, however, the country is extremely attractive and varied. Highlights include extensive mining operations in the southeast; open savanna country in the southwest (with herds of buffalo and, occasionally, elephant); mountain ranges stretching across the central part of the country; agricultural areas in the north; and miles and miles of unbroken forest nearly everywhere in Gabon.


Entertainment outside the home is limited, although possibilities have increased as the city has grown. A number of good, but usually expensive, restaurants offer Gabonese, French, Italian, Vietnamese, and North African specialties. Several expensive nightclubs offer dancing to recorded and live music.

Movies are available at the relatively new Komo cinema and Bowl-ingstore, which is comparable to a first-run theater in the U.S. All films are in French and often are of mediocre quality; films of American or British origin are dubbed. The U.S. Army and Air Force Motion Picture Service (AAFMPS), West African circuit, provides movies for government personnel and their families and guests. There are frequent film showings at the French Cultural Center.

Only occasionally is live theater or musical entertainment found in Libreville. Special shows or visiting entertainers appear on an irregular basis at the Komo or one of the hotels, and the French Cultural Center sponsors a number of lectures and theatrical presentations. The U.S. Information Service (USIS) Cultural Center has a library which lends books and records.

The American community in Libreville consists of embassy personnel, Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, business people, and their families. The American Business Association is composed of diplomatic officers and people involved with U.S. commercial enterprises in Gabon.

There are many foreign embassies here, including the U.S. Embassy in the heart of town, overlooking the sea. The number of diplomatic missions is constantly increasing. Social interaction between the expatriate business and professional community and Gabonese government officials and private individuals is part of the life of the international community.


FRANCEVILLE , in Gabon's southeastern corner, lies on a tributary of the Ogooué River. It is an active trading center in the midst of a mining region. Gold is mined southwest of the town and coffee is one of the area's main cash crops. Franceville has a population of over 75,000.

Albert Schweitzer founded his world-famous mission hospital in LAMBARÉNÉ in 1926. Expanded and modernized, it continues today. The town is on the Ogooué River, about 100 miles southeast of Libreville. Because the town is on an island, access is limited. The hospital, on the north bank, can be reached by boat or, in dry season, by foot. Lambaréné is a lumbering and trading center and is the home of a large palm oil factory. Palm oil products and lumber are usually exported down the Ogooué River to Port-Gentil, 100 miles to the west. Lambaréné has an estimated population of over 50,000.

In the southeast, MOUANDA (also spelled Moanda) attracts workers to its sophisticated manganese mining operations. A U.S.-French consortium has built schools, two hospitals, roads, and airfields in Mouanda and the surrounding area. The consortium has also constructed facilities for the training of chemists and draftsmen. Mouanda has an estimated population of 45,500.

OYEM is a provincial capital 175 miles northeast of Libreville. Cash crops, such as coffee and cocoa, are grown on surrounding farms, and the city is also a major agricultural transport point to the Cameroonian ports of Kribi and Douala. Rubber and potatoes are also cultivated here. Oyem's population is roughly 89,600.

PORT-GENTIL , with its estimated population of 164,000, is on the delta of the Ogooué River, about 100 miles southwest of Libreville. The discovery of offshore oil deposits in 1956 stimulated Port-Gentil's commercial and industrial growth. It is considered the industrial capital of Gabon, since it is the center of the petroleum and plywood industries and the country's busiest port. Port-Gentil is also the site of a construction company, a chemical plant, a brewery, and processing plants for fish, rice, palm oil, and whale oil.

TCHIBANGA is a small town located near the Nyanga River in southwestern Gabon. With a population of approximately 54,000, Tchibanga is Gabon's major rice producing center. Cassava and peanuts are also grown here. A lumber industry and marble processing plant are also important. Recently discovered iron-ore deposits near Tchibanga raise hopes for a lucrative mining operation in the future.


Geography and Climate

Gabon straddles the equator on the west coast of Central Africa and borders on Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Cameroon on the north, and the Republic of the Congo on the east and south. Spreading across an approximate 102,300 square miles, it is roughly the size of Colorado and considerably larger than either the United Kingdom or the Federal Republic of Germany.

Heavy equatorial rain forests comprise nearly 75 percent of Gabon, with savanna areas in the southeastern and southwestern sections of the country covering an additional 15 percent. The remaining area is composed of swamps and water bodies, towns, villages, and roads. The Ogooué, the largest river in West Africa between the Niger and the Congo, drains most of Gabon. Winding in a broad arc from southeastern Gabon to the country's Atlantic coast, the Ogooué cuts through three major geographical regions: the coastal lowlands, the plateau region, and the mountains.

The lowlands lie along the Atlantic Ocean and extend up into the river valleys which slice through the broad interior plateau. They are lined with beaches and lagoons fringed with mangrove swamps; the forest extends from the banks of the broad, slow-moving rivers and covers most of the lowland areas. Inland, the terrain mounts to the plateau, and then to the mountains which rise as high as 5,000 feet. The highest point in Gabon is Mt. Iboundji (5,167 ft.). The land has considerable variety and the interior is often beautiful with its mountains, rolling hills, forests, and scattered grassland clearings.

Gabon's climate is typically equatorialhot and humid during most of the year. Temperatures range from 65°F to 77°F in the dry season, and from 86°F to 93°F during the rainy season. There are four distinguishable seasons, although they vary somewhat each year: the long, dry period from late May until mid-September; the short, rainy season from mid-September until mid-December; the short, dry period from then through January; and the long, rainy interval from February until late May. Rainfall at Libreville is about 100 inches a year (the U.S. average is approximately 40 inches), with heaviest amounts falling in October, November, March, April, and May. Humidity is always high, between 80 and 87 percent. Because of seasonal ocean currents and a high cloud cover, the long, dry season is the coolest time of the year.


Gabon has an estimated population of 1.2 million. Gabon has one of the smallest populations in Africa; the density (an average of four persons per square mile) is also the lowest of any on the continent. The people are concentrated along the rivers and roads, while large areas of the interior lie empty. During much of the past century, there was an actual decline in population because of disease and related factors, but increased medical care and social services have halted this trend. However, population growth is still slow. As a consequence, economic development is hampered by a labor shortage.

Almost all Gabonese are members of the Bantu language group. The more than 40 tribes have separate languages or dialects and different cultures. The largest tribe is the Fang. The other major groups are the Bapounou, Eschira, M'Bete, Bandjabi, Bakota, and Myene. The remainder of the population is divided among more than 30 other tribes, including some 2,000 Pygmies. The official language of Gabon is French. Since English is rarely spoken here, it is essential to have a working knowledge of French. Fang is the most widely used popular language. Baponou, Myene, and other Bantu dialects are also spoken.

55 to 75 percent of Gabon's population are Christians, mainly adherents of the Roman Catholic Church. The remainder of the population practice animist beliefs or are Moslems.

Outside the major towns and cities, the people are grouped in small or moderate-size villages and live in square, wooden, or mud wattle houses surrounded by small plots of manioc and stands of banana trees. European-style dress is worn by both Gabonese men and women throughout the country.


Pygmies are believed to have inhabited the Gabon estuary in early times, but it was the Mpongwe who occupied both banks when the Portuguese, the first explorers in that region, arrived in 1470. Many place names are Portuguese in origin: Cape Lopez, Cape Estérias, and even Gabon itself, derived from gaboa, meaning a sailor's hooded cloak, similar to the shape of the estuary. The Portuguese, however, never established any permanent settlements. Dutch, French, and other ships continued to visit the coast, but no attempt to penetrate the country was made until the 19th century.

Although the Congress of Vienna outlawed the slave trade in 1815, for many years afterward local chiefs continued to gather slaves from the interior and sell them to British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese traders on the coast. The coast of Gabon came under French protection after 1839, when the French naval captain Bouet Willaumez concluded a treaty of friendship and protection with King Rapontchombo (Denis), one of several African chiefs commanding both sides of the estuary. In the next few years, most of the other chiefs accepted similar treaties with the French.

Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, commanding the American West Africa Squadron, first entered the estuary in 1843. In 1846, the French captured the slave ship Elizia, and most of the Congolese aboard perished before they could be hospitalized in Dakar. Fifty-two who survived were freed and sent to Gabon in 1849, and there they received from the French, plots of land on both sides of what is today called rue du Gouverneur Ballay. This village, named Libreville by the French, later became the capital of the Gabonese Republic.

The first American missionaries arrived in 1842. Their initial post was at Baraka in the Glass area, but their work later extended up the Como and the Ogooué to Lambaréné and beyond. At Bakara, the Americans began the first Western-type school in Equatorial Africa. Between 1890 and 1913, the American missionaries were replaced by others from the Paris Mission Society and, in 1961, this Protestant effort emerged as the independent Gabon Evangelical Church. In 1934, another group of American missionaries established work in southern Gabon, where they still labor in cooperation with that church.

A Monseigneur Barron of Philadelphia was sent by the Vatican in 1843 to explore the possibilities of a Roman Catholic mission in the estuary. The following year, Monseigneur Jean Remy Bessieux, a Frenchman, began the pioneer work for the Holy Heart of Mary order, which later became attached to the Fathers of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic Church in Gabon has also come under the direction of African leaders.

During the 19th century, English and American trade dominated the estuary, especially from commercial centers such as Glass. Nevertheless, from 1845 on, the estuary was firmly under French control, and it was during this period that Gabon was gradually explored. Between 1855 and 1865, Paul du Chaillu explored the mountains in central Gabon which now bear his name.

American missionaries, du Chaillu, and French naval captains were the first Westerners to come into contact with the Gabonese of the interior regions. The Ogooué River was initially explored in 1854, when two American missionaries (whose surnames were Walker and Preston) ascended about half the distance to Lambaréné. Savorgnan de Brazza made the most thorough explorations between 1875 and 1883. Between 1888 and 1910, Crampel, Cureau, and Cottes explored the Woleu N'Tem region of northern Gabon. The famed Dr. Albert Schweitzer arrived in Lambaréné, opening his jungle hospital in 1923 on the banks of the Ogooué, only a few hundred yards from the former trading house of the renowned merchant, Trader Horn.

In the late 1880s, when Africa was partitioned, Gabon fell under French rule, and, in 1886, its administrative history developed. Gabon was first a part of the French Congo administered from Dakar. It became a distinct administrative region in 1903 and, in 1910, was organized as Gabon, one of the territories of French Equatorial Africa, along with the Middle Congo, Ubangichari, and Chad. The federation of these four territories was dissolved in 1959 when Gabon refused political union, and the next year they became the four independent states of Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), Central African Republic, and Chad. These states, together with Cameroon, have cooperated in several regional organizations. In 1966, they formed the Central African Customs and Economic Union (UDEAC) to harmonize tariffs and to coordinate economic development. Chad resigned from the group in 1968.


Gabon's constitution calls for the election by universal suffrage of a president to a seven-year term. The president appoints a prime minister, who serves as head of government, and a Council of Ministers.

Legislative policy is conducted by the National Assembly. This unicameral body consists of 120 members serving five-year terms. A new constitution approved in July 1996 provided for the creation of a 91-member Senate. El Hadj Omar Bongo first became president in 1967, and has been reelected every election since. In 1999, he appointed Jean-Francois Ntoutoume-Emane as prime minister.

Gabon has a judiciary system comprised of a Supreme Court, a High Court of Justice, a Court of Appeal, a Superior Council of Magistracy headed by the president, and a number of lesser courts. All Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president.

Administratively, the country is divided into nine provinces headed by governors, and further subdivided into 36 prefectures. Both governors and prefects are appointed by the president. The cities of Libreville and Port-Gentil are governed by elected mayors and Municipal Councils.

The flag of Gabon consists of green, yellow, and blue horizontal bands.

Arts, Science, Education

Gabon's intellectual, technological, and artistic life closely follows French development, although the beginnings of a resurgence in bringing a Gabonese perspective to these areas is seen. The National University, Université Omar Bongo (founded in 1970 and renamed eight years later), offers the licence to students in faculties of letters and humanities, sciences, economics and law, and engineering. Other post-secondary institutions include l'École Normale Supérieure, l'École Nationale des Eaux et Forêts, l'École des Cadres Ruraux, l'École Nationale d'Administration, Centre Universitaire des Sciences de la Santé, and l 'École Normale d'Enseignement Technique. In addition, l'École Nationale d'Art et de Manufacture offers secondary-school level training in various arts and crafts. The Université des Sciences et des Techniques de Masuku was opened in 1987. Many students go to France for university and technical training. The Gabonese government launched an adult literacy campaign in recent years.

