Gabon


Gabon
/gann bawonn"/, n.
1. Official name, Gabonese Republic. a republic in W equatorial Africa: formerly a part of French Equatorial Africa; member of the French Community. 1,190,159; 102,290 sq. mi. (264,931 sq. km). Cap.: Libreville.
2. an estuary in W Gabon. ab. 40 mi. (65 km) long.
Also, Gabun.

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Gabon

Introduction Gabon
Background: Ruled by autocratic presidents since independence from France in 1960, Gabon introduced a multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s that allowed for a more transparent electoral process and for reforms of governmental institutions. A small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous black African countries. Geography Gabon -
Location: Western Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean at the Equator, between Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea
Geographic coordinates: 1 00 S, 11 45 E
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 267,667 sq km water: 10,000 sq km land: 257,667 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Colorado
Land boundaries: total: 2,551 km border countries: Cameroon 298 km, Republic of the Congo 1,903 km, Equatorial Guinea 350 km
Coastline: 885 km
Maritime claims: contiguous zone: 24 NM exclusive economic zone: 200 NM territorial sea: 12 NM
Climate: tropical; always hot, humid
Terrain: narrow coastal plain; hilly interior; savanna in east and south
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m highest point: Mont Iboundji 1,575 m
Natural resources: petroleum, manganese, uranium, gold, timber, iron ore, hydropower
Land use: arable land: 1.26% permanent crops: 0.66% other: 98.08% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: 150 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: NA Environment - current issues: deforestation; poaching Environment - international party to: Biodiversity, Climate
agreements: Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: a small population and oil and mineral reserves have helped Gabon become one of Africa's wealthier countries; in general, these circumstances have allowed the country to maintain and conserve its pristine rain forest and rich biodiversity People Gabon
Population: 1,233,353 note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 33.3% (male 205,559; female 204,796) 15-64 years: 60.6% (male 376,103; female 371,422) 65 years and over: 6.1% (male 37,220; female 38,253) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.97% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 27.24 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 17.59 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.97 male(s)/ female total population: 1.01 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 93.5 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 49.11 years female: 50.25 years (2002 est.) male: 48.01 years
Total fertility rate: 3.65 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 9% (2001 est.) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ 23,000 (1999 est.)
AIDS:
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 2,000 (1999 est.)
Nationality: noun: Gabonese (singular and plural) adjective: Gabonese
Ethnic groups: Bantu tribes including four major tribal groupings (Fang, Bapounou, Nzebi, Obamba), other Africans and Europeans 154,000, including 10,700 French and 11,000 persons of dual nationality
Religions: Christian 55%-75%, animist, Muslim less than 1%
Languages: French (official), Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 63.2% male: 73.7% female: 53.3% (1995 est.) Government Gabon
Country name: conventional long form: Gabonese Republic conventional short form: Gabon local short form: Gabon local long form: Republique Gabonaise
Government type: republic; multiparty presidential regime (opposition parties legalized in 1990)
Capital: Libreville Administrative divisions: 9 provinces; Estuaire, Haut-Ogooue, Moyen-Ogooue, Ngounie, Nyanga, Ogooue-Ivindo, Ogooue-Lolo, Ogooue- Maritime, Woleu-Ntem
Independence: 17 August 1960 (from France)
National holiday: Founding of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), 12 March (1968)
Constitution: adopted 14 March 1991
Legal system: based on French civil law system and customary law; judicial review of legislative acts in Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 21 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President El Hadj Omar BONGO (since 2 December 1967) head of government: Prime Minister Jean-Francois NTOUTOUME-EMANE (since 23 January 1999) cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the president elections: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; election last held 6 December 1998 (next to be held NA 2005); prime minister appointed by the president election results: President El Hadj Omar BONGO reelected; percent of vote - El Hadj Omar BONGO 66.6%, Pierre MAMBOUNDOU 16.5%, Fr. Paul M'BA-ABESSOLE 13.4%
Legislative branch: bicameral legislature consists of the Senate (91 seats; members elected by members of municipal councils and departmental assemblies) and the National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (120 seats); members are elected by direct, popular vote to serve five- year terms elections: National Assembly - last held 9 and 23 December 2001 (next to be held NA December 2006); Senate - last held 26 January and 9 February 1997 (next to be held in NA 2002) election results: National Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - PDG 86, RNB-RPG 8, PGP 3, ADERE 3, CLR 2, PUP 1, PSD 1, independents 13, others 3; Senate - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - PDG 53, RNB 20, PGP 4, ADERE 3, RDP 1, CLR 1, independents 9
Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Cour Supreme consisting of three chambers - Judicial, Administrative, and Accounts; Constitutional Court; Courts of Appeal; Court of State Security; County Courts Political parties and leaders: African Forum for Reconstruction or FAR [Leon MBOU-YEMBI]; Circle of Liberal Reformers or CLR [General Jean Boniface ASSELE]; Congress for Democracy and Justice or CDJ [Jules Aristide Bourdes OGOULIGUENDE]; Democratic and Republican Alliance or ADERE [Divungui-di-Ndinge DIDJOB]; Gabonese Democratic Party or PDG, former sole party [Simplice Nguedet MANZELA, secretary general]; Gabonese Party for Progress or PGP [Pierre-Louis AGONDJO-OKAWE, president]; Gabonese People's Union or UPG [Pierre MAMBOUNDOU]; National Rally of Woodcutters-Rally for Gabon or RNB-RPG (Bucherons) [Fr. Paul M'BA-ABESSOLE]; People's Unity Party or PUP [Louis Gaston MAYILA]; Rally for Democracy and Progress or RDP [Pierre EMBONI]; Social Democratic Party or PSD [Pierre Claver MAGANGA- MOUSSAVOU] Political pressure groups and NA
leaders: International organization ACCT, ACP, AfDB, BDEAC, CCC, CEEAC,
participation: CEMAC, ECA, FAO, FZ, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ITU, NAM, OAU, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Jules- Darius OGOUEBANDJA consulate(s): New York FAX: [1] (202) 332-0668 telephone: [1] (202) 797-1000 chancery: Suite 200, 2034 20th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 Diplomatic representation from the chief of mission: Charge d'Affaires
US: Thomas F. DAUGHTON embassy: Boulevard de la Mer, Libreville mailing address: B. P. 4000, Libreville telephone: [241] 76 20 03 through 76 20 04, 74 34 92 FAX: [241] 74 55 07
Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of green (top), yellow, and blue Economy Gabon -
Economy - overview: Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most nations of sub-Saharan Africa. This has supported a sharp decline in extreme poverty; yet because of high income inequality a large proportion of the population remains poor. Gabon depended on timber and manganese until oil was discovered offshore in the early 1970s. The oil sector now accounts for 50% of GDP. Gabon continues to face fluctuating prices for its oil, timber, and manganese exports. Despite the abundance of natural wealth, the economy is hobbled by poor fiscal management. In 1992, the fiscal deficit widened to 2.4% of GDP, and Gabon failed to settle arrears on its bilateral debt, leading to a cancellation of rescheduling agreements with official and private creditors. Devaluation of its Francophone currency by 50% on 12 January 1994 sparked a one-time inflationary surge, to 35%; the rate dropped to 6% in 1996. The IMF provided a one- year standby arrangement in 1994-95, a three-year Enhanced Financing Facility (EFF) at near commercial rates beginning in late 1995, and stand-by credit of $119 million in October 2000. Those agreements mandate progress in privatization and fiscal discipline. France provided additional financial support in January 1997 after Gabon had met IMF targets for mid-1996. In 1997, an IMF mission to Gabon criticized the government for overspending on off-budget items, overborrowing from the central bank, and slipping on its schedule for privatization and administrative reform. The rebound of oil prices in 1999-2000 helped growth, but drops in production hampered Gabon from fully realizing potential gains. In December 2000, Gabon signed a new agreement with the Paris Club to reschedule its official debt. A follow-up bilateral repayment agreement with the US was signed in December 2001.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $6.7 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2.5% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $5,500 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 10% industry: 60% services: 30% (1999 est.) Population below poverty line: NA% Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: NA%
percentage share: highest 10%: NA% Inflation rate (consumer prices): 1.5% (2001 est.)
Labor force: 600,000 Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 60%, services and government 25%, industry and commerce 15%
Unemployment rate: 21% (1997 est.)
Budget: revenues: $1.8 billion expenditures: $1.8 billion, including capital expenditures of $310 million (2002 est.)
Industries: food and beverage; textile; lumbering and plywood; cement; petroleum extraction and refining; manganese, and gold mining; chemicals; ship repair Industrial production growth rate: -6.4% (2001 est.) Electricity - production: 850 million kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 29.41% hydro: 70.59% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 790.5 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: cocoa, coffee, sugar, palm oil, rubber; cattle; okoume (a tropical softwood); fish
Exports: $2.5 billion (f.o.b., 2001 est.)
Exports - commodities: crude oil 81%, timber, manganese, uranium (2000)
Exports - partners: US 51%, France 17%, China 8%, Netherlands Antilles 4% (2000)
Imports: $921 million (f.o.b., 2001 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, construction materials
Imports - partners: France 62%, Cote d'Ivoire 7%, US 5%, Belgium 3% (2000)
Debt - external: $3.6 billion (2001 est.) Economic aid - recipient: $331 million (1995)
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XAF); note - responsible authority is the Bank of the Central African States
Currency code: XAF
Exchange rates: Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (XAF) per US dollar - 742.79 (January 2002), 733.04 (2001), 711.98 (2000), 615.70 (1999), 589.95 (1998), 583.67 (1997); note - from 1 January 1999, the XAF is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655.957 XAF per euro
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Gabon Telephones - main lines in use: 39,000 (2000) Telephones - mobile cellular: 120,000 (2000)
Telephone system: general assessment: adequate service by African standards and improving with the help of the growing mobile cell system domestic: adequate system of cable, microwave radio relay, tropospheric scatter, radiotelephone communication stations, and a domestic satellite system with 12 earth stations international: satellite earth stations - 3 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) Radio broadcast stations: AM 6, FM 7 (and 11 repeaters), shortwave 3 (2001)
Radios: 208,000 (1997) Television broadcast stations: 3 (plus six repeaters) (2001)
Televisions: 63,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .ga Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 4 (2001)
Internet users: 15,000 (2001) Transportation Gabon
Railways: total: 649 km standard gauge: 649 km 1.435- m gauge; single-track (2000 est.)
Highways: total: 7,670 km paved: 629 km (including 30 km of expressways) unpaved: 7,041 km (1996)
Waterways: 1,600 km (perennially navigable)
Pipelines: crude oil 270 km; petroleum products 14 km
Ports and harbors: Cap Lopez, Kango, Lambarene, Libreville, Mayumba, Owendo, Port- Gentil
Airports: 59 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 10 over 3,047 m: 1 2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 1,524 to 2,437 m: 7 914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2001) Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 49 1,524 to 2,437 m: 8 914 to 1,523 m: 17 under 914 m: 24 (2001) Military Gabon
Military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Presidential (Republican) Guard (charged with protecting the president and other senior officials), National Gendarmerie, National Police Military manpower - military age: 20 years of age (2002 est.) Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 284,358 (2002 est.) Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 146,908 (2002 est.)
service: Military manpower - reaching males: 11,304 (2002 est.)
military age annually: Military expenditures - dollar $70.8 million (FY01)
figure: Military expenditures - percent of 2% (FY01)
GDP: Transnational Issues Gabon Disputes - international: maritime boundary dispute with Equatorial Guinea because of disputed sovereignty over islands in Corisco Bay