Traditional Gabonese art (mainly Fang, Bakota, and Bapounou) is among the finest in Africa. Gabonese craftsmen produce excellent wood and stone carvings, weapons, musical instruments, and tools. Fang masks are especially popular among tourists. Most Gabonese art can be purchased from stalls, shops, and street vendors in Libreville and other large towns or at the Centre Artisanal near Libreville's Léon M'Ba Airport.

Until recently, Gabonese cultural traditions have been dwarfed by a decidedly European orientation on the part of the Gabonese elite. But in 1974, the first National Cultural Festival was organized in an attempt to preserve and encourage the development of Gabonese folklore.

Commerce and Industry

Gabon, with its abundant natural resources and small population, is one of the wealthiest nations in Africa, with a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that is four times greater than that of most Sub-Saharan nations. The country is rich in oil. Nearly 40 oil companies operate in Gabon, and oil accounts for 50% of GDP. The offshore oil fields at Oguendo, Gamba, Mandji, and Lucina are the main producing areas. In January 1989, production began at the billion barrel Rabi-Kounga field in west-central Gabon, an area that promises to boost Gabon's petroleum output by 50 percent.

Gabon has been plagued in recent years by a burgeoning national debt and falling world oil prices. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) implemented a number of austerity programs that have stabilized Gabon's economy.

Mining is another of Gabon's economic resources. The country has rich supplies of manganese ore and uranium. Most of these minerals are exported to Western Europe. Other mineral resources include lead, iron ore, diamonds, gold, phosphates, barite, copper, and zinc. Gabon's mineral output will likely increase with the scheduled completion of the Transgabon Railway. 60 percent of Gabon's population is involved in subsistence agriculture. However, it contributed only a meager ten percent to GDP in 1988. As a result, Gabon must import 70 percent of its food requirements.

Gabon's manufacturing sector is very small and is plagued by high production costs and a shortage of skilled workers. Primary industries include wood processing, foodstuff production, chemicals, ship repair, textiles, and metalworking.

Traditionally, France has been Gabon's major trading partner. However, in recent years, Gabon has pursued stronger economic ties with Japan, Canada, the United States, and Western Europe.

The address of the Gabonese Chambre de Commerce, d'Agriculture, d'Industrie, et des Mines du Gabon is B.P. 2234, Libreville; telephone: 72-20-64; telex: 5554.


In addition to daily service between Libreville and Paris, provided by UTA (Union de Transport Aériens, a French carrier) and Air Gabon, Libreville is connected directly to such other European cities as Brussels, Madrid, Geneva, Rome, Zurich, London, and Frankfurt. Service to capitals in central and West Africa is provided by Air Gabon and regional airlines (Air Afrique, Air Zaire, Nigerian Airways, and Cameroon Airways), and by stops on flights to and from Europe. Flights are available to such nearby points as Douala (Cameroon), Lagos (Nigeria), and Kinshasa (Zaire). The international airport at Libreville, Léon M'Ba, is seven miles from the city proper.

No passenger ships call at Libreville, but accommodations can, at times, be arranged on cargo vessels traveling north or south along the coast. This requires advance booking and considerable flexibility in travel.

The national airline (Air Gabon) or air charter companies are the carriers most used for travel within Gabon; rates in either case are high. Passenger train service is available on the Transgabon Railway, which covers 403 miles between Libreville and Franceville. Service is good and accommodations, especially in first-class, are quite comfortable.

Taxis abound, but are unsatisfactory as a means of transportation; drivers pick up anyone going in their general direction, and the result is often an extensive, crowded tour of the city before one's destination is reached. Taxi drivers seldom know the names of streets. Passengers should be prepared to give directions in terms of well-known landmarks (embassies, hotels, etc.) Tipping taxi drivers is not customary.

A private car is a necessity for an extended stay. Local licenses normally are issued without tests upon presentation of a valid license from another country. Third-party liability insurance is mandatory and must be obtained locally. Collision insurance is extremely expensive in Gabon, making it advisable to purchase from U.S. companies if possible.

Although Gabon has roughly 4,800 miles of roadway, less than 400 miles are paved. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are highly recommended, especially during the rainy seasons when most roads are virtually impassable.

There is a predominance of Volkswagens, French-made cars (Renault and Peugeot), Fiats, Hondas, and Toyotas, assuring these of the most complete servicing facilities. Parts supply and the quality of service are, however, erratic for all makes of vehicles. American cars are not sold in Gabon. Thus, parts and service for American models is generally unavailable.


Gabon has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Africa. Local and long-distance telephone service is available 24 hours a day. Long-distance service from Libreville and other large towns is excellent, but expensive. Telegraph connections usually can be made to most parts of the world during normal working hours and until noon on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Fax service is available in the business center of the Hotel Okoumé Palace-Intercontinental and in other major hotels. There is regular air and sea mail service between Libreville and the U.S., with air transit time averaging about five to seven days. Whenever possible, post office box numbers rather than street addresses should be used when sending letters to Gabon.

The national radio network, La Voix de la Rénovation, and a provincial network broadcast 24 hours a day in French and local languages. Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and other services can be received on a multi-band shortwave radio; equipment is expensive locally.

Gabon's state-controlled television service is Radio diffusion-Télévision Gabonaise. It broadcasts approximately five or six hours a day and only in French. Daily news programs cover local and international events, and full-length films are shown frequently. Two color channels are in operation, but no foreign transmission is provided. American-made sets are not compatible with Gabonese television.

L'Union, a multi-page printed newspaper, is published daily with a modicum of international news. Time, Newsweek, and a few other English-language magazines are available at local bookstores, which also are well stocked with French newspapers, such as Le Monde, and periodicals.

The International Herald Tribune and Le Monde can be obtained by subscription, arriving within one to five days after publication.


Libreville offers generally satisfactory medical facilities for ordinary problems (except nursing care). In addition to a large public hospital, there are several private clinics staffed by expatriate (largely French) physicians. In all, these various facilities include among their medical personnel a number of specialists (in such areas as obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics) as well as general practitioners, and can cope with a wide variety of routine medical problems.

Several dentists are in practice in Libreville. Their work is of good quality, but expensive.

The level of community sanitation in Libreville is low compared to that in the U.S., but an effort is being made to raise standards as the city develops. Garbage, for example, is picked up six times weekly throughout the city, and there are periodic cleanup campaigns. Snakes are commonly seen in the city, and a local pest-control service provides effective treatment against occasional rodents. Insects are an irritating problem and can never be completely eliminated, but screening and judicious use of insecticides is helpful.

Gabon has most of the diseases common to tropical Africa: malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, and sleeping sickness. Bilharzia, caused by water snails, is endemic here. Avoid bathing in ponds, slow-moving streams, or lakes. It is important to be inoculated against yellow fever, tetanus, cholera, smallpox, typhoid, and polio prior to arrival. Malaria suppressants should also be takentwo to three weeks before arrival, and regularly thereafter.

While Gabon has somewhat lower rates for AIDS (SIDA in French) than other African countries, it is definitely a major problem, especially among prostitutes. In West and Central Africa, AIDS is primarily a heterosexual disease. Extreme precautions should be taken to ensure one's safety.

The climate itself has a tiring effect, making adequate rest and intake of fluids essential. Respiratory, intestinal, or dermatological ailments are often aggravated by the hot, humid climate and lack of specialized medical attention. In order to prevent skin worms, all laundry dried outdoors should be pressed on both sides with a very hot iron.

Although local French technicians and other residents contend that the water supply is safe, Americans often boil and filter their water as an additional safety precaution. Raw fruits should be peeled before eating, and raw vegetables should be treated with a chlorine solution. Cook all meat well. Fresh milk should be avoided in favor of powdered or canned evaporated milk.

Clothing and Services

Lightweight cotton or linen clothing is worn year round but, occasionally, a sweater or light jacket is useful for evenings during the dry season. Clothing sold locally is of mediocre quality and extremely expensive. Homemade articles afford a considerable savings over ready-made, but the patterns available in Libreville are printed in French, and differ from American-type patterns in design and format (e.g., there are no seam allowances). A few Gabonese and West African tailors make interesting shifts and shirts from native cloth, including some with machine-made embroidery; the shirts are suitable for casual wear for men, while the women's shifts are often appropriate for more formal evening occasions.

As a rule, extended-stay requirements for men include five or six washable summer suits (including one or two in dark colors for special occasions), a tuxedo with black jacket (to conform to local practice), and a supply of slacks and sports shirts. Women find that long dresses, caftans, or dressy pants outfits are popular for most evening events; loose fitting dresses and shifts are worn during the day. Both men and women should avoid wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts and tops when travelling in the countryside. Shirtsleeves for men and summer dresses for women are fine for informal gatherings.

Dry cleaning facilities are limited and expensive, making washable clothes the most practical choice. Hats are not worn except as protection from the sun. Whites and tennis shoes are standard for the courts.

Shoe sizes and quality are limited, and prices are high. Swimming attire should include three or four swim suits for each member of the family. An ample supply of underwear is needed, as frequent laundering tends to disintegrate both fabric and elastic.

Lightweight raincoats are useful during the heavy rains, but some people find them unbearable in the heat and humidity, and prefer umbrellas. Tennis shoes and thongs sometimes are substituted for boots for the same reason.

Basic supplies and medicines are available, but many items must be ordered from abroad and often take two months to arrive. Some products, such as hypoallergenic cosmetics, either are not carried locally, or are of questionable quality and exorbitantly priced. Prescription eyeglasses are usually unavailable. Bring extra pairs of eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Domestic Help

Although household help is desirable, well-trained domestics are difficult to find. Most are, at best, moderately skilled, and are expensive in comparison with services rendered. Domestics who will assume multiple responsibilities are rare, so it is necessary to hire a separate person for cleaning, cooking, gardening, laundry, etc. Most servants do not live in. Servants should have regular medical examinations, as there is a wide incidence of disease.

Local law requires that insurance be carried on domestics. Medical treatment is provided by the Gabonese Government through the social security program, as is a basic list of medications.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

Mar/12 Renovation Day

May 1 Labor Day

May/June Whitsunday"Pentecost*

May/June Whitmonday*

Aug. 15 Assumption Day

Aug. 17 Independence Day

Nov.1 All Saints' Day

Dec. 2 Christmas Day


Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adha*

Mawlid an Nabi*



Gabon can be reached by daily air service from Paris, and by frequent flights from other cities in Europe.

A valid passport and an entry visa are required for travel to Gabon. Entry visas can be obtained from the Gabonese Embassy in Washington. All persons entering Gabon are also required to have yellow fever shots.

Health regulations for animals are not enforced, and no quarantine is imposed. However, visitors are advised to follow formal regulations. Be prepared to present a veterinarian's certificate of health indicating that the animal has been inoculated against rabies (not less than three weeks nor more than six months prior to arrival) or has been in a rabies-free area for the past two months. Gabon itself is not a rabies-free area and the climate makes life uncomfortable for most pets.

Gabonese law permits only the entry of rifles, shotguns (nonautomatic), and 100 rounds of ammunition. Pistols are not permitted. Prior customs approval is required. All weapons are inspected and registered by the Gabonese government.

Several Roman Catholic churches, and two Protestant churches of l'Église Evangélique du Gabon (akin to French Protestant or U.S. Presbyterian) are in the capital city. One of these Protestant churches was built by American missionaries in 1848. All services are in French.

The time in Gabon is Greenwich Mean Time plus one.

Gabon forms a monetary union with other members of the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (UDEAC). The common currency is the Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA) franc, issued by a central institution, Banque des États de l'Afrique Centrale.

Seven commercial banks with international affiliations maintain offices in Gabon: Banque Internationale pour le Gabon (BIPG), a subsidiary of Banque Internationale pour l'Afrique Occidentale (BIAO); Union Gabonaise de Banque (UGB), an affiliate of Crédit Lyonnais; Pay-Bas Gabon (Paribas); Banque Internationale pour le Commerce et l'Industrie du Gabon (BICIG); Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI); Barclay's and Citibank.

The metric system of weights and measures is used in Gabon.


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Alexander, Caroline. One Dry Season: In the Footsteps of Mary Kingsley. Vintage Departures Series. New York: Random House, 1990.

Barnes, James F. Gabon. Profiles of Nations of Contemporary Africa Series. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

De Saint-Paul, Marc A. Gabon: The Development of a Nation. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Gardinier, David E. Historical Dictionary of Gabon. African Historical Dictionaries Series, no. 30. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981.

Perryman, Andrew. Gabon. Let's Visit Places and Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

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Gabonese Republic
République Gabonaise



The Gabonese Republic lies along the equator on the west coast of Africa with a border length of 2,551 kilometers (1,585 miles) and a coastline of 885 kilometers (550 miles). Gabon is bounded to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north by Equatorial Guinea (350 kilometers/218 miles) and Cameroon (298 kilometers/185 miles), and to the east and south by the Republic of the Congo (1,903 kilometers/1,183 miles). The drainage basin is comprised of the westward flowing Ogooue River, together with several smaller coastal rivers such as the Nyanga and the Como. Gabon covers an area of 267,667 square kilometers (103,346 square miles), of which land comprises 257,667 square kilometers (99,484 square miles) and water occupies 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles). Comparatively, the area occupied by Gabon is slightly smaller than the state of Colorado. It has a tropical climate, which is always hot and humid. The terrain is comprised of a narrow coastal plain, savannah grassland in the east and south, and a hilly interior. The major rural areas are found in Woleu Ntem in the north, where coffee and cocoa are the main cash crops , and around Lambaréné, located inland from the central coastal belt, where palm oil and coffee are important. The highest point is Mount Iboundji, which stands at a height of 1,575 meters (5,168 feet). The capital city of Libreville is located on the country's northwestern coast.


At the July 1993 census, the population of Gabon numbered 1,014,976 and in mid-1998 the United Nations (UN) estimated a total of 1,188,000, giving an average density of 4.4 inhabitants per square kilometer. The population estimate for 2000 was 1,208,436. The population growth rate was estimated at 1.08 percent in 2000, with a life expectancy at birth of 48.94 years for males and 51.26 years for females in the same year. The infant mortality rate was 96.3 deaths per 1,000 live births while the fertility rate was 3.73 births per woman. The birth rate (per 1,000 population) was 27.6 while the death rate was 16.83 in 2000. The slow population growth takes into account the effects of mortality due to AIDS. AIDS results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, and a lower population growth rate than would be expected under normal conditions. The distribution of population by age and sex is also affected, with those in the sexually active age groups and women being more vulnerable to the disease.

The population is more urbanized than most of Africa, with 53 percent living in the towns in 1988. It is mostly a young population with only 6 percent above 65 years of age and over 33 percent below 15 years. The country's principal ethnic groups are the Fang (30 percent) and the Eshira (25 percent), who reside primarily in the north, followed by the Bapounou and Bateke. French is the official language.


The combination of a small population and plentiful petroleum resources has given Gabon one of the highest incomes per capita in sub-Saharan Africa. The 1999 per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was a comfortable US$6,500. It therefore ranks as an upper middle-income country, a rarity among African nations.

Gabon's economy depended on timber and manganese until oil began to be exploited in significant quantities offshore in the early 1970s. The oil sector now accounts for 50 percent of GDP. Gabon continues to face fluctuating prices for its oil, timber, manganese, and uranium exports. The dominance of the petroleum sector is reflected in the economy's vulnerability to changes in world prices for this commodity, and the rate of economic growth has fluctuated widely in recent decades. While growth in GDP averaged 9.5 percent per year between 1965 and 1980, the average growth rate declined to 0.8 percent from 1985 to 1990 following the collapse of the petroleum prices in 1986. When the Rabikonga oil fields were developed in the 1990s, however, there was some improvement, reaching an average growth rate of 3.2 percent per year from 1990 to 1997. But due to steeply falling petroleum prices and a downturn in Asian demand for timber, the economy contracted by approximately 4 percent in 1998 and only saw a modest recovery in 1999 with an estimated 2 percent rise in GDP.

The petroleum boom of the mid-1970s and the expectation that oil prices would remain high led to government investment spending and borrowing, which left the country with a heavy debt burden. Consequently, in the mid-1980s the government had to undertake a series of economic adjustment programs designed to reduce debt while promoting the development of non-petroleum activities. Programs of privatization , rationalization, and retrenchment (cutting expenses) of public sector enterprises were undertaken.

Progress was limited in the areas under reform and the non-petroleum economy failed to expand as hoped. However, in January 1994 the government adopted a program for economic recovery supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The objectives of this program were broadly achieved by the end of 1998. A number of major privatizations have taken place (the power utility and railway companies, for example), while others pending include the telecommunication services and the national airline. Some significant tax reforms have been introduced, notably the extension of the value-added tax (VAT) to forestry companies, removal of tax exemptions, and introduction of an investment code consistent with IMF recommendations.


Formerly part of French West Africa, Gabon was granted internal autonomy in 1958 and became fully independent on 17 August 1960. Leon M'Ba, president of the new republic, established Gabon as a one-party state by inviting the opposition to join the government. There was a coup in 1964, but M'Ba was restored by French troops. Following his death in November 1967, M'Ba was succeeded by his vice-president, Albert Bernard (later Omar) Bongo. Bongo organized a new ruling party, the Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG), which became the sole legal party in 1968. Gabon enjoyed relative stability in the 1970s and joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after the discovery of oil deposits. But in the early 1980s, social and political strains began to emerge led by the Mouvement pour le Redressement National (MORENA), a moderate opposition group. This group accused Bongo of corruption and personal extravagance and demanded restoration of political pluralism. But Bongo resisted and maintained the single-party system.

A series of strikes and demonstrations by students and workers in the early 1990s culminated in a constitutional amendment that led to the creation of a multiparty system and formation of an interim government. Bongo was elected president in 1990 and reelected in 1993 and 1998. Elections for the National Assembly were held in December 1996, and the PDG gained 89 of the 120 seats. At the Senate elections in early 1997, the PDG won 53 of the 91 seats.

The 1991 constitution provides for an executive president directly elected for a 5-year term (renewable only once). The head of government is the prime minister, who appoints the Council of Ministers. The bicameral legislature consists of the 120-member National Assembly and the 91-member Senate. Both houses are directly elected for 5-year terms. Local governments exist in each of Gabon's 9 provinces, and are administered by a governor appointed by the president. There are also 37 smaller divisions, or departments, each administered under a prefect.

Total government revenue in 1997 was US$1.565 billion. Of this, US$301 million was from international trade, with import duties contributing US$254 million. In addition, the government gains substantial royalties from the oil sector. Corporate and capital gains taxes are levied at 40 percent, but if companies make small profits or suffer losses, they are taxed at 1.1 percent of turnover . There is a withholding tax of 20 percent on dividends remitted overseas.


Despite substantial investment in the Trans-Gabonais railway and foreign backing for road development in the 1990s, the surface transportation system is still inadequate and inconsistent with Gabon's high per capita income level. Until 1979, there were no railways except for the cableway link between the Congo border and the Moanda Manganese Mine. The main rivers are navigable for only the last 80 to 160 kilometers (50 to 100 miles) of their course to the Atlantic Ocean. The road network is poorly developed and much of it is unusable during the rainy seasons. In 1996 there were an estimated 7,670 kilometers (4,766 miles) of roads, of which only some 634 kilometers (394 miles) were paved. The government's aim is to surface some 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of the road network in the next few years, with an eventual target of 3,580 kilometers (2,225 miles).

By 1989 the railway line linking Libreville and Franceville, which is located in the southeast area of the country, was fully operational. The main port for petroleum exports is Port Gentil, which also handles logs (floated down the Ogooue River). Owendo, the principal mineral port, also handles timber. A third deepwater port operates at Mayumba, in the south.

Air transport plays an important role in the economy, particularly because of the dense forest that covers much of the country and makes other modes of transport impracticable. There are international airports at Libreville and Port-Gentil and scheduled internal services link these to a number of domestic airfields. Gabon has a total of 61 airports within its borders, 11 of which have paved runways. The national carrier, Air Gabon, is 80 percent state owned.

In 1997 there were 37,300 telephone lines, 4,000 cellular phone subscribers, 6,000 PCs, and 400 fax machines. The domestic telephone system combines the use of cable, microwave radio relay, radiotelephone communication stations, and a domestic satellite system with 12 earth stations. For international links it operates 3 Intelsat satellite earth stations. There were also 4 television broadcast stations in 1997. In 1998 there were approximately 400 Internet users and 1 Internet service provider.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Gabon 29 183 55 N/A 8 0.4 8.6 0.02 3
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Nigeria 24 223 66 N/A 0 N/A 5.7 0.00 100
Cameroon 7 163 32 N/A 0 N/A N/A 0.00 20
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

There was a range of radio broadcast stations, with 6 AM, 7 FM, and 6 shortwave stations in 1998.

The installed capacity for electricity production was 1.02 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 1995. Power generation is both hydroelectric and thermal (gas fired), with 72 percent of total capacity hydroelectric. There are proven crude petroleum reserves estimated in 1997 at 1.34 billion barrels. Production in 1996 was 135 million barrels. Natural gas production in 1995 was 102 million cubic meters.


Agriculture (including forestry and fishing) contributed an estimated 10 percent of GDP in 1999, and employed about 41 percent of the labor force . The forestry sector alone accounted for an estimated 3 percent of GDP in 1997 and engaged an estimated 15 percent of the working population in 1991. The exploitation of Gabon's forests (which covers about 75 percent of the land area) is a principal economic activity. Although Gabon's territorial waters contain important fishing resources, their commercial exploitation is minimal.

Industry (including mining, manufacturing, construction, electricity, and water) contributed an estimated 60 percent of GDP in 1999, and about 12 percent of the working population were employed in the sector. Industrial GDP increased at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent from 1990 to 1997. Mining alone (including oil) accounted for an estimated 46 percent of GDP in 1997. Gabon is among the world's foremost producers and exporters of manganese. Gabon's manufacturing sector is relatively small, accounting for an estimated 6 percent of GDP in 1997. A substantial part of this is represented by oil refining and timber-processing. Electricity and water are produced and distributed by the Societe d'Energie et d'Eau du Gabon (SEEG).

Services engaged 47 percent of the economically active population and provided an estimated 30 percent of GDP in 1999. The GDP of the service sector increased at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent over the period from 1990 to 1997.


Owing to the density of the tropical rain forest, only a small proportion of land area is suitable for agricultural activity and only 2 percent is estimated to be under cultivation. With over 50 percent of the population living in towns and with a poor road infrastructure , the contribution to GDP of the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector is very modest by African standards at approximately 10 percent in the 1990s. The country lacks self-sufficiency in staple crops and over half of food requirements must be imported. Cocoa, coffee, palm oil, and rubber are cultivated for export. The principal subsistence crops are plantains, cassava, and maize. Coffee and cocoa were once relatively significant cash crops with a small amount available for export, but outputs for both have been falling since the 1980s.

Animal husbandry was for many decades hindered by the prevalence of the tsetse fly (a bloodsucking fly that causes disease in cattle), until the first tsetse-resistant cattle were imported in 1980. Livestock numbers have since risen, with 1998 estimates standing at 39,000 head of cattle, 208,000 pigs, 259,000 sheep, and 24,000 goats. The Societe Gabonaise de Developpement d'Ellevage (an offshoot of AgroGabon) manages 3 cattle ranches covering 14,000 hectares (34,595 acres). Poultry farming is mainly on a smallholder basis. The fishing catch, at 45,000 metric tons, falls well below total demand. Industrial fleets account for about 25 percent of the catch, and about half of the total catch comes from marine waters.


The exploitation of Gabon's forests (which cover some 85 percent of the land area) is a principal economic activity and the second leading source of exports, with 14 percent, behind petroleum. According to the U.S. State Department, commercial wood reserves cover 50 million acres and contain 400 million cubic meters of wood. Production levels reached 2.77 million cubic meters of lumber in 1997, declined in 1998 thanks to the Asian financial crisis, and rebounded again in 1999. The sector is the second largest employer, behind the government, and there is some potential for further growth. The major problem facing the industry is the fact that most forestry exports are in raw lumber. Value-added processing occurs abroad. Should foreign investment allow for more milling and processing of logs at home, the industrial sector would be boosted substantially.


Industry is the largest of the 3 major sectors in terms of GDP, but the smallest in terms of employment. This sector provides its employees with the highest average incomes.


Oil and its related industries has been the main source of Gabon's economic growth since the 1970s. In 1997, the petroleum industry was still the dominant sector of the economy, contributing 42.5 percent of GDP when all subsidiary industries are factored in. Petroleum and petroleum products accounted for an estimated 77 percent of total export earnings. Oil reserves are declining, however, and there have been no major new discoveries in recent years.