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officially Gabonese Republic

Country, central Africa.

Area: 103,347 sq mi (267,667 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 1,233,000. Capital: Libreville. Gabon has more than 40 ethnic groups: the Fang make up the majority and live north of the Ogooué River; the largest groups south of the river are the Punu, Sira, and Nzebi. Languages: French (official), Fang, Mbete. Religion: Christianity, primarily Roman Catholicism. Currency: CFA franc. Gabon straddles the Equator on the western coast of Africa. It has a narrow coastal plain and becomes hilly in the south and north. The basin of its chief river, the Ogooué, covers most of the country; about three-fourths is equatorial rainforest, which supports numerous plant and animal species. Gabon has reserves of manganese that are among the largest in the world; it also has huge deposits of high-grade iron ore. Gabon has a mixed, developing economy based largely on the exploitation of these mineral and timber resources. Its head of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister; the parliament consists of two houses. Artifacts dating from late Paleolithic and early Neolithic times have been found in Gabon, but it is not known when the Bantu speakers who established Gabon's ethnic composition arrived. Pygmies were probably the original inhabitants. The Fang arrived in the late 18th century and were followed by the Portuguese and by French, Dutch, and English traders. The slave trade dominated commerce in the 18th and much of the 19th century. The French then took control, and Gabon was administered (1843–86) with French West Africa. In 1886 the colony of French Congo was established to include both Gabon and the Congo; in 1910 Gabon became a separate colony within French Equatorial Africa. An overseas territory of France from 1946, it became an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1958 and declared its independence in 1960. Rule by a sole political party was established in the 1960s, but discontent with it led to riots in Libreville in 1989. Legalization of opposition parties enabled new elections in 1990. Peace negotiations with neighbouring Chad rebels and with Congo (Brazzaville) were ongoing in the 1990s and into the beginning of the 21st century.

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▪ 2009

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2008 est.): 1,486,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo Ondimba
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong

      On Jan. 9, 2008, Interior Minister André Mba Obame suspended four groups of nongovernment organizations (NGOs), which were accused of having interfered in Gabon's national politics after criticizing the government's use of public funds. Two days later the government announced that in an effort to reduce expenses cabinet ministers would no longer be provided with official cars. The NGO suspension was lifted on January 15 on the condition that the organizations respect the laws governing their activities.

      Against a fragmented opposition, Pres. Omar Bongo's Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) retained control of more than half of the seats in the district and municipal councils in the April 27 elections. The Gabonese Union for Democracy and Development (UGDD), led by Zacharie Myboto, came in second and secured 160 municipal seats. The Union of Gabonese People (UPG), chaired by Pierre Mamboundou took third. Opposition parties charged that more than 70% of eligible voters did not take part in the balloting.

      On February 19 the African Development Bank agreed to loan €10 million (about $14.7 million) to finance expansion of Gabon's rubber and palm oil plantations. The government announced on May 19 that it would donate $500,000 to aid Beijing in its massive earthquake-relief effort in Sichuan province. A week later the Gabon government and Comibel, a Chinese mining corporation, signed an agreement for the development of rich iron deposits in Gabon's northeastern region.

      Under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, top diplomats from Gabon and Equatorial Guinea met in New York City on June 11 to negotiate a long-standing dispute over ownership of oil-rich Mbanie Island. The UN reported on July 23 that progress had been made in preparing the case for adjudication by the International Court of Justice.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2008

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2007 est.): 1,331,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo Ondimba
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong

      Pres. Omar Bongo's Democratic Party (PDG) entered 2007 with an overwhelming majority in the parliament, having won 80 of the 120 seats in the Dec. 17, 2006, Gabonese legislative elections. Parties allied to the PDG won 13 seats, independents gained 4, and the fragmented opposition took only 16; 7 seats remained undecided. Vice Premier and Minister of Social Affairs Louis-Gaston Mayila resigned from the PDG and the cabinet on July 16 and established his own party, the Union for a New Republic. On August 2, leaders of the main opposition parties reached an agreement with the government to prevent future electoral fraud; new voting cards would include a digital fingerprint of the cardholder.