Mining holds great potential for further economic growth. Gabon is one of the largest producers and exporters of manganese in the world. Gabon holds 25 percent of the world's manganese reserves, and the main manganese mining operation, COMILOG, produces about 2.5 million metric tons a year of finished ore. Uranium has also been a major source of export income, though uranium reserves are nearly depleted. There is potential for the mining of phosphates, niobium, iron, gold, and diamonds; foreign investment is needed for these mineral deposits to prove profitable.


The manufacturing sector contributed an estimated 6 percent of GDP in 1997. The principal activities are the refining of petroleum and processing of other minerals, the preparation of timber, and other agro-industrial processes. The chemical industry is also significant. Electric energy is derived principally from hydroelectric installations. Imports of fuel and energy comprised an estimated 21 percent of the total value of imports.


The services sector is the biggest employer in Gabon, with the government being the single largest employer in the nation, and incomes earned in this sector are significantly higher than average. The mineral and forestry sectors drive the economy, and services expand to support these activities. The production of the service sector increased at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent from 1990 to 1997. Due to the poor infrastructure and the dense forests, tourism is limited.

The telecommunications sector has been identified by the U.S. State Department as a prime area for growth. The parastatal Office des Postes et Telecommunications du Gabon (OPT), which has a monopoly on telecommunications services in the country, is slated for privatization. This development is expected to encourage foreign investment and create jobs as the country is opened to modern telecommunications networks and cellular services.


Gabon has sustained a considerable surplus in its foreign trade, even through periods of quite marked fluctuations in petroleum prices, because the import demand of its small population has remained relatively modest. Exports are normally 2 to 3 times the value of imports and most investment spending is directed toward generating increased earnings from the export of petroleum, timber, and manganese. In 1999, exports stood at US$2.4 billion, while imports were US$1.2 billion.

The main export markets in 1998 were the United States (68 percent), China (9 percent), France (8 percent),

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Gabon
Exports Imports
1975 .983 .469
1980 2.173 .674
1985 1.951 .855
1990 2.204 .918
1995 2.713 .882
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

and Japan (3 percent). Imports come mostly from France (39 percent), the United States (6 percent), and the Netherlands (5 percent). Despite high per capita income levels and the foreign investments its petroleum sector attracts, Gabon receives a significant amount of aid (US$38 per capita in 1998). This has helped to support both the budget and balance of payments .

While Gabon has traditionally enjoyed a trade surplus , it has also tended to have a balance of payments deficit. This deficit is a result of high outflows on interest payments on the foreign debt and on remittances on profits and dividends by the petroleum industry. Foreign debt was US$4.213 billion in 1996. However, high per capita GDP and a poor record of compliance with commitments to the IMF mean that Gabon is not a priority candidate for debt relief .


Gabon is part of the Central African Monetary and Economic Union (Communaute Economiquareue et Monetaire de l'Afrique Centrale, or CEMAC), a group of 5 francophone countries that use the same currency, the CFA franc. The CFA franc is tied to the French franc and can be readily exchanged at 50 CFA francs to 1

Exchange rates: Gabon
Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (CFA Fr) per US$1
Jan 2001 699.21
2000 711.98
1999 615.70
1998 589.95
1997 583.67
1996 511.55
Note: From January 1, 1999, the CFA Fr is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655.957 CFA Fr per euro.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

French franc. Gabon, like all members of the CFA franc communities, has benefitted from this stable currency.

As a member of the CFA zone, Gabon was profoundly affected by the 50 percent devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994. The devaluation caused a temporary rise in inflation . The average annual inflation rate during the period from 1990 to 1996 was 9.8 percent. However, inflation declined through the late 1990s, reaching a rate of 2.9 percent in 1999. The country's economy appears to have benefitted from this devaluation, which made its traditional exports more competitive on world markets. In the short term, however, devaluation lowered living standards and probably increased poverty by raising prices while most salaries remained static.

CEMAC planned to open a regional stock exchange in Libreville, Gabon, in 2001.


The population of Gabon earns a per capita income 4 times that of most other sub-Saharan African nations. Although the relative strength of Gabon's economy has led to a decline in the sharp poverty that is familiar to these other African nations, much of the population remains poor and income inequality is high. The portion of the population that does suffer from poverty is almost all in the 40 percent of the population that relies on agriculture for its income.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Gabon 6,480 5,160 4,941 4,442 4,630
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Nigeria 301 314 230 258 256
Cameroon 616 730 990 764 646
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Gabon 40 3 9 3 7 4 34
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Nigeria 51 5 31 2 8 2 2
Cameroon 33 12 8 2 9 8 28
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Social security, based on the French system, was introduced in 1956. Under this program, family allowances are paid to all salaried workers. There is a national fund for state insurance, which provides medical care.

The UN's Human Development Index (HDI), which attempts to measure the quality of life on the basis of real GDP per capita, the adult literacy rate, and life expectancy at birth, placed Gabon at 123 out of 174 countries in 1999, in the medium human development category.


The workforce in 1996 numbered 519,000, 56 percent of which are males. The unemployment rate in 1997 was estimated at 21 percent. There is a standard 40-hour working week. However, around 40 percent of the economically active population engages in agriculture, which is poorly regulated. Due to the small population, much of the labor is imported from the neighboring countries.


1470. The Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English begin trading along Gabon's coast.

1839. First French settlement established.

1910. Gabon becomes part of French Equatorial Africa.

1958. Gabon granted internal autonomy by the French.

1960. Gabon is formally proclaimed an independent nation, with Leon M'Ba as prime minister.

1961. M'Ba is elected president and heads a government of National Unity with his opponent, Jean Hilaire Aubame, serving as foreign minister.

1963. Aubame is fired from his position in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

1964. Aubame leads a successful coup; French troops respond to M'Ba's appeal, intervene, and restore him to office. Aubame is sentenced to 10 years in prison.

1967. M'Ba is reelected president but dies a few months later. Vice-President Albert Bernard (later Omar) Bongo succeeds M'Ba as president.

1968. Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG) is proclaimed as the sole legal political party in the country.

1973. Bongo is reelected president.

1979. As the only candidate in the national presidential elections, Bongo is reelected for a second 7-year term.

1980. In national, municipal, and legislative elections, independents are permitted to run against official candidates.

1981. Over 10,000 Cameroonians are expelled from Gabon following a riot against a Gabonese soccer team at Douala, Cameroon.

1982. Members of the opposition Mouvement pour le Redressement National (MORENA) are arrested for insulting the president and are sentenced to harsh prison terms.

1983. The Owendo-to-Booue section of the Trans-Gabonais Railway is opened by French and Gabonese presidents.

1984. France agrees to supply Gabon with a 9,300-megawatt nuclear power plant, the first in an African nation under black rule.

1986. The Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union results in the cancellation of the nuclear power plant. MORENA political prisoners are freed.

1990. After much social unrest, President Bongo legalizes opposition to his government. In the country's first multiparty election, Bongo's PDG wins 65 seats in the legislature while opposition parties take the remaining 55 seats.

1993. Multiparty elections are held in December, and Bongo wins with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. The main opposition leader, Paul Mba Abbesole, claims the process was flawed.

1994. Devaluation of the CFA franc by 50 percent.

1995. The National Assembly election held in December results in a seat distribution of PDG 89, opposition parties 31.

1996. Senate elections are held in January and result in a seat distribution of PDG 53, opposition parties 38.

1998. Bongo is reelected president with 67 percent of the vote.


Despite the abundance of natural wealth, the Gabonese economy is hobbled by poor economic management. In 1992, the fiscal deficit widened to 2.4 percent of GDP, and Gabon failed to settle arrears on its debt, leading to a cancellation of rescheduling agreements with official and private creditors. Devaluation of the currency by 50 percent in January 1994 sparked a one-time inflationary surge to 35 percent, but the rate dropped to 6 percent by 1996 and 2.9 percent by 1999. In 1997, an IMF mission to Gabon criticized the government for overspending on off-budget items, over-borrowing from the central bank, and slipping on its schedule for privatization and administrative reform. The IMF is expected to continue to support Gabon as long as progress is made on privatization and fiscal discipline. The rebound of oil prices in 1999 helped growth, but drops in production hampered Gabon from fully realizing potential gains. Gabon's potential for economic growth is based upon its considerable mineral and forestry resources. It is a country with high potential and with support from higher oil prices, reinforced by better economic management, Gabon can be expected to make steady progress.


Gabon has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Gabon. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

"Gabon." MBendi: Information for Africa. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Hodd, Michael. The Economies of Africa. Aldershot, England:Dartmouth, 1991.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Gabon. <>. Accessed September 2001.

World Bank. World Bank Africa Database 2000. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2000.

Allan C.K. Mukungu




Communauté Financiére Africaine (CFA) franc. The CFA franc is tied to the French franc at an exchange rate of CFA Fr50 to Fr1. One CFA franc equals 100 centimes. There are coins of 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 CFA francs, and notes of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 CFA francs.


Crude oil and natural gas, timber and wood products, manganese, uranium.


Machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, petroleum products, construction materials.


US$7.9 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$2.4 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.). Imports: US$1.2 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Gabonese Republic
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 1,208,436
Language(s): French, Fang, Myene, Bateke, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi
Literacy rate: 63.2%

Background & General Characteristics

Gabon is a unitary republic on the west coast of Africa, south of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea and west of Congo-Brazzaville. Its capital is Libreville. Gabon's 1.23 million people have had the same president for 35 years: President Omar Albert-Bernard Bongo, born in 1935. Only two presidents have ruled Gabon since the country's independence from France in 1960. Bongo previously had served in Gabon's Foreign Ministry when independence was attained; prior to that, he had served two years in the French air force. Bongo was chief of staff and defense minister under Gabon's first head of state, President Leon Mba, becoming vice president in 1966. One year after Mba's death, Bongo assumed the presidency, the position he has held ever since.

Gabon is composed of more than 40 ethnic groups but has not experienced the same degree of ethnic conflict as other African states. This has been due primarily to the relative prosperity brought on by the tapping of Gabon's rich oil reserves and to the continuous presence of French troops in Gabon for nearly four decades since their reinstatement of President Mba in 1964 after he was deposed in coup. Regarding religion, the majority of Gabon's citizenry is Christian. President Bongo himself converted to Islam and took the name "Omar" in 1973.

Although President Bongo had made Gabon a single-party state in 1968, public protests against President Bongo in 1990 due to declining oil prices led to a new Constitution in 1991 that created a multi-party system. Nonetheless, limited space exists for full and free discussion and criticism of the president or his family by the press, as the Communications Code specifies criminal and civil penalties for what is judged to be libelous expression. While the National Communications Council (CNC) set up under the Ministry of Communications supposedly was established to ensure press freedom and high-quality journalism, the CNC actually works against journalists and freedom of expression. Through the CNC, the government is empowered to transform civil libel lawsuits into criminal suits and can initiate criminal libel suits against those issuing supposedly libelous statements against elected officials.

For the most part, the government of Gabon controls the media, though arguably somewhat less stringently than in a number of other African states. Starting in 1998 the government began to limit freedom of expression in the private media more rigorously. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual report for 2001, "Since 1998, the CNC has been using licensing regulations to trim the number of private radio stations. There are still a few apolitical private and community radio stations in Gabon, and opposition newspapers appear regularly. But local journalists say self-censorship is more pervasive than ever."

Newspapers are almost entirely politicized. The one daily paper that exists in the country and is distributed on a national basis is government affiliated. Private weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly papers number about ten to twelve. Opposition parties produce most of the country's newspapers.

The government-affiliated newspaper is L'Union, which publishes daily. One of the main opposition political weekly newspapers is Le Bucheron, while La Relance is an independent weekly paper, unattached to any political party. Le Reveil also publishes weekly. La Voix du Peuple, another independent paper, publishes bimonthly.

Economic Framework

Gabon is heavily dependent on oil to fuel its economy. Eighty percent of the country's exports are derived from Gabon's oil. In addition to crude oil, the principal exports are timber, manganese, and uranium. Annual per capita income is about US$3,180.

Gabon's connection with oil has meant that the political atmosphere and degree of tolerance for open criticism of government leaders and policies fluctuates with the economy. When oil prices are down, as they were in the late 1980s, government acceptance of political protest has been much more limited; with rising oil prices, government permissiveness of dissent also appears to rise.

The private press often has difficulty meeting the financial requirements of the government in terms of licensing costs and the penalties that sometimes are imposed for violations of what the government considers reasonable press laws that by international standards are quite restrictive. Consequently, the number of private newspapers in print at any particular time varies.

On a questionably positive note, President Bongo made 250 million CFA francs (about US$345,000) available to the private press in January 2001 to encourage their development, but not all papers were funded, much to their chagrin. The president also stated that the private press would receive double this amount each year on a regular basis. Apparently, the president distributed the funds in such a way as to reward those papers that cast the president and the ruling Democratic Party in a favorable light. As the Committee to Protect Journalists put it, "With confounding ease, President Omar Bongo maintained his smooth-talking, iron-fisted rule by suppressing critical media voices via the Penal Code and by simply purchasing good press."

Venal rewards for journalistic coverage are rampant throughout much of Africa, making the smaller presses beholden to whoever provides them with financial support. This is no less true in Gabon, "where public expressions of unconditional support for President Bongo are often rewarded with cash-filled envelopes," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2001.

Press Laws

The Constitution officially guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, the Communications Code authorizes state prosecution of journalists deemed to have breached the limits of press freedom. Journalists can be charged with both civil and criminal libel. Efforts to tighten the Code even further were made in June 2001, when the National Assembly and Senate gave their stamp of approval to a CNC proposal that publications found guilty of libel and other criminal acts be suspended for one to three months on first offense and three to six months on repeat offenses. The CNC proposal also expanded the scope of libelous conduct in order to protect the "dignity of the person" and made possible the jailing of editors and authors of articles judged to be libelous for two to six months, as well as the imposition of fines ranging from $700 to $7,000 on such guilty parties. At the close of 2001, however, President Bongo had not yet signed the new Code into law.


Most newspapers do criticize the president, and all papers (including L'Union, affiliated with the government) criticize government and party leaders, risking the imposition of penalties specified in the Communications Code. Individual citizens and members of the National Assembly are accorded somewhat greater latitude to debate presidential policies and activities and to criticize ministers and other government officials, though not always without risk.

The government has censored even the pro-government paper, L'Union. Germain Ngoyo Moussavou, the managing editor of L'Union, was dismissed from his job by presidential decree in November 2001 after scathingly criticizing Antoine Mboumbou Miyakou, Gabon's Minister of the Interior, for mishandling preparations for the December legislative elections.

Over the course of several years, the government so frequently censored one satirical weekly newspaper, La Griffe, that by mid-2001 the paper had relocated to France. This followed the transformation of the original paper into Le Gri-Gri, first issued as a supplement to LaGriffe and later as a paper in its own right. Both La Griffe and Le Gri-Gri were suspended on February 15, 2001. This marked the third suspension of La Griffe in less than three years. In fact, one of the paper's editors, Dorothee Ngouoni, had already left Gabon in July 1999 after being convicted of defamation.

Moreover, the CNC, the same government organ that suspended La Griffe and Le Gri-Gri, temporarily banned Michel Ongoundou Loundah, the editor-in-chief of La Griffe, and Raphaël Ntoutoume Ngoghe, the paper's publisher, from practicing journalism in Gabon.

Subsequently, Le Gri-Gri relocated to France, where it was renamed Le Gri-Gri International and began covering news from all of Africa, though still concentrating on politics in Gabon.

In mid-October 2001 government pressure also was applied to Mr. Barre, the manager of Sogapress, the local distributing company for Le Gri-Gri International. Barre was summoned before Gabon's national chief of police, Jean-Claude Labouda, who apparently acted under instructions from the Ministry of the Interior in ordering Barre to halt the paper's distribution in Gabon. Without a warrant, agents from the Ministry's investigation department on October 12 had seized the final copies of Le Gri-Gri International available on newsstands in Gabon, three days prior to Barre's being ordered to stop its distribution.

State-Press Relations

While ostensibly supporting the private media through state financial subsidies that began in January 2001, the government also actively censures and controls the private press. Even staff members from L'Union reportedly have felt themselves obliged to object to government efforts to stifle press freedom.

Interestingly, the president, his wife, and the president's sister-in-law all took La Griffe to court in 2001, claiming each of them was defamed in several articles published in that paper. And in 2001 Prime Minister Jean François Ntoutoume Emane chastised Le Gri-Gri International and similar news outlets for showing an "appalling disrespectful attitude" by debating questions concerning the likelihood of political change in the country.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

The BBC chose not to operate in Gabon for financial reasons. Other foreign media, including the Voice of America, Radio France International, and other international radio stations, have operated in the country without government interference, for the most part. As the U.S. Department of State noted, in 2001, "Foreign newspapers and magazines were available widely."

However, on December 23, 2001 Antoine Lawson, a local reporter for the British news agency, Reuters, lost his camera to police, who confiscated it and destroyed the film. Lawson had been photographing police evacuating a bar that day, when the second round of legislative elections was held and all sales outlets for alcohol were to have been closed.

If a newspaper originates in Gabon but is published abroad, government intolerance of political criticism may resemble that meted out toward the private press in Gabon, Le Gri-Gri International being one such example.

Broadcast Media

Few private broadcasting services exist in Gabon. As BBC Monitoring wrote, "In October 1999 communications officials suspended four private radio and television stations after accusing them of illegal broadcasting."

The government-owned, national broadcasting service, Radiodiffusion-Television Gabonaise (RTVG), is based in Libreville and operates two radio channels, both affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party: RTG1 (also known as RTG Chaine 1), broadcasting in French, and RTG2 (or RTG Chaine 2), "a network of provincial stations broadcasting in French and vernacular languages," according to BBC Monitoring. "Africa No1," a radio station based in Gabon and supported by French interests, broadcasts across Africa on both short-wave and FM frequencies.

Besides its radio channels, RTVG has two television channels, again representing Democratic Party views; one broadcasts in French to 80 percent of Gabon's territory, the other, RTG2, broadcasts only in the capital. A private satellite TV channel, TV SAT, also broadcasts from Libreville.

Electronic News Media

Internet access and use are unrestricted by the government in Gabon. Three Internet service providers were operating in the country at the end of 2001, only one of them owned by the state. Internet cafés are available in urban areas to allow Internet access at fairly reasonable prices.

L'Union Edition Web was the first weekly newspaper made available via the Internet in Gabon.


Although Gabon has developed its economic wealth to a greater extent than many of the surrounding countries in Africa, government restriction of the media has grown over time. Few journalists and editors can escape the wrath of government officials intent on prosecuting them for libel, as the Communications Code has made it possible to charge members of the media with both criminal and civil libel and to punish the guilty with jail sentences, fines, suspension of licenses, or bans on practicing journalism. Even when the private press has gone outside the country to publish critiques of government leaders, as with Le Gri-Gri International, journalists cannot be assured that their publications will safely make it onto the newsstands in Gabon and reach their intended audience. Journalists consequently must practice careful self-censorship or risk government repression. Winning 80 percent of the seats in the National Assembly in the December 2001 legislative elections, with 82 percent of Libreville's eligible voters choosing to remain home (as well as 56 percent of the voting public elsewhere in the country), the ruling Democratic Party has shifted Gabon increasingly toward becoming a one-party state.

In a more positive direction, however, international media have been permitted to operate in Gabon with relatively little government interference. The use of the Internet likewise has been unrestricted, and growing numbers of Gabonese are likely to resort to this form of communication if the government continues to heavy-handedly regulate public expression through the print media and broadcasting networks.

Globalization, too, appears to be making a helpful difference for Gabon's media professionals and may help shape an eventual increase in freedom of expression in Gabon. In November 2001 the Association of Free and Independent Publishers in Gabon became a member of the World Association of Newspapers. This relationship will likely offer the Gabon Association's members a certain measure of solidaristic support and some protection against government intrusion and repression as they ply their trade, at least somewhere down the line.

Significant Dates

  • 1998: Government of Gabon increasingly attempts to use licensing withdrawals as a means of restricting the number of private radio stations operating in the country.
  • July 1999: Dorothee Ngouoni, one of La Griffe 's editors, leaves Gabon after being judged guilty of defamation.
  • October 1999: Communications officials suspend four private radio and television stations for illegal broadcasting.
  • January 2001: President Bongo makes government financial support available to the private press, promising to renew such support annually, but not all newspapers receive funding.
  • February 2001: La Griffe and Le Gri-Gri are suspended, a status in which they remain for the rest of the year; key staff are banned from practicing journalism.
  • June 2001: The National Assembly and Senate approve a proposal to make the Communications Code more stringent.
  • October 2001: Le Gri-Gri International is prevented from being distributed in Gabon and government officials illegally confiscate copies of the paper from newsstands.
  • November 2001: Germain Ngoyo Moussavou, managing editor of the pro-government paper, L'Union, is dismissed from his job by presidential decree for defaming the Minister of the Interior.
  • December 2001: Legislative elections are held, with a record 82 percent of eligible voters in Libreville failing to vote and 56 percent of the electorate elsewhere in Gabon choosing to do the same; the ruling Democratic Party wins 80 percent of the votes cast.


BBC Monitoring. "Country profile: Gabon." Reading, UK: British Broadcasting Corporation, June 29, 2002. Available at

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State. "Gabon." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001. Washington, DC: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, March 4, 2002. Available at

Committee to Protect Journalists. "Gabon." Attacks on the Press in 2001: Africa 2001. New York, NY: CPJ, 2002. Available at

Reporters without Borders. "Gabon." Africa annual report 2002. Paris, France: Reporters sans Frontiéres, April 30, 2002. Available at

Barbara A. Lakeberg-Dridi

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Gabonese Republic
Region: Africa
Population: 1,208,436
Language(s): French, Fang, Myene, Bateke, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi
Literacy Rate: 63.2%

History & Background

Gabon gained its independence from France in 1960. It was ruled by autocratic presidents from then until the early 1990s when a new constitution provided institutional reform and a better electoral process. Oil was discovered in the early 1970s and now represents 50 percent of the economy; consequently, Gabon is one of the more prosperous countries in Africa with a GDP per capita estimated at $6,500 in 1999. The illiteracy rate was estimated to be 29.2 percent (males 20.2 percent, females 37.8 percent) in the year 2000. Also in 2000, the population was estimated at 1,208,436 people.

The first elementary schools in Gabon were established by American and French missionaries in the 1840s. To this day, Catholic and Protestant schools remain an important part of the educational system.

France applied the same educational policies in Gabon as elsewhere in Francophone Africa. Consequently, the institutions were similar and had a similar purpose: to assimilate the people and make them good French men and women who would spread French civilization and defend France's interests in the colony. Starting in 1883, France required that only French be used for instruction in the schools and that 50 percent of class time be devoted to teaching French language and culture. In the twenty-first century, French is still the official language.

Furthermore, opportunities for education were minimal and very few pupils were enrolled in schools. In 1931, Gabon, a country of about 400,000 people, had 3237 pupils in elementary school, most of them in the first three grades. After World War II, secondary schools were finally opened so students could receive the same diplomas as those awarded in France. At independence, however, Gabon still did not have enough educated citizens to meet its needs. The government, therefore, organized schools to train secondary school graduates for careers in government, forestry, and teaching in the lower secondary grades.

Educational SystemOverview

In present-day Gabon, education is compulsory for 10 years from the ages of 6 to 16. The system is modeled on education in France and French is the language of instruction. However, primary education lasts six years rather than the five it does in France because students need an extra year to begin learning French.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Gabon offers minimal preprimary education. Primary education starts at six and lasts for six years. In 1995-1996, there were 1,147 schools with 4,943 teachers teaching 250,693 students, 50 percent of whom were female. The student-teacher ratio is a very high: 51 students for every teacher. In 1994, approximately 38 percent of the elementary school students were repeating a grade and only 61 percent of the students who began first grade together reached the fifth grade.

Secondary Education

Secondary education lasts 7 years from the ages of 12 to 18. It is divided into two cycles: the first lasts four years and the second three years. In 1995-1996, there were 80,552 secondary students, of whom 47 percent were female, taught by 3,094 teachers, of whom only 18 percent were female. Most of the students were in general secondary education; only 7,588 students were enrolled in vocational education and 76 in teacher training.

Higher Education

Founded in 1970 and renamed in 1978, the Université Omar Bongo in Libreville has faculties of law, of letters and human sciences, and of medicine and health sciences, as well as schools of education, forestry and hydraulics, technical teacher training, and management studies. The academic year runs from October to June. The baccalauréat (secondary school certificate) is required for admission. French is the language of instruction. Students obtain a Licence-ès-Lettres in three years and a Maîtrise-ès-Lettres in four. The university also awards medical and engineering degrees. In 1998, the university had about 2400 students with an academic staff of about 300.