      A press crackdown resulted in a three-month publishing ban (from February 27) on the satiric newspaper Edzombolo for printing articles critical of public officials. In June journalist Guy-Christian Mavioga, director of the independent newspaper L'Espoir, was arrested, and in August he was found guilty of defaming the head of state. Hospitalized while in prison, he was given a five-month suspended sentence and a $500 fine.

      According to an agreement signed on January 18, China would send 44 agricultural experts to assist small farmers in Gabon. The government promised on March 5 to supply free electricity and water to the country's poorest households to offset the impact of a 25% increase in the price of foodstuffs and fuel. In an attempt to control surging inflation, price ceilings on basic commodities were put in place in September for a six-month period. Gabon Airlines, the privately owned successor to bankrupt Air Gabon, launched its inaugural flight from Libreville to Paris on April 10.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2007

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2006 est.): 1,406,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo Ondimba
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane and, from January 20, Jean Eyeghe Ndong

       Reelected for another seven-year term the previous November with 79% of the vote, Omar Bongo, Africa's longest-serving head of state, was inaugurated on Jan. 19, 2006. Although opposition parties charged that votes had been purchased by oil money, international observers pronounced the poll to have been largely fair. Twenty other heads of state attended the ceremony. The next day Bongo named his cabinet, appointing former minister of finance Jean Eyeghe Ndong as prime minister.

      The 34-year-old dispute between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea over the oil-rich islands of Mbanié, Cocotier, and Conga moved closer to resolution. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan organized a meeting between Bongo and Equatorial Guinean Pres. Teodoro Obiang Nguema in Geneva in late February.

      On March 18 members of the opposition Union of the Gabonese People (UPG) fought with the police during a demonstration over the rising cost of living. Several days later security forces raided UPG headquarters, and Pierre Mamboundou, the UPG candidate in the 2005 presidential election, took refuge in the South African embassy in Libreville.

      A presidential order on September 6 announced that the minimum wage would rise to the equivalent of $154 a month, nearly double the existing rate. Despite this, and the vast wealth generated by Gabon's oil resources, the UN estimated that about two-thirds of the population lived below the poverty line and subsisted on less than $1 per day.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2006

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2005 est.): 1,384,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo Ondimba
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane

      Gabon continued to benefit from skyrocketing oil prices in 2005, but its reserves were rapidly being depleted. The IMF strongly recommended that a portion of oil revenues be set aside to repay external debts and to diversify the economy in order to prepare for a future with diminishing petroleum exports.

      The latest official results from the 2003 census were disputed by demographers and a government statistician, who stated that current birth and death rates would make a growth rate of 50% over a 10-year period impossible. Opposition parties accused the government of inflating the figures in order to qualify for increased international aid.

      Typhoid spread to the capital by the end of January as water shortages caused by a broken pump at the Libreville filtration centre forced people to turn to untreated water supplies. On February 1 the government announced that it would build an Ebola Surveillance Centre in the eastern forest region to monitor and respond to any new outbreaks of the deadly disease.

      On November 27 Pres. Omar Bongo, who had ruled Gabon since 1967, was overwhelmingly reelected. According to results released by the Interior Ministry, the 69-year-old Bongo won 79% of the votes cast to opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou's 13%. Bongo thus secured another seven-year term in office.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2005

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2004 est.): 1,351,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo Ondimba
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane

      In January 2004 the Gabonese government closed the Omar Bongo Technical High School, the country's largest secondary educational establishment, after four days of rioting. An official inquiry found that more than 1,000 students had been admitted with falsified credentials, and in some cases bribery and sex had been used to improve grades. Although the school was reopened in March, disastrous results in the annual baccalaureate examinations underlined the overall weaknesses in the Gabonese education system.

      On February 2 visiting Pres. Hu Jintao of China signed an agreement to import large quantities of Gabonese oil. China had funded and built Gabon's parliamentary complex and in July announced it would construct a national media centre in Libreville. On September 6, Pres. Omar Bongo left for a weeklong state visit to China, where he held talks with Hu at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

      Shortly after taking off from Libreville Airport on June 8, a Gabon Express aircraft crashed into the sea, killing 19 of 30 people aboard. An investigation revealed a record of poor aircraft maintenance and inadequate corporate administration. About 200 former state employees, among 650 fired in the 1999 privatization of the state-owned railroad corporation, demonstrated on August 28. They sought full payment of promised redundancy awards. The government responded by threatening the protesters with severe reprisals should they participate in sabotage or other illegal acts. On September 9 villagers demanding the restoration of electricity supplies attacked the police station in Lébamba, 400 km (250 mi) southeast of Libreville. One gendarme was killed, and a second was seriously injured.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2004

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2003 est.): 1,329,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane

      In February 2003, Gérard Nguema Mitoghe, president of Gabon's opposition National Rally of Republicans, demanded the dissolution of Parliament and municipal councils, citing the high level of voter abstention in the December 2001 elections. Condemning the conduct of the Omar Bongo regime and accusing unnamed high government officials of enriching themselves with public funds, he announced the formation of a shadow cabinet on March 22. On May 12 two privately owned magazines were shut down following the publication of articles critical of the government. Despite opposition protests, the ruling party pushed through constitutional changes in July that removed term restrictions. This effectively allowed Bongo, whose term was to expire in 2005, to stand for reelection indefinitely. He had ruled for 36 years.

      In March Gabon rebuffed demands by Equatorial Guinea that Gabonese troops be removed from Mbagne, an island in the oil-rich Corisco Bay claimed by both nations. Although the dispute remained unresolved, plans were announced in August for the construction of two bridges over the Ntem River to link Gabon with both Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. This project, to be launched in 2005, also included the construction of an all-weather road in the “Three Frontiers” area. Oil production, the backbone of Gabon's economy, declined during the year, and this created severe financial problems.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2003

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2002 est.): 1,233,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane

      In January, following his Gabonese Democratic Party's victory in the December legislative elections, Pres. Omar Bongo pledged that his new government would be an open one. He invited opposition parties to participate in the collective management of the state. Father Paul Mba Abessole, leader of the opposition National Rally of Woodcutters, told his members that they should join the new government to help solve the nation's economic and social problems. On January 27 Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane was asked by President Bongo to form a new cabinet. It was the first government since multiparty elections began in 1990 that included members of the opposition.

      On August 13 the Council of Ministers adopted a revised electoral code designed to simplify the process of voter registration. Despite fierce arguments, opposition parties were unable to achieve their primary goal of having a single-ballot system rather than the existing system with separate ballots for each party. The reformed code would be in effect for municipal elections scheduled for late December.

      On May 6, the Ministry of Public Health announced that the outbreak of Ebola fever had ended. It was known to have taken at least 53 lives in northeastern Gabon alone, but no new cases were reported after March 19, when the last death occurred. On July 19, in an effort to cut communication costs drastically, the government banned the use of mobile phones for all civil servants, claiming they were being used mainly for personal purposes. Security forces bulldozed four fishing villages near Libreville on July 24, leaving hundreds homeless. According to the government, these villages were being used as bases by drug traffickers and were destroyed as part of the ongoing war against crime.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2002

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2001 est.): 1,221,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane

      Amid a rising wave of urban crime, on March 1, 2001, Gabon's minister of the interior suspended the import and sale of firearms. Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane addressed the National Assembly on May 16 to answer deputies' concerns about public safety. Despite the creation during the year of a special crime squad, the incidents of armed robbery and other violent crimes continued to escalate.