Gabon also has an Ecole Normale Supérieure (Higher School of Teacher Training), an Institut National des Sciences de Gestion (National Institut of Management), the Ecole Nationale D'Etudes Forestières at Cap Estérias (National School of Forestry), an Ecole Nationale de Secrétariat (National School of Secretarial Studies), and an Ecole Normale Supérieure de l'Enseignement Technique (Technical Teacher Training School).

The Université des Sciences et Techniques in Masuku, founded in 1986, has a faculty of sciences and an engineering school. In 1998, it enrolled about 550 students with an academic staff of about 110. In 1994-1995, there were 4,655 students in higher education institutions, of whom only 1,785 were women. From a different perspective, women represented 22.3 percent of the education students, 32.6 percent of the humanities students, 35.9 percent of the social science students, and 58.5 percent of the medical sciences students.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

France has had a great influence on the nature and organization of the institutions in Gabon. As in France, the Ministry of Education is responsible for both public and private education throughout the country.

Nonformal Education

The Campus Numérique Francophone de Libreville (The Francophone Digital Campus of Libreville) was being developed in 2001. One of its goals is to help university professors locally produce modules, seminars, publications, databases, and archives to support distance education courses as well as supplementary materials for local courses on the Internet in French. It also provides assistance to professors in the production of programs. It will bring together faculty from different parts of the university and help in the creation of university Intranets and in the development of tools to navigate the Web intelligently.

Teaching Profession

Students who have completed the maîtrise-ès-arts (Master of Arts) degree may take the entrance exam for the Ecole Normale Supérieure to prepare the C.A.P.E.S. exam to be certified as a teacher in the lycée or upper-secondary grades or for the C.A.P.C. exam to be certified as a teacher in the collège or lower-secondary grades. Students who want to teach in the Lycées Techniques (Technical Secondary Schools) study for five years after the baccalauréat in the Ecole Normale Supérieure d'Enseignement Technique.


There is a tradition of student activism in Gabon. In spring 2000, students at the Université Omar Bongo boycotted classes for three months and participated in street demonstrations to protest the lack of computers and Internet access. During the demonstrations, some of the few existing computers were damaged. Students decided to end the boycott so as not to have to repeat the academic year, but they promised to renew the boycott in the future if computer access did not improve. One student leader declared that students wanted to enter the third millenium computer literate.

A more fundamental issue of course is the high grade repetition rate and the significant numbers of students who do not complete their education beyond the lower elementary grades. Both of these problems are related, and instruction in French, a language most of the students do not speak at home, may be one of the causes.


Campus Numérique Francophone de Libreville, 20 January 2001. Available from

Fatunde, Tunde. "Computer-deprived students end boycott but remain defiant." The Times Higher Education Supplement, 30 April 1999.

Europa. The Europa World Yearbook 2000, Vol. 1. London: Europa Publications, 1999.

International Association of Universities. International Handbook of Universities, Fifteenth Ed. New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc, 1998.

Gardiner, David E. "Gabon Republic." In The International Encyclopedia of Education, vol. 5. San Franciso: Jossey-Bass, 1977.

UNESCO. Statistical Yearbook/Annuaire Statistique 1999. Paris and Lanham, MD: UNESCO Publishing and Bernan Press, 2000.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Université Omar Bongo, 15 January 2001. Available from

Gilles Labrie

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Gabon (gäbôN´), officially Gabonese Republic, republic (2005 est. pop. 1,389,000), 103,346 sq mi (267,667 sq km), W central Africa. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west, on Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon in the north, and on Congo (Brazzaville) in the east and south. Libreville (the capital) and Port-Gentil, both seaports, are the country's only large cities.

Land and People

Much of Gabon, which is situated astride the equator, is drained by the Ogooué River (and its tributaries, the Ngounie and the Ivindo), which flows into the Atlantic through a long and broad estuary. The rest of the coastline comprises a narrow low-lying strip, which, south of the Ogooué's mouth, includes a series of lagoons. The interior of the country is made up of mountain ranges and high-lying plateaus. To the north of the Ogooué are the Cristal Mts. and to the south is the Chaillu Massif, which includes Mt. Iboundji (5,165 ft/1,574 m), Gabon's highest point. In the northeast is the Woleu-Ntem Plateau, which reaches c.2,500 ft (760 m), and in the southeast is the hot and arid Bateke Plateau (c.2,700 ft/820 m).

The inhabitants of Gabon belong to several ethnic groups including the Fang (who make up about one quarter of the population) in the north, the Omiéné along the coast, the Bakota in the northeast, and the Eshira in the southwest. French is the country's official language, but African languages are also spoken, and the country is seeking to increase the use of English. There are large numbers of immigrant workers from other French-speaking African nations, as well as Europeans, mainly French. The population is predominantly Christian in the cities, but most people in the countryside adhere to traditional beliefs.


Since the 1970s the Gabonese economy has been centered on the oil industry, which has provided it with one of the highest per capita incomes in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for almost 80% of its export income and 50% of its GDP. Oil wealth, however, led to government corruption, and the population at large has failed to benefit from oil profits. Gabon's economy also is subject to fluctuating oil prices, and it must contend with diminishing reserves. Decreases in production since the mid-1990s have hurt the economy, although it benefited from oil price increases after 2000. The exploitation of forest products and the mining of manganese, which formed the backbone of the economy until oil became predominant, remain relatively important today, and in 2010 the government began taking specific steps to further diversify the oil-reliant economy. The country's most significant forest products are okume (a softwood used in making plywood), mahogany, ebony, and rubber. Other minerals extracted are gold, uranium, and iron ore.

The chief products of Gabon's industrial sector include refined petroleum, chemicals, food and beverages, textiles, and wood products. Despite this economic activity, the majority of Gabonese workers are engaged in subsistence farming, with sugarcane, cassava, plantains, and taro the chief crops. There is also fishing. However, food must be imported to meet the country's needs. Cocoa, coffee, and palm products are produced for export. Few animals are raised, partly because of the prevalence of the tsetse fly.

Gabon's main exports are crude petroleum, forest products, manganese and uranium ores, and cocoa; the principal imports are machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, and construction materials. The leading trade partners are the United States and France. Gabon's limited transportation network was improved with the construction (1986) of the Trans-Gabon railway, which links the deepwater port of Owendo with iron ore and manganese deposits.


Gabon is governed under the constitution of 1991. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a seven-year term; there are no term limits. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The bicameral legislature consists of the 91-seat Senate, whose members are indirectly elected for six-year terms, and the 120-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into nine provinces.


Early History to Independence

The region that is now Gabon was inhabited in Paleolithic times. By the 16th cent. AD the Omiéné were living along the coast, and in the 18th cent. the Fang entered the region from the north. From the 16th to the 18th cent. the area was part of the decentralized Loango empire, which included most of the area between the Ogooué and Congo rivers. In the 1470s, Portuguese navigators found the Ogooué estuary, and shortly thereafter they began to trade with coastal merchants for slaves who had been acquired in the interior. The Portuguese were followed by Dutch, English, and French traders, and by the late 18th cent. the French had gained a dominant position. Despite the abolition of the slave trade (1815) by the Congress of Vienna, slaves continued to be exported from the Gabon coast until the 1880s, although French naval patrols succeeded in reducing the number exported annually.

In the mid-19th cent., several treaties were signed with African rulers of the Ogooué estuary and neighboring territories, and Christian missions were established. In 1849, Libreville was founded by the French as a settlement for freed slaves. Paul B. Du Chaillu (in the 1850s) and A. M. A. Aymes (in the 1860s) explored the lower Ogooué. In the late 1870s, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza reached the source of the river, and in the 1880s he founded Franceville (near the present-day border with the Republic of the Congo). In 1885 the Conference of Berlin recognized French rights to the region N of the Congo River that included Gabon. In 1886 the French assigned a governor to Gabon, which from 1889 to 1904 was included in the French Congo.

From 1910 to 1957, Gabon was a part of French Equatorial Africa. The Fang and some other African peoples resisted the imposition of French rule until 1911. In 1913, Albert Schweitzer established a hospital at Lambaréné on the Ogooué. During World War II, Free French forces gained control (1940) of Gabon from the Vichy government. In 1946, Gabon became an overseas territory of France, and in 1958 the country became internally self-governing within the French Community.

The New Nation

On Aug. 17, 1960, Gabon became an independent republic. Leon Mba, a Fang, was the country's first president. In Feb., 1964, Mba was ousted by a military coup led by Jean-Hilaire Aubame, but he was restored to power within a day with the help of French troops. Mba died in 1967 and was succeeded by Omar Bongo, who established (1968) the Gabonese Democratic party (PDG) as the country's sole political organization. Bongo was returned to office in the elections of 1973 and 1979.

Gabon was one of the few African countries to recognize and furnish supplies to Biafra during the Nigerian civil war (1967–70). During its first decade of independence, Gabon retained close political and economic ties with France. In the early 1970s, however, the government sought increased influence in the foreign (mainly French) companies active in Gabon, and it generally tried to loosen its ties with France. Disillusionment with Bongo's repressive policies led to the formation of a large opposition movement in the early 1980s and demands for a multiparty government.

Bongo was reelected to a fourth term in 1986. Popular discontent with the regime reached a high point in 1989 with seven days of riots in Port-Gentil, which were put down by the army. In 1990 opposition parties were legalized and multiparty legislative elections were held for the first time in 22 years. Amid charges of fraud, Bongo's party won a majority of seats. The same charges were leveled as Bongo was reelected in Gabon's first multiparty presidential election in 1993.

Despite constitutional reforms (1995) intended to reduce election fraud, the 1998 polls, in which Bongo once again was reelected, were termed unfair by observers. Bongo's party again won a majority of the legislative seats in 2001. The president was elected to a third term in 2005; the election was again criticized by the opposition, which was divided and relatively weak. The Dec., 2006, legislative elections were again solidly won by the president's party, but voter turnout was low.

Bongo died in June, 2009; the head of the senate, Rose Francine Rogombe, became Gabon's interim president. In the Aug., 2009, presidential election, Ali Bongo, the son of the late president, was elected with 42% of the vote. Opposition parties denounced the result as rigged, and opposition supporters rioted in the capital and Port-Gentil, but the constitutional court affirmed the results. In Jan., 2011, André Mba Obame, who had lost to Bongo in 2009, declared himself the rightful president, appointed a cabinet, and attempted to rally his supporters against Bongo. The government accused him of treason and dissolved his party. Opposition parties largely boycotted the elections in Dec., 2011, for the National Assembly, and governing party candidates won all but six of the seats.


See J. Bouquerel, Le Gabon (1970); D. E. Gardinier, Historical Dictionary of Gabon (1981); M. A. Saint Paul, Gabon (1989).

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Official name: Gabonese Republic

Area: 267,667 square kilometers (103,347 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mt. Iboundji (1,575 meters/5,167 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern, Southern, and Eastern

Time zone: 1 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 717 kilometers (446 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 644 kilometers (400 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest

Land boundaries: 2,551 kilometers (1,585 miles) total boundary length; Cameroon 298 kilometers (185 miles); Republic of the Congo 1,903 kilometers (1,182 miles); Equatorial Guinea 350 kilometers (217 miles)

Coastline: 885 kilometers (550 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Gabon is located on the equator in western Africa. It shares borders with Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea to the north and with the Republic of the Congo to the south and east. The country's western coast lies along the South Atlantic Ocean. With an area of 267,667 square kilometers (103,347 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Colorado. Gabon is divided into nine provinces.


Gabon has no outside territories or dependencies.


Gabon has the hot and humid climate typical of tropical regions. The hottest month is January; at Libreville, the average high is 31°C (88°F) and the average low is 23°C (73°F). Average July temperatures in the capital city range between 20 and 28°C (68° and 82°F).

From June to September, virtually no rain falls but high humidity prevails. There is occasional rain in December and January. During the remaining months, rainfall is heavy. The excessive rainfall is caused by the condensation of moist air resulting from the meeting of two Atlantic Ocean currents: the cold Benguela Current from the south and the warm Guinea Current from the north. At Libreville, the average annual rainfall is more than 254 centimeters (100 inches). Farther north on the coast, it is 381 centimeters (150 inches).