      On May 8 unemployed workers staged a peaceful demonstration in the nation's commercial capital, Port-Gentil. Although a special commission was established to hear their grievances, it apparently made little impact, because on June 20 police had to use tear gas to disperse youths who had set up barricades at the port in protest against the lack of jobs. In response the protesters rioted, attacking police and paramilitary headquarters and looting shops and other business enterprises. The authorities regained control on the next day, and it was announced that meetings between the unemployed and a government official would soon take place. In the legislative elections held on December 9 and 23, the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party won 84 of the 120 seats in the legislature; the opposition claimed 12 seats, pro-government parties took 3 seats, and independents won 8. Another vote in January 2002 would decide the remaining 13 seats. In December there was also an outbreak of Ebola fever, which killed at least 11 persons in Gabon.

      Relations between Benin and Gabon cooled when the former accused Gabonese farmers of using thousands of underage Benin nationals in conditions of virtual slavery. Despite Gabon's adoption on June 16 of a new law imposing severe penalties on those exploiting children under age 16 as forced labour, the smuggling of children into the country appeared to continue unabated.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2001

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(2000 est.): 1,208,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo
Head of government:
Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane

      Eight African nations conducted French-sponsored military exercises in Gabon in January 2000. This was designed as a preliminary step toward creating a rapid-reaction peace force to be deployed to rescue and protect refugees in the case of ethnic conflict of the severity of that experienced in Rwanda in 1999. Soldiers from Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe were to constitute a force of 700 men equipped with surplus French army equipment. During a July meeting of the Organization of African Unity, Pres. Omar Bongo demanded reform of that body, with a greater emphasis on reconciliation and mediation rather than on punitive measures such as the imposition of boycotts.

      In late 1999 the government announced plans for the privatization of the posts and telecommunications sector and thereby triggered a prolonged strike by union members. In January top officials of the International Monetary Fund met with African leaders in Libreville. In the wide-ranging talks, priority was given to establishing a means to achieve real economic growth and the reduction of poverty.

      On August 30 Defense Minister Ali Bongo launched a new campaign to deport illegal aliens. The opposition Congress for Democracy and Justice closed its second convention on September 10 by calling on the government to ensure that all future elections were free and open.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2000

Area:
267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)
Population
(1999 est.): 1,226,000
Capital:
Libreville
Chief of state:
President Omar Bongo
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Paulin Obame-Nguema and, from January 23, Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane

      Pres. Omar Bongo, victorious in the first round of the December 1998 presidential elections, named Jean-François Ntoutoume-Emane prime minister on Jan. 23, 1999. The new Cabinet was dominated by ministers loyal to Bongo and included many members of the previous administration. No opposition members or defeated presidential candidates were given portfolios. The appointments came in the midst of violent student protests over living and working conditions. All schools and the university were ordered closed. In February the effects of drops in world oil prices triggered a series of other strikes by transport, water, and power workers and by employees in other important sectors of privatized industries.

      Pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other donors concerned about nonpayment of previous debts and a decision by France in February to suspend all funding for development projects in Gabon contributed to the president's decision to take new steps to reduce public spending. In April the government was forced to cut income estimates by more than 40%, owing almost entirely to a fall in crude oil revenues. Nevertheless, in June the government was able to make its first debt repayments since 1998 to the African Development Bank. In August the president, the prime minister, and all Cabinet ministers cut their own salaries by 15%, while civil servants' wages were reduced by 8–10%. Talks with the IMF and the World Bank over a new structural-adjustment package began on September 8.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 1999

      Area: 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 1,208,000

      Capital: Libreville

      Chief of state: President Omar Bongo

      Head of government: Prime Minister Paulin Obame-Nguéma

      The National Rally of Woodcutters, Gabon's largest opposition party, broke into two rival factions on July 20, 1998, after dissidents, led by the party's secretary-general, Pierre-André Kombila Koumba, challenged the leadership of party founder Father Paul Mba Abessole. Abessole, runner-up to Omar Bongo in the controversial 1993 presidential elections, met with his followers at the end of the month. The split assured Bongo an easy victory (66% of the vote) in the December election.

      The fall in world oil prices and the economic weakness in Asia, Gabon's largest market for its timber products, contributed to the government's decision to increase budgetary expenditures for 1999 by only 2%. Log exports were expected to drop by 30%, and little growth was projected in oil revenues. Overall economic growth was likely to be only 1%.

      Privatization of Gabon's railway system was scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. This followed the successful sale of the state-owned water and power company in 1997. Also destined for privatization, Air Gabon was aiming to replace its fleet of six outdated aircraft in order to make the company more attractive to prospective buyers.

      In February a new regional organization designed to promote economic integration and common political institutions, the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), was created in Libreville. A favourite project of President Bongo, CEMAC comprised Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

NANCY ELLEN LAWLER

▪ 1998

      Area: 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 1,190,000

      Capital: Libreville

      Chief of state: President Omar Bongo

      Head of government: Prime Minister Paulin Obame-Nguéma

      Following the smashing victory of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) in the December 1996 parliamentary elections, in which it won 100 of the 120 seats, Prime Minister Paulin Obame-Nguéma announced his new Cabinet on Jan. 29, 1997. Alexandre Sambat, the only member of the opposition coalition to be given a portfolio, was named minister of youth and sports. The PDG also won an absolute majority in the Senate, the new upper house of the legislature, after two rounds of polling in January and February. In March the National Assembly approved a draft law that lengthened the term of future presidents from five to seven years and created the post of vice president. Divungui-Di N'Dingue of the opposition Democratic and Republican Alliance and High Resistance Council was appointed to that position in May. Gabon was scheduled to hold its next presidential election in 1998.

      The continuing French investigation into the misuse of corporate funds by the Elf oil firm's Gabon subsidiary reportedly increased tensions between France and Gabon. Judicial interest in the case centred on Swiss bank accounts in which illegal "commissions" were deposited by Elf for the alleged use of top Gabonese politicians.

      Peace talks that had been arranged by Pres. Omar Bongo to deal with the disarmament of Chadian rebel groups collapsed on January 9. Throughout the summer Bongo played a major role in attempts to mediate a solution to the escalating troubles in the neighbouring Republic of the Congo. With the cooperation of presidents of other French-speaking countries in the area, he organized a committee to negotiate a peace settlement.

NANCY ELLEN LAWLER

      This article updates Gabon, history of (Gabon).

▪ 1997

      Gabon is a republic of central Africa, situated on the Atlantic Ocean. Area: 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi). Pop.: (1996 est.): 1,173,000. Cap.: Libreville. Monetary unit: CFA franc, with (Oct. 11, 1996) a par value of CFAF 100 to the French franc and a free rate of CFAF 518.24 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 816.38 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1996, Omar Bongo; prime minister, Paulin Obame-Nguema.

      In May 1996 opposition parties and the government finally reached agreement over the long-disputed timing of municipal and legislative elections. This followed a ruling by the Constitutional Court upholding the opposition's position that local elections should precede those for the National Assembly, as stated in the constitution.

      Initially scheduled for September 22, the local elections were postponed until October 20 following protests that more time was needed to prepare fully for the campaign. The government also conceded that the revised electoral rolls were not yet complete.

      In the first round of the elections for the National Assembly on December 15, Pres. Omar Bongo's Gabonese Democratic Party won 47 of the 55 seats. Opposition parties criticized the government for delays in issuing voter cards and displaying electoral lists. (NANCY ELLEN LAWLER)

      This article updates Gabon, history of (Gabon).

▪ 1996

      Gabon is a republic of central Africa, on the Atlantic Ocean. Area: 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi). Pop.: (1995 est.): 1,156,000. Cap.: Libreville. Monetary unit: CFA franc, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a par value of CFAF 100 to the French franc and a free rate of CFAF 501.49 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 792.78 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1995, Omar Bongo; prime minister, Paulin Obame-Nguema.