The low-lying coastal plain of Gabon is narrow in the north (approximately 29 kilometers/18 miles wide) and broader in the estuary regions of the Ogooué River. Much of the coastal area is wooded, with savannah (grassland) separating the wooded coast from the rainforest of the interior. The rainforest includes some unique plants, such as climbing vines and hardwood tree species.

The land in the interior is not strictly flat plains; it is more complex, but not dramatic. In the north, mountains enclose the valleys of the Woleu and Ntem Rivers and the Ivindo Basin. In southern Gabon, the coastal plain is dominated by granitic hills. Between the Ngounié and the Ogooué Rivers, the Chaillu Massif rises to 915 meters (3,000 feet). Almost the entire country is contained in the basin of the Ogooué River and its two major tributaries. Within the rain-forests grows an encyclopedic range of flora, including climbing palms, rubber vines, liana, and hardwood trees such as purpleheart, ebony, and mahogany. The hardwoods, including the okoumé (unique to central Africa) and Ozigo tree, are harvested for their timbera cash crop of significant value to Gabon's economy.

Besides plant life, the rainforests' floors and canopies also provide habitats for all sorts of animals. Snakes such as vipers and pythons slither around hunting for their preyinsects, field mice, and other unlucky small animals. Hedgehogs, porcupines, and tortoises lumber around on the forest floor, while squirrels, monkeys, baboons, lemurs, toucans, and African parrots occupy the trees. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses claim the riverbanks, and big game animals such as antelope, buffalo, and elephants roam the grasslands. Even gorillas, endangered in most other parts of Africa, are so numerous in Gabon that they have become an environmental nuisance.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Gabon borders the South Atlantic Ocean south of the Bight of Biafra and the Gulf of Guinea.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The northern coastline is deeply indented by bays, estuaries, and deltas as far south as the mouth of the Ogooué River, featuring Cape Santa Clara in the north, and Cape Lopez, the country's westernmost point, just north of the Ogooué River mouth. These bays and estuaries form excellent natural shelters, thus providing ports and harbors. Numerous lagoons, such as Ndogo and Nkomi, line the coastline south of the Ogooué River. Much of this coastal area contains mangrove swamps as well. Corsica Bay is located along the northern coast.


In the west of Gabon, near the city of Lamberene, are most of the country's lakes, which were formed by crisscrossing rivers. Lake Onangue, an offshoot of the Ogooué River, is one of the largest.


Virtually the entire territory of Gabon is contained in the basin of the Ogooué River. It is Gabon's longest riverabout 1,100 kilometers (690 miles) long and navigable for about 400 kilometers (250 miles). It flows from the southeastern point of Gabon and winds its way up through the center of the country, turning west and cutting through the Crystal Mountains to reach its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean at Port-Gentil. Its two major tributaries are the Ivindo and the Ngounié, which are navigable for 80 to 160 kilometers (50 to 100 miles) into the interior. The Ivindo drains the northeastern part of Gabon, and the Ngounié runs parallel to the Crystal Mountains along their western face. In the east, the Sébé River also joins the Ogooué. The relatively short Gabon River rises just inside Equatorial Guinea and flows southwest into Gabon, over the Kinguélé Falls, then dumps into the Atlantic Ocean at Kango.


There are no major desert regions in Gabon.


There are no major prairie regions within the country of Gabon. Only about 1 percent of the land is arable, with permanent crops. About 18 percent of the terrain is considered to be permanent pasture.


Rivers descending from the interior have carved deep channels in the face of the escarpment, dividing it into distinct blocks and separating the Crystal Mountains from the Chaillu Massif. The Crystal Mountains run roughly north to south across the country, just west of the center. The highest point in Gabon is the peak of Mount Iboundji, which reaches an altitude of 1,575 meters (5,167 feet). It is located in the northern Crystal Mountains.


The Oklo Uranium mine in Gabon is an important research site for nuclear physicists. In 1972, researchers discovered that the mine had been the site of a natural fission reaction that occurred at least 1.5 billion years ago. The chain reaction may have continued intermittently for hundreds of thousands of years before becoming inactive. This natural nuclear reaction created radioactive wastes that have been buried there for centuries. Scientists are studying the area to develop safer methods of nuclear waste disposal.


Plateaus cover the north and east and most of the south of the country. They rise from the coastal lowlands, which range in width from 30 to 200 kilometers (20 to 125 miles), to form a rocky escarpment which is more than 96 kilometers (60 miles) wide, and which ranges in height from 450 to 600 meters (1,480 to 1,970 feet).


There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Gabon.



Brokken, Jan C. The Rainbird: A Central African Journey. Melbourne, Australia: Lonely Planet, 1997.

Gardinier, David. Gabon. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1992.

Gardinier, David. Historical Dictionary of Gabon. 2nd ed. Scarecrow Press, 1994.

Web Sites

American Nuclear Society. (accessed May 10, 2003).

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267,670sq km (103,347sq mi)



capital (population):

Libreville (541,000)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Fang 36%, Mpongwe 15%, Mbete 14%, Punu 12%


French (official)


Christianity (Catholic 65%, Protestant 19%, African churches 12%), traditional beliefs 3%, Islam 2%


CFA franc = 100 centimes

The Gabonese Republic lies on the Equator in w central Africa; the capital is Libreville.

Land and Climate

Behind the coastline, which is 800km (500mi) long, is a narrow coastal plain. The land then rises to hills, plateaux and mountains divided by deep valleys carved by the River Ogooué and its tributaries. Gabon has high temperatures and humidity most of the year. Dense rainforest covers c.75% of Gabon, with tropical savanna in the e and s. The forests teem with wildlife, and Gabon has several national parks and wildlife reserves.


Portuguese explorers reached the Gabon coast in the 1470s, and the area later became a source of slaves. France established a settlement in 1839, later named Libreville. Gabon became a French colony in the 1880s. In 1960, it achieved full independence. In 1968, after the death of Gabon's first president, Leon Mba, it became a one-party state. Free elections took place in 1990. The Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), formerly the only party, won a majority in the National Assembly. President Bongo, of the PDG, won the presidential elections in 1993, although accusations of fraud and corruption led to riots in Libreville. Bongo was condemned by the international community for his harsh suppression of popular demonstrations, but was re-elected in 1998.


Gabon's abundant natural resources, including forests, oil and gas deposits, manganese and uranium, make it one of Africa's richer nations (2000 GDP per capita, US$6300). However, agriculture still employs c.75% of the workforce. Crops include bananas, cassava, maize, and sugar cane, while cocoa and coffee are grown for export. Other exports: oil, manganese, timber and wood products, uranium.

Political map

Physical map



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Culture Name



Identification. Gabon is a French equatorial country, home to over forty ethnic groups. The largest group is the Fang, forming 40 percent of the population. Other major groups are the Teke, the Eshira, and the Pounou. As in many African countries, the borders of Gabon do not correspond to the borders of the ethnic groups. The Fang, for example, inhabit northern Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, southern Cameroon, and the western part of the Republic of Congo. The cultures of the ethnic groups are akin to other groups in Central Africa, and center around the rain forest and its treasures. Food preferences, farming practices, and quality of life are comparable. The ceremonial traditions vary, however, as do the personalities of the groups. There are ongoing debates about the differences in these groups and their significance.

Location and Geography. Gabon covers 103,347 square miles (267,667 square kilometers). It is slightly smaller than the state of Colorado. Gabon is on the west coast of Africa, centered on the equator. It borders Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon to the north, and the Republic of Congo to the east and south. The capital, Libreville, is on the west coast in the north. It is in Fang territory, though it was not chosen for this reason. Libreville ("free town") was the landing place for a ship of freed slaves in the 1800s, and later became the capital. Over 80 percent of Gabon is tropical rain forest, with a plateau region in the south. There are nine provinces named after the rivers that separate them.

Demography. There are roughly 1,200,500 Gabonese. There are equal numbers of men and women. The original inhabitants were the Pygmies, but only a few thousand remain. Of the total population, 60 percent live in the cities while 40 percent inhabit the villages. There is also a large population of Africans from other countries who have come to Gabon to find work.

Linguistic Affiliation. The national language is French, which is mandatory in school. It is spoken by the majority of the population under the age of fifty. The use of a common language is extremely helpful in the cities, where Gabonese from all of the different ethnic groups come together to live. Most Gabonese speak at least two languages, as each ethnic group has its own language as well.

Symbolism. The Gabonese flag is made of three horizontal stripes: green, yellow, and blue. Green symbolizes the forest, yellow the equatorial sun, and blue the water from the sky and sea. The forest and its animals are greatly valued as well, and are portrayed on the Gabonese currency.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Tools from the Old Stone Age indicate early life in Gabon, but little is known of its people. The Myene had arrived in Gabon by the thirteenth century and settled as a fishing community along the coast. With the exception of the Fang, Gabon's ethnic groups are Bantu and arrived in Gabon after the Myene. The different ethnic groups were separated from one another by the dense forest and remained intact. Europeans began to arrive at the end of the fifteenth century. The Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English participated in the slave trade that flourished for 350 years. In 1839, the first lasting European settlement was started by the French. Ten years later, Libreville was founded by freed slaves. During this time, the Fang were migrating from Cameroon into Gabon. The French obtained control inland and stymied the Fang migration, thus concentrating them in the north. In 1866, the French appointed a governor with the approval of the Myene leader. At the start of the twentieth century, Gabon became part of French Equatorial Africa, which also included the present-day nations of Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. Gabon remained an overseas territory of France until its independence in 1960.

National Identity. The Gabonese are proud of their country's resources and prosperity. They carve their lives from the forest. They fish, hunt, and farm. Each ethnic group has ceremonies for birth, death, initiation, and healing, and for casting out evil spirits, though the specifics of the ceremonies vary widely from group to group. The Gabonese are very spiritual and dynamic.

Ethnic Relations. There are no major conflicts between the groups in Gabon, and intermarriage is common. The ethnic groups are not contained within Gabon. Many groups spill over the borders into the neighboring countries. The borders were chosen by European colonials trying to parcel out territories; little consideration was given to the natural borders formed by the ethnic groups, which were then split by the new lines.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

As a building material, cement is seen as a sign of wealth. The cities are rife with it, and all of the government buildings are constructed in cement. In the capital, it is easy to differentiate between buildings that were styled by Gabonese and those done by outside architects. In the villages, the architecture is different. The structures are impermanent. The most economical houses are made from mud and covered in palm fronds. There are houses built from wood, bark, and brick. The brick houses are often plastered with a thin layer of cement with roofs made from corrugated tin. A wealthy family might build with cinder blocks. In addition to the houses, both men and women have distinctive gathering places. The women each have a cuisine, a kitchen hut filled with pots and pans, wood for fire, and bamboo beds set against the walls for sitting and resting. The men have open structures called corps de guards, or gatherings of men. The walls are waist high and open to the roof. They are lined in benches with a central fire.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The staples vary little among the groups in Gabon. The groups share a landscape and climate, and thus are able to produce the same kinds of things. Bananas, papayas, pineapples, guavas, mangoes, bushbutter, avocado, and coconuts are the fruits. Eggplants, bitter eggplants, feed corn, sugarcane, peanuts, plantains, and tomatoes are also found. Cassava is the main starch. It is a tuber with little nutritional value, but fills the stomach. Its young leaves are picked and used as a vegetable. Protein comes from the sea and rivers, as well as from bush meat hunted by the men.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Wines are made from palm trees and sugarcane. The palm wine, in conjunction with a hallucinogenic root called eboga, is used during ceremonies for death, healing, and initiation. In small doses, eboga acts as a stimulant, making it useful for all-night ceremonies. In larger quantities, it is hallucinogenic, allowing participants to "see their ancestors." Food and wine are offered to the ancestors during the ceremonies, and both men and women partake in these rituals, which are full of drumming, singing and dancing.

Basic Economy. In the villages, the Gabonese are able to provide themselves virtually everything they need. They buy only soap, salt, and medicine. In the cities, however, most of the goods sold are imported and marketed by foreigners. The Gabonese produce enough bananas, plantains, sugar, and soap to export to nearby cities, but 90 percent of the food is imported. West Africans and Lebanese hold title to many of the shops, and women from Cameroon dominate the open markets.

Land Tenure and Property. Virtually everything is owned by someone. Each village is considered to own three miles (4.8 kilometers) into the forest in every direction. This area is split among the families, and the best locations are given to the elders. Property is passed down paternally or maternally, depending on the ethnic group. The rest of the land belongs to the government.