      After the violent protests that nearly paralyzed the government in 1994, 1995 proved to be one of compromise and cooperation between Pres. Omar Bongo's Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) and the opposition parties. A new electoral code requiring a complete revision of the voters list was agreed upon. All parties urged their members to back the new constitution in a referendum on July 23. Approximately 63.5% of the electorate voted in the referendum, 96.5% of whom approved the constitution. New presidential and legislative elections were scheduled for early 1997.

      The government stepped up its campaign to control immigration, setting a deadline of February 15 for illegal aliens to regularize their status. Few were able to do so since the cost of a residence permit had risen to CFAF 1 million. A new marriage bill proposed by the government that would make polygamy easier drew fierce protests from women's groups.

      Television and radio journalists staged a series of strikes beginning in March. Protesting the government's placement of patronage workers in their ranks, the strikers threatened to block publicity for the constitutional referendum. Broadcasts resumed on June 30 after the government agreed to integrate the patronage employees into the journalists association and to establish a new job classification rating system.

      In April President Bongo threatened to withdraw from OPEC unless Gabon's production quota, the cartel's smallest, was increased. Neither his visit to Kuwait for talks on the matter nor the September visit to Gabon of OPEC's secretary-general resolved the issue. The introduction of a value-added tax on April 1 resulted in a huge leap in the price of consumer goods, forcing the government in August to impose price controls on basic foodstuffs.

      (NANCY ELLEN LAWLER)

      This updates the article Gabon, history of (Gabon).

▪ 1995

      Gabon is a republic of central Africa, on the Atlantic Ocean. Area: 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 1,139,000. Cap.: Libreville. Monetary unit: CFA franc, with (Oct. 7, 1994) a par value of CFAF 100 to the French franc and a free rate of CFAF 526.67 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 837.67 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1994, Omar Bongo; prime ministers, Casimir Oyé-Mba and, from November 2, Paulin Obame-Nguema.

      Government in Gabon virtually ground to a halt in 1994 as Pres. Omar Bongo spent much of the year trying to reassert his authority in the wake of his highly controversial victory in the December 1993 presidential elections. Opposition parties refused to accept the results. The government refused permission for nine opposition leaders, including two defeated presidential candidates, to leave for Paris in January. Although the travel ban was removed on January 26, Bongo justified the action as countering the opposition's announced plans to establish a rival government. Thirty people died in February during riots in Libreville, forcing Bongo to declare a state of siege on February 21. Adding to the government's woes was a strike by students at Omar Bongo University, Libreville, that began on May 26 and culminated in an attack on the university's rector and his deputy on June 14. The government closed the institution for three months.

      Relations with France, which were already strained because of Bongo's strong objections to the devaluation of the CFA franc in January, cooled further after France disapproved of his harsh suppression of antigovernment demonstrators. Reports that some members of the army and the government were thinking of joining with the opposition may have prompted Bongo's decision to agree to participate in a peace conference in Paris between representatives of the government and opposition parties. The meetings, which began on September 9, lasted for two weeks and led to the formation of a coalition government that took office on November 2 and was to govern until new legislative elections could be held.

      (NANCY ELLEN LAWLER)

      This updates the article Gabon, history of (Gabon).

▪ 1994

      Gabon is a republic of central Africa, on the Atlantic Ocean. Area: 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 1,280,000. Cap.: Libreville. Monetary unit: CFA franc, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a par value of CFAF 50 to the French franc and a free rate of CFAF 283.25 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 429.12 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1993, Omar Bongo; prime minister, Casimir Oyé-Mba.

      Protesting the disparity between living conditions in the capital and those in the regional towns, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in central and southern Gabon during April 1993, demanding the installation of running water and electricity and the paving of roads. The following month, the African Development Bank announced that it would loan CFAF 44 billion for improvement of Gabon's internal road system and the promotion of small industry in rural areas. In April France announced that it would provide CFAF 1,130,000,000 for the development of market garden and livestock companies, which it hoped would serve as models for 200 agro-industrial enterprises to be set up around major cities. The Omar Bongo University, Libreville, was closed on June 14 after disturbances broke out during the administration of the annual examinations. In September, 10 opposition newspapers were suspended for failing to request authorization to publish.

      On December 5, like many other African states, Gabon held its first multiparty elections. Pres. Omar Bongo was returned with slightly over 51% of the vote, but opposition leader Paul Mba Abessole, a Roman Catholic priest, claimed victory and formed a rival government. International observers said that the elections were badly disorganized and provided ample opportunity for fraud.

      (NANCY ELLEN LAWLER)

      This updates the article Gabon, history of (Gabon).

* * *

Introduction
Gabon, flag of   country lying on the west coast of Africa, astride the Equator. A former French colony, Gabon retains strong ties to France and to the French language and culture. The capital is Libreville.

Land (Gabon)
 Gabon is bordered by Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo (Congo) to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west; the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are situated off the coast.

Relief and drainage
 The narrow coastal plain—often no more than 20 miles (32 km) wide in the south—is formed of sandstone and alluvium; northward it broadens to a width of 100 miles (160 km), with outcrops of chalk, limestone, and Cretaceous sandstone. The Atlantic's northward-flowing Benguela Current softens Gabon's southern coastline by creating sandbars but loses its effectiveness north of the country's most westerly point, Cape Lopez, where the contour of the coast becomes more jagged. Inland, the relief is characterized by a series of granite plateaus, extending generally northwest to southeast and rising to elevations of 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300 to 600 metres). Farther to the west and north the Cristal Mountains have been dissected by the river system from the western plateau escarpment into a distinct upland area, and to the south the Ogooué River drains through a sandstone saddleback before descending to the lowlands through the granite formations of the Lambaréné region. Granite also forms Gabon's central watershed, the Chaillu Massif south of the Ogooué, which rises to more than 3,300 feet (1,000 metres) and is topped by the 3,346-foot (1,020-metre) Mount Milondo. Gabon's highest point, Mount Bengoué (3,510 feet [1,070 metres]), is in the northeastern part of the country.

Soils and climate
      Gabon has an equatorial climate, with year-round high temperatures and humidity. Rainfall varies from an annual average of 120 inches (3,050 mm) at Libreville to 150 inches (3,810 mm) on the northwest coast, with almost all of it falling between October and May. In the period from June to September there is little or no rainfall, but humidity remains high. Temperature shows little seasonal variation, the daily average being in the low 80s F (upper 20s C).

Plant and animal life
 About three-fourths of the country is covered by a dense equatorial rainforest containing more than 3,000 species of vegetation, including the okoumé, a hardwood tree that forms the backbone of Gabon's timber industry. The rainforest is inhabited by antelope, monkeys, gorillas, numerous tropical birds, and several varieties of elephants. Gabon has several national parks, including Lopé National Park (originally Lopé-Okanda Wildlife Reserve, founded in 1946) in the centre of the country. The park and related archaeological sites—referred to as the Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda—were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

Jan S.F. van Hoogstraten David E. Gardinier

People (Gabon)

Ethnic groups and languages
      Except for a few thousand Pygmies, Gabon's 40 or so peoples speak Bantu languages that are classified into 10 linguistic groups. The Myene group (including the Mpongwe and Orungu), though only a relatively small part of the population today, has played an important role in the history of the country as a result of its location along the northern coasts. The Fang, also found in southern Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, account for more than one-fourth of the population and live north of the Ogooué River. The largest groups south of the Ogooué are the Sira (including the Punu), the Nzebi, and the Mbete, who together form about one-third of the population. Less-numerous peoples include the Benga and Seke in the far northwest, the Kota and Teke in the east, and the Vili along the far southern coast.

      Many of the Bantu languages do not have written forms. During the 19th century, Christian missionaries transliterated several of them into the Latin alphabet and prepared Bible translations and catechisms for their followers. But the French policy of limiting the use of indigenous languages solely to religious instruction inhibited the growth of other types of literature. Because of the extensive efforts to teach French, nearly all adult Gabonese can speak the language, and almost three-fourths can read it.

Religion
      A large majority of Gabon's population is Christian, of which Roman Catholics account for more than two-fifths; Protestants account for more than one-fourth. Though Gabonese serve as Catholic bishops, they rely heavily on foreign clergy, particularly the French Holy Ghost Fathers. The largest Protestant body, the Evangelical Church of Gabon, has Gabonese pastors in its parishes throughout the north. Other Christian churches include the Christian Alliance church, generally found in the southwest and in coastal cities, and the Evangelical Pentecostal church (Assembly of God) and Adventist church, both found in the estuary and far northern regions. Of the remainder of the country's population, about one-eighth are Muslim, many of them immigrants from other African countries. Adherents of traditional religions account for about one-tenth of the population, but that figure does not include Christians and Muslims who also follow some traditional beliefs and practices. A syncretic religion called Bwiti (based on an earlier secret society of the same name) came into existence in the early 20th century and later played a role in promoting solidarity among the Fang.

David E. Gardinier

Settlement patterns
 About four-fifths of Gabon's population is urban, with about half the people living in its largest city, Libreville. Other major cities include Port-Gentil, Franceville, Oyem, and Moanda (Mouanda). The remainder of the population is scattered widely among several hundred rural villages, which are concentrated along the rivers and roads; a village often will have no more than a few families. Port-Gentil is the centre of the country's wood and petroleum industries, and Libreville is the administrative capital and commercial centre.

Demographic trends
      Gabon, like its central African neighbours, has a low population density. Since 1970, as a result of increased urbanization, the low rate of natural increase of the previous half century gave way to a relatively high growth rate; by the early 21st century, it was more than twice the world average. The extent to which the heavy immigration of foreign workers and refugees has contributed to this growth is unclear. The population is relatively young—almost three-quarters are below age 30. Life expectancy is more than 50 years of age and is about average for the continent.

Economy
 Gabon's economy has more links with European and American markets than with those in neighbouring states (with the exception of Cameroon) or elsewhere in Africa. The economy shares some characteristics with those of other sub-Saharan African states: strong links with the former colonial ruler, a large degree of foreign investment and control, dependence on foreign technicians, and the decline of agriculture. Gabon differs from these states in its reliance on thousands of wage earners from other African countries to supplement its own sparse supply of workers in retailing, artisanship, and domestic transport.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
      Although agriculture (mainly subsistence farming) occupies about one-third of the workforce, it plays a small part in the economy of the country as a whole. Moreover, its appeal as a way of life has declined. Better educational and employment opportunities in the towns and cities have emptied the countryside of young people. Despite government efforts during the 1970s to promote development that would stem the rural exodus and raise foodstuffs for urban markets, by 1980 Gabon was producing only enough food to satisfy 10 to 15 percent of its needs. During the 1980s the government turned to expensive capital-intensive projects for market gardening to supply Libreville and Franceville. Efforts to revive cocoa and coffee production brought only modest results, but new projects for sugar refining at Franceville and palm-oil processing at Lambaréné have been successful. The prevalence of the tsetse fly defeated attempts to raise beef and dairy cattle until 1980, when tsetse-resistant cattle arrived from other parts of Africa. Sheep, goats, and pigs are also raised; chicken raising exists on a smaller scale. Commercial fishing, though it has considerable potential, is little developed.

 For many years Gabon's forests, covering more than three-fourths of its territory, were the country's principal natural resource, but, by the early 1970s, newly discovered and exploited mineral wealth surpassed timber and other forest products in significance. The principal forest districts have been at Kango, Booué, Fougamou, Ndjolé, Mitzic, and Mouila, while the forest resources near the coast and along the rivers have been largely depleted. Exploitation of interior areas began in the late 1970s, following the construction of the first section of the Transgabon (Transgabonais) Railroad.

Resources and power
 Gabon is one of the world's largest producers of manganese. Expansion of production at Moanda has been possible since the completion of the railroad to nearby Franceville in December 1986 and the completion of improved ore-handling facilities at the rail terminus at the deepwater port of Owendo in 1988. The exploitation and processing of uranium 16 miles (26 km) north of Moanda began in 1961. Diamonds and gold are also mined in the country, and there are reserves of high-quality iron ore (60–65 percent iron content) in the northeast at Mékambo and Bélinga.

      Since the late 1960s, revenues from petroleum have brought the government of Gabon unprecedented income, which it has used to construct infrastructure and to fund the expansion of education and health services; widespread corruption among government officials, however, has limited the impact of this windfall. National budgets multiplied 15 times between the late 1960s and late '70s, when petroleum came to represent 70 percent of the country's exports. Despite fluctuating prices and resultant drops in production, revenues from petroleum still provide the majority of national budgets. Nearly half of production is from offshore fields, which are most productive near Port-Gentil. The major onshore production sites are at Sette Cama and Rabi-Kounga. Gabon exports a major proportion of its petroleum production outside Africa, with the bulk of the crude oil going to the United States and France. Natural gas from the fields at Port-Gentil is used largely to generate electricity, but hydropower supplies a greater amount of the country's electricity. Important sources of hydroelectric power include the Tchimbélé, Kinguélé, and Poubara complexes.

Manufacturing
      Light industry expanded and diversified after the opening in 1967 of a petroleum refinery at Port-Gentil. The refinery and its support operations (a shipyard and metalworking facilities) overshadow other manufacturing enterprises, which include lumber processing centres, cement and cigarette factories, a sugar refinery, breweries, palm oil and flour mills, and light electronics and textile-printing factories. A number of these enterprises were among the many state corporations (some of which allowed private investors to hold shares) created by the government to give Gabon control of its industrial and commercial sectors. Most of these businesses proved a drain on the treasury, because the practice of employing relatives and supporters of politicians often led to mismanagement.

Finance and trade
      Membership in the French economic community gives Gabon considerable stability. The CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc, issued by the Bank of Central African States (Banque des États de l'Afrique Centrale), is tied to the euro, giving trading partners confidence in Gabonese currency. The government has also encouraged foreign investors with its policy of economic liberalism, although there is governmental direction and planning.

      The United States and France are Gabon's main trading partners. Other European Union countries, as well as China and Japan, are also important partners. These same countries provide the bulk of investment funds and foreign assistance. Gabon and five other countries ( Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo (Congo), and Equatorial Guinea) belong to the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale).

Transportation
      The lack of good transportation facilities has long hindered Gabon's development. The Ogooué River is navigable from the Atlantic to Ndjolé, 150 miles (240 km) upstream. The Ogooué and such rivers as the Abanga and the Nyanga can be used to float logs downstream from the interior. The main ports are located at Port-Gentil, Owendo, and Mayumba.

      The difficulty of building and maintaining all-weather roads led to an expansion of air transport after World War II. Gabon acquired a network of airfields served by light planes, as well as international airports located at Libreville, Port-Gentil, and Franceville. But air transport could not move such bulk goods as timber and minerals. In the 1970s petroleum revenues were used to construct the Transgabon (Transgabonais) Railroad to move such products and to prepare for the time when Gabon's petroleum reserves would be depleted. With loans and aid from France, West Germany, and international organizations, work began in 1974. The first section, from Owendo to Ndjolé, opened in 1979; the second section, to Booué, in 1983; and the third, to Franceville, at the end of 1986.