Major Industries. Gabon has many riches. It is one of the world's largest producers of manganese, and is the world's largest producer of okoume, a softwood used to make plywood. President Omar Bongo has sold the rights to the majority of the forest to French and Asian lumber companies. Oil is another major export, and the petroleum revenues form over half of Gabon's annual budget. Lead and silver have also been discovered, and there are large deposits of untapped iron ore that cannot be reached because of the lack of infrastructure.

Trade. Gabon's currency, the Communaute Financiere Africaine, is automatically converted into French francs, thus giving trading partners confidence in its security. The bulk of the crude oil goes to France, the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. Major export items include manganese, forest products, and oil. Overall, France receives more than one-third of Gabon's exports and contributes half of its imports. Gabon also trades with other European nations, the United States, and Japan.

Division of Labor. In 1998, 60 percent of workers were employed in the industrial sector, 30 percent in services, and 10 percent in agricultural.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Though the per capita income is four times that of other sub-Saharan African nations, the majority of this wealth is in the hands of a few. The cities are filled with poverty, which is less noticeable in the villages. The villagers provide for themselves and have less of a need for money. Village families assess relative affluence by how many chickens and goats they have, how many pots are in the kitchen, and how many changes of clothes each person has. Official caste systems are not present.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The more affluent in society wear freshly starched clothes, in both Western and African styles. The Gabonese are accustomed to being shunned and condescended to by government officials, postal workers, and other important figures; once one has reached a higher level oneself, the temptation to respond in kind is enticing. The educated Gabonese speak Parisian French, while the rest of the country speaks a French that has absorbed the rhythm and accent of their local language.

Political Life

Government. Gabon has three branches of government. The executive branch includes the president, his prime minister, and his Council of Ministers, all appointed by him. The legislative branch is made up of the 120-seat National Assembly and the 91-seat Senate, both of which are elected every five years. The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice, an appellate court, and a state security court.

Leadership and Political Officials. When Gabon gained its independence in 1960, Leon M'ba, the former governor to Gabon, slid into the presidency. He survived a coup and remained in power until his death in 1967. Vice President Albert Bernard Bongo took his place. Bongo, who later took the Islamic name El Hadj Omar Bongo, was reelected in 1973 and has been the president ever since. Elections are held every seven years, and Bongo has continued to win by a slender margin. Bongo's party, the Gabon Democratic Party (or PDG) has had competition since other parties were legalized in 1990, but the other two main parties, the Gabonese People's Union and the National Rally of Woodcutters, have been unable to gain control. Before each election, Bongo travels the country giving speeches and handing out money and clothing. He uses the budget to do this, and there is a debate over whether or not the elections are handled fairly.

Social Problems and Control. The formality of crime response is debatable. It hinges on who is victimized as much as who is in charge. Little is done to protect African immigrants, but if a European is hurt the police will try harder. There is a lot of corruption, however, and if money changes hands the criminal could be released and no record kept. For this reason, the law is often more informal. A town will ostracize someone for having stolen something, but no formal charge will be taken. Things will be passed by word of mouth, and the criminal will be cast out. In extreme cases, a village might seek an nganga, or medicine man, to cast a spell on the person.

Military Activity. Gabon's troops stay within its borders. Out of the nation's overall budget, 1.6 percent goes to the military, including an army, navy, air force, the Republican Guard to protect the president and other officials, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Police. The military employs 143,278 people, with concentrations in the cities and along Gabon's southern and eastern borders to repel Congolese immigrants and refugees. There is also a large presence of the French military.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The PNLS (National Program to Fight Against Aids) has an office in every major city. It sells condoms and educates women on family planning and pregnancy. There is also a Forests and Waters office in every city, working to protect the environment and wildlife from exploitation, though its effectiveness is questioned.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The World Wildlife Fund has ecological and sociological research and wildlife preservation projects in the north and on the coast, and the United Nations supports agricultural advancements in the north by sponsoring extensionists and providing training and mopeds. The United States Children's Fund (UNICEF) is also present, working against child prostitution and infant mortality. A German organization, GTZ, funds the organization of the Gabonese National Forestry School. The Peace Corps is active in Gabon as well, with programs in construction, health, agriculture, fisheries, women in development, and environmental education.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. The expectations of labor are different for women and men. Women raise their many children, farm, prepare food, and do the household chores. In the villages, the men build a house for the family as well as a cuisine for each wife taken. The men handle cash crops if there are any, and may have jobs fishing or building, or in offices in the cities. The women also work in the cities as secretariesthere are exceptional women who have risen to positions of power in spite of the underlying male dominance in the workplace. The children help with the chores, do laundry and dishes, run errands, and clean house.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Though debatable, men seem to have higher status than women. They make the financial decisions and control the family, though the women add input and are often outspoken. The men dominate the government, the military, and the schools, while the women do the majority of the manual labor for the family.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Virtually everyone is married, but few of these marriages are legal. To legalize a marriage it must be done at the mayor's office in a city, and this is rare. Women choose men who will be able to provide for them, while men choose women who will bear children and keep their home. Polygyny is practiced in Gabon, but having more than one woman becomes expensive and has become a sign of wealth as much as it is an indulgence. Divorce is uncommon but not unheard of. Marriages can be business arrangements, at times, though some couples marry for love. It is expected for women to have several children before wedlock. These children will then belong to the mother. In a marriage, however, the children are the father's. If the couple splits up, the husband takes the children. Without premarital offspring, the wife would have nothing.

Domestic Unit. Families stay together. When a couple is wed, they traditionally move to the husband's village. That village will hold his family, including brothers and their families, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, children, and nieces and nephews. It is not uncommon for families to share a home with their parents and extended relatives. Everyone is welcome and there is always room for one more.

Kin Groups. Within each ethnic group are tribes. Each tribe lives in the same area and comes from a common ancestor. For this reason, people cannot marry members of their tribe.


Infant Care. Babies stay with their mothers. There are no cribs or playpens, and the infants are tied to their mothers' backs with a sheet of cloth when the mothers are busy, and sleep next to the mother on the same bed. Perhaps because they are so physically close all the time, the babies are remarkably calm and quiet.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are raised communally. Mothers care for their children and any neighboring children who may be present. In addition, older siblings take care of the younger ones. The children sleep in the cuisine (kitchen hut) with their mother, but are relatively free within the village during the day. They begin school at age five or six. When there is not money for books and supplies, the children will not go to school until there is. Sometimes a wealthy relative will be called upon to provide these things. Both boys and girls attend school until they are sixteen by law, though this may not always occur for the above reason. The girls may begin to have children at this point, and the boys continue school or begin to work. Approximately 60 percent of Gabonese are literate.

Higher Education. The Omar Bongo University in Libreville offers two to three year programs in many subjects, as well as advanced studies in select fields. The University of Science and Technology in the south is relatively new, and diversifies the options. These schools are dominated by upper-class men. Women have a difficult time excelling in academics, as the subjects and standards are structured for men. Some Gabonese study abroad in other African countries or in France, at both undergraduate and graduate levels.


Gabonese are very communal. Personal space is neither needed nor respected. When people are interested in something, they stare at it. It is not rude to call something what it is, to identify someone by his or her race, or to ask someone for something that is wanted. Foreigners are often offended by this. They may feel personally invaded by having someone stand in their space, insulted at being called white, and put off by people who ask them for their watch and shoes. None of these things are meant in a negative way, however, as they simply reflect the up-front nature of the Gabonese. Conversely, celebrity figures are treated with incredible respect. They are the first to sit, and the first to be fed, and are catered to with detail, regardless of their moral standing in society.


Religious Beliefs. There are several different belief systems in Gabon. The majority of the Gabonese are Christian. There are three times as many Roman Catholics as Protestants. There are many foreign clergy, though the Protestants have Gabonese pastors in the north. These beliefs are simultaneously held with Bwiti, an ancestral worship. There are also several thousand Muslims, most of whom have immigrated from other African countries.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Bwiti ceremonies, performed to worship the ancestors, are led by ngangas (medicine men). There are special wooden temples for these ceremonies, and participants dress in bright costumes, paint their faces white, remove their shoes, and cover their heads.

Death and the Afterlife. After death, bodies are rubbed and anointed to remove rigor mortis. Because of the tropical climate, the bodies are interred within two days. They are buried in a wooden coffin. The deceased then joins the ancestors who are to be worshiped with the Bwiti ceremonies. They can be asked for advice, and for remedies for disease. There is a retraite de deuil ceremony one year after death to end the mourning period.

Medicine and Health Care

Health facilities are inadequate. Hospitals are ill-equipped, and patients buy their own medications from pharmacies before treatment can begin. Malaria, tuberculosis, syphilis, AIDS, and other infectious diseases are widespread and virtually untreated. Many villagers also turn to the ngangas for remedies, as modern health care is expensive and distant.

Secular Celebrations

Gabon's Independence Day, 17 August, is full of parades and speeches. New Year's Day is also celebrated throughout the country.

The Arts and The Humanities

Support for the Arts. International Center for Bantu Civilizations was created in Libreville in 1983, and there is a Gabonese Museum featuring Gabon's history and artistic relics. There is also a French Cultural Center in the capital which displays artistic creations and features dance groups and chorales. There is an annual cultural celebration as well, with performances by musicians and dancers from many different groups in celebration of Gabon's diversity.

Literature. Much of Gabon's literature is strongly influenced by France, as many authors received their schooling there. Writers use French, newspapers are in French, and television is broadcast in French. Radio programs use both French and local languages, however, and there is mounting interest in the history of Gabon's peoples.

Graphic Arts. The Fang make masks and basketry, carvings, and sculptures. Fang art is characterized by organized clarity and distinct lines and shapes. Bieri, boxes to hold the remains of ancestors, are carved with protective figures. Masks are worn in ceremonies and for hunting. The faces are painted white with black features. Myene art centers around Myene rituals for death. Female ancestors are represented by white painted masks worn by the male relatives. The Bekota use brass and copper to cover their carvings. They use baskets to hold ancestral remains. Tourism is rare in Gabon, and unlike in other African countries, art is not spurred on by the prospect of capitalism.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Omar Bongo University in Libreville and the University of Science and Technology in the south are the main facilities in Gabon. Doctoral students and other private individuals and organizations conduct sociological and anthropological studies throughout Gabon, and chemical companies search for new treasures in the rain forest. Resources are dim, however, and when evidence is collected, scholars often travel to other countries to seek superior facilities.


Aicardi de Saint-Paul, Marc. Gabon: The Development of a Nation, 1989.

Aniakor, Chike. Fang, 1989.

Balandier, Georges, and Jacques Maquet. The Dictionary of Black African Civilization, 1974.

Barnes, James Franklin. Gabon: Beyond the Colonial Legacy, 1992.

Gardenier, David E. The Historical Dictionary of Gabon, 1994.

Giles, Bridget. Peoples of Central Africa, 1997.

Murray, Jocelyn. The Cultural Atlas of Africa, 1981.

Perrois, Lous. Ancestral Art of Gabon: From the Collections of the Barbier-Mueller Museum, 1985

Schweitzer, Albert. The African Notebook, 1958.

Weinstein, Brian. Gabon: Nation-Building on the Ogooue, 1966.

Alison Graham

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The people of Gabon are called the Gabonese. There are at least forty distinct tribal groups in Gabon. The largest group is the Fang (about 30 percent of the population).

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Gabonaide-de-camp, aides-de-camp, anon, Asunción, au courant, begone, Bonn, bon vivant, Caen, Canton, Carcassonne, Ceylon, chaconne, chateaubriand, ci-devant, Colón, colon, Concepción, con (US conn), cretonne, don, Duchamp, Evonne, foregone, fromage blanc, Gabon, Garonne, gone, guenon, hereupon, Inchon, Jean, john, Jon, Le Mans, León, Luzon, Mont Blanc, Narbonne, odds-on, on, outgone, outshone, Perón, phon, piñon, Pinot Blanc, plafond, Ramón, Saigon, Saint-Saëns, Sand, Schwann, scone, shone, side-on, sine qua non, Sorbonne, spot-on, swan, thereon, thereupon, ton, Toulon, undergone, upon, Villon, wan, whereon, whereupon, won, wonton, yon, Yvonne •crayon, rayon •Leon, Lyons, neon, prion •Ceredigion • Mabinogion • nucleon •Amiens • dupion • parathion •Laocoon •gluon, Rouen •bon-bon • Audubon

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