Government and society

Constitutional framework
      Under the constitution of February 1961, which was in force for three decades, the Gabonese republic had an executive branch more powerful than the legislative and judicial branches. During the 1970s the constitution was amended to give the Gabonese Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Gabonais; PDG), the only legal party after 1968, roles in the executive and legislative processes. In May 1990, following a national conference that was called in response to the upheaval of the previous four months, the constitution was amended to end the institutional role of the PDG and to restore a multiparty system. Parliamentary elections were held in September–October 1990, after which a new National Assembly adopted the constitution of March 1991; the constitution has since been amended.

      Under the constitution the president, who is head of state, serves a seven-year term. The National Assembly has legislative powers, but the president has the authority to dissolve the National Assembly and postpone legislation. The president nominates the prime minister, who as head of the government selects the members of the Council of Ministers in consultation with the president. The president also has the power to remove the prime minister and council members from office. In practice most of the ministers are drawn from the 120 deputies in the National Assembly, which confirms the Council of Ministers and may oust the government through a vote of no confidence after a certain period.

      The constitution provided for an upper legislative house (Senate) for the first time in the history of the republic, and the first elections to the Senate (indirect by local councils) were held in early 1997. A constitutional amendment passed by a PDG-dominated Assembly in April 1997 designated that the president of the Senate would succeed the president of the republic in case of the latter's death or incapacity. The position of vice president of the republic was also created by amendment; the vice president, who cannot succeed the president, is appointed by and assists the president.

      The 1991 constitution also provides strong guarantees for both individual and public liberties not found in the document of 1961. A Charter of Parties adopted at the same time as the constitution defines the role of Gabon's political parties in a multiparty democracy.

Local government and justice
      Administratively, Gabon is divided into nine provinces, which are further divided into préfectures and sous-préfectures (subprefectures). Provincial governors, prefects, and subprefects are all appointed by the president.

      The highest courts in Gabon's judiciary system are the country's former Supreme Court chambers: a judicial court, an administrative court, and a court of accounts, each with absolute authority over its area of expertise. Courts of appeal are found in Franceville and Libreville, and smaller tribunal courts exist throughout the country. There is also a constitutional court, which is the highest court with regards to constitutional matters. The judicial system includes customary law courts, presided over by traditional chiefs who mediate local disputes.

Health and welfare
      Health facilities remain inadequate, particularly outside the Libreville area, despite improvements since the 1970s. The government provides nearly all health care services. The internationally known hospital operated by Albert Schweitzer (Schweitzer, Albert) from 1924 to 1965 and now named after him is located in Lambaréné. Malaria, sleeping sickness, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases are widespread problems. HIV/AIDS is also a growing problem in Gabon, as the prevalence rate has increased since the early 1990s.

Education
      Gabon's educational system continues to be modeled closely on that of France. French remains the sole medium of instruction; Bantu languages are studied as electives at the secondary and higher levels. Education is officially mandatory from ages 6 to 16. Primary education lasts for six years, and secondary education consists of a four-year cycle followed by a three-year cycle. Institutes of higher education include Omar Bongo University (1970) in Libreville, which has programs in most fields and some advanced studies; the University of Health Sciences (2002), also in Libreville; and the University of Science and Technology of Masuku (1986), located near Franceville. Many Gabonese study abroad, particularly in France, at the university and graduate levels.

      Almost three-fourths of the adult population is literate, which is similar to the regional average and slightly lower than the world average.

Cultural life
 The French influence on Gabonese culture is prevalent. Gabon's contemporary writers express themselves almost exclusively in French. At the same time, there has been continued interest in Gabon's precolonial history and traditions, and much research continues on the Fang epic (mvet) and the art of the Mpongwe, Fang, and Kota. In 1983 the International Centre for Bantu Civilizations was created, with its headquarters at Libreville. The National Museum of Arts and Traditions is also in Libreville.

Sports and recreation
      Football (football (soccer)) (soccer) is the national sport in Gabon, though much of the play is limited to the coast because of the dense rainforest in the interior. Gabon founded a football federation in 1962, and it became affiliated with the International Federation of Association Football the following year. Basketball is also popular in Gabon, and the country is a member of the International Basketball Federation. A number of Gabonese participate in boxing, and squash is developing a following, especially in Libreville. The country's scenic landscape also attracts hikers and cyclists.

      In 1965 Gabon formed an Olympic committee, which was recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1968. Gabonese athletes first competed at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.

Media and publishing
      Several newspapers and other periodicals are published in French. The government-owned L'Union is published daily, while most private publications are published weekly or less frequently. National radio stations broadcast in French as well as in local languages. Gabon is also the site of an international radio network, Africa No. 1, that reaches much of the continent. There are both state-owned and private television stations in the country. French publications circulate extensively, and television programs are relayed from France.

Brian Weinstein David E. Gardinier

History

Early colonization
      This discussion focuses on Gabon since the late 15th century. For a treatment of earlier periods and of the country in its regional context, see Central Africa.

      At the arrival of the first Portuguese navigators to Gabon in 1472, portions of southern Gabon were loosely linked to the state of Loango (Loango, Kingdom of), which in turn formed a province of the vast Kongo kingdom to the south. From the offshore islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, where the Portuguese established sugar plantations, they developed trade with the mainland. From the late 1500s, Dutch, French, Spanish, and English competitors also exchanged cloth, iron goods, firearms, and alcoholic beverages for hardwoods, ivory, and a few slaves.

      The slave trade achieved extensive development only between the 1760s and 1840s, as a result of heightened demand from Brazil and Cuba. Interior peoples sent undesirables from their own societies and captives from warfare down the waterways to the coast, where they were collected in barracoons (temporary enclosures) to await the arrival of European ships. The Orungu clans at Cape Lopez organized a kingdom whose power rested on control of the slave trade through the mouths of the Ogooué River. The Mpongwe clans of the estuary, who were already important traders, also profited from the slave trade, as did the Vili of Loango, whose activities extended throughout southern Gabon. Only the Fang, who were migrating southward from Cameroon into the forests north of the Ogooué, ordinarily refused to hold slaves or engage in warfare to obtain them. The coastward migrations of the numerous and often warlike Fang nevertheless contributed to the further decimation and dispersion of many interior peoples, particularly during the 19th century.

French control
      By 1800 the British were becoming the leading traders in manufactures throughout the Gulf of Guinea (Guinea, Gulf of). After 1815 the French sought to compete more actively in the commercial sphere and to join Britain in combating the slave trade. To these ends, Capt. Édouard Bouët-Willaumez negotiated treaties with the heads of two Mpongwe clans, King Denis (Antchouwe Kowe Rapontchombo) on the southern bank of the estuary in 1839 and King Louis (Anguile Dowe) on the northern bank in 1841. They agreed to end the slave trade and to accept French sovereignty over their lands. The arrival of American Protestant missionaries on the northern bank in May 1842 to open a school in the lands of King Glass (R'Ogouarowe)—the centre of British, American, and German commercial activity—spurred the French to establish Fort d'Aumale within the territory of King Louis in 1843. In 1844 France brought in Roman Catholic missionaries to promote French cultural influence among the Mpongwe and neighbouring peoples. French agents obtained a treaty from King Glass, recognizing French sovereignty. In 1849 Bouët-Willaumez organized a small settlement of mainly Vili freed slaves called Libreville (“Free Town”), which, combined with the fort, formed the nucleus of the capital.

      During the 1850s and '60s the French gradually extended their control along the adjacent coast and sent explorers into the interior. The expeditions of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (Brazza, Pierre de) between 1875 and 1885 established French authority on the upper Ogooué, where Franceville was founded in 1880, and on the Loango coast. An enlarged Gabon was attached to the French Congo in 1886 under Brazza as governor.

      In 1910 Gabon became one of the four colonies within the federation of French Equatorial Africa. The French delimited the frontier with the Germans in Cameroon in 1885 and with the Spanish in Río Muni, or Spanish Guinea (later Equatorial Guinea), in 1900. French occupation of the Gabon interior brought little opposition, but interference with trade and such exactions as head taxes, labour taxes for public projects, and forced labour provoked considerable resistance, as did the French policy from 1898 to 1914 of developing the economy through monopolistic concessionary companies, which devastated settlement, agricultural production, and trade.

      In the period between the two world wars, a pro-French but anticolonialist elite was created, mainly from the graduates of the boys' schools of the Brothers of Saint-Gabriel at Libreville and Lambaréné. From their ranks came most of the politicians who held office during the Fourth French Republic (1946–58), when Gabon became an overseas territory with its own assembly and representation in the French Parliament. During this era France considerably expanded public investment in the economy, health care, and education. In 1958 Gabon became an autonomous republic within the French Community and, after concluding cooperation agreements with France, achieved independence on Aug. 17, 1960.

Gabon since independence
      Gabon favoured close relations with France and the continued use of French language and culture. It opposed political ties with the other states of sub-Saharan Africa, however, because of dissatisfaction with the previous federation and a desire to develop its natural resources for its own benefit.

      Attempts by the republic's first president, Léon M'ba (M'ba, Léon), to institute a single-party regime provoked a rebellion by young military officers in February 1964. But M'ba, who had strong backing from French economic interests, was restored to power by French forces sent on orders from Pres. Charles de Gaulle (Gaulle, Charles de). The intervention made possible the rise of Albert-Bernard (later Omar) Bongo to the presidency after M'ba's death in 1967 and the establishment of a single-party regime in the following year, the only party being Bongo's Gabonese Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Gabonais; PDG). Under the single-party regime, Bongo was elected to the presidency in 1973 and was reelected in 1979. In 1982 a new opposition group, the Movement for National Renewal (Mouvement de Redressement National), called for multiparty democracy, exercise of civil liberties, and an end to governmental corruption, but it was quickly suppressed; Bongo was again reelected in 1986.

      In the mid-1980s, declining petroleum prices caused an economic downturn. Austerity measures imposed by the government led to antigovernment demonstrations in Libreville and Port-Gentil in early 1990. This unrest led to the creation in March of a national conference, which included opposition groups, to discuss political reform. As a result, constitutional amendments adopted in May restored the multiparty system. That same month the death of an opposition leader under mysterious circumstances sparked violent disorders that led to French military intervention at Port-Gentil to protect French nationals and their property. Order was restored, and implementation of the plans for political reform continued. Legislative elections were held in the fall, and, although opposition parties won seats in the new legislative assembly, electoral irregularities allowed the PDG to retain a small majority. The following year a new constitution was promulgated in March.

 After the restoration of a multiparty democracy, Bongo was reelected in 1993 and 1998, although both elections were clouded with allegations of fraud. A constitutional amendment passed in 2003 removed presidential term limits and allowed Bongo to stand in the 2005 election, which he also won. In general, the PDG was equally successful during the 1990s and 2000s in legislative and most local elections. However, the PDG's overall grip on power was briefly threatened by popular dissatisfaction following the December 1993 presidential election and a subsequent 50 percent devaluation of the currency in January 1994, which sparked protests in several cities, during which three dozen people were killed and scores injured. After the demonstrations were suppressed, the government granted modest salary increases and placed controls on soaring prices of largely imported basic commodities.

      Many of Gabon's financial problems resulted from protracted and large-scale corruption among government officials and business leaders. Although this group comprised just 2 percent of the population, they came to control some 80 percent of all personal income. In addition to receiving large salaries, they diverted funds from public works and services, as well as the income from at least one-fourth of the oil sales, and transferred vast sums of money to foreign accounts. To counteract this financial drain, the government borrowed money, and by the late 1990s debt service constituted some two-fifths of the national budget. The government turned regularly to France for funds and for help in canceling and rescheduling debts. By the late 1990s Gabon was under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to privatize state corporations and to eliminate the diversion of state funds, which the country was able to show some progress with during the 2000s. Gabon was able to reschedule a significant amount of debt in 2004.

David E. Gardinier Ed.

Additional Reading

Geography
Institut Pédagogique National (Gabon), Géographie et cartographie du Gabon (1983), is an illustrated atlas. Roland Pourtier, Le Gabon, 2 vol. (1989), deals with the use of space through time to create an economy, society, and state, including discussion of the colonial and national periods. David E. Gardinier, Gabon (1992), is an annotated bibliography of 449 titles. James W. Fernandez, Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa (1982), examines this important syncretic cult. Rita Headrick, Colonialism, Health & Illness in French Equatorial Africa, 1885–1935 (1995), discusses African health and demography during the colonial period. Michael C. Reed, “Gabon: A Neo-colonial Enclave of Enduring French Interest,” in The Journal of Modern African Studies, 25(2):283–320 (June 1987), examines Gabon's political evolution, particularly since 1960, in light of its relationship with France. Samuel DeCalo, “Gabon Under the Shadow of Big Brother,” in his The Stable Minority: Civilian Rule in Africa (1998), pp. 111–174, analyzes the political and economic evolution during the Bongo era. Pierre-Claver Maganga-Moussavou, Economic Development—Does Aid Help? (1983; originally published in French, 1982), critiques French economic involvement in independent Gabon. Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Profile: Gabon (annual), provides up-to-date information on the economy, resources, and industry. David E. Gardinier, “Gabon: Limited Reform and Regime Survival,” in John F. Clark and David E. Gardinier, Political Reform in Francophone Africa (1997), pp. 145–161, examines the political evolution during the Bongo era, in particular the years 1990–1995; he charts the course of France's relationship with Gabon from 1981 to 1992 in “France and Gabon During the Mitterrand Presidency,” in Proceedings of the 18th Meeting of the French Colonial Historical Society, 18:91–101 (1993). Sophie Warne, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe: The Bradt Travel Guide (2003), provides information for the traveler.

History
Jan Vansina, Paths in the Rainforest: Towards a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa (1990), reconstructs the history of Gabon's Bantu peoples from earliest times to 1920. K. David Patterson, The Northern Gabon Coast to 1875 (1975), examines the economic and political evolution of northern Gabon. Henry Bucher, “The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Gabon Estuary: The Mpongwe to 1860,” in Paul E. Lovejoy (ed.), Africans in Bondage (1986), pp. 137–154, focuses on the slave trade in this region. Ralph A. Austen and Rita Headrick, “Equatorial Africa Under Colonial Rule,” in David Birmingham and Phyllis M. Martin (eds.), History of Central Africa, vol. 2 (1983), pp. 27–94, discusses French colonial rule. Elikia M'bokolo, “French Colonial Policy in Equatorial Africa in the 1940s and 1950s,” in Prosser Gifford and William Roger Louis (eds.), The Transfer of Power in Africa: Decolonization, 1940–1960 (1982), pp. 173–210, analyzes the French policies that took Gabon from a colony to an independent state. Jeremy Rich, A Workman Is Worthy of His Meat: Food and Colonialism in the Gabon Estuary (2007), examines the effects of colonialism on the scarcity of local food. James F. Barnes, Gabon: Beyond the Colonial Legacy (1992), while dealing with Gabon's history since 1800, concentrates on its evolution after 1960, including the role of France. Charles F. Darlington and Alice B. Darlington, African Betrayal (1968), is an account by the U.S. ambassador to Gabon who witnessed the coup of 1964 and the French intervention. David E. Gardinier and Douglas A. Yates, Historical Dictionary of Gabon, 3rd ed. (2006), contains much material on Gabon since 1800, including biographies and a large bibliography.David E. Gardinier Ed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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