total: 267,667 sq km
land: 257,667 sq km
water: 10,000 sq km
Total: 3,261 km
border countries (3):
Cameroon 349 km,
Republic of the Congo 2,567 km,
Equatorial Guinea 345 km
Coastline: 885 km
Total: 4146 km
always hot and humid
narrow coastal plain; hilly interior; savanna in east and south
mean elevation: 377 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Iboundji 1,575 m
petroleum, natural gas, diamond, niobium, manganese, uranium, gold, timber, iron ore, hydropower
agricultural land: 19%
arable land 1.2%; permanent crops 0.6%; permanent pasture 17.2%
other: 0% (2011 est.)
40 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
the relatively small population is spread in pockets throughout the country; the largest urban center is the capital of Libreville, located along the Atlantic coast in the northwest
People and Society
Gabon’s oil revenues have given it one of the highest per capita income levels in sub-Saharan Africa, but the wealth is not evenly distributed and poverty is widespread. Unemployment is especially prevalent among the large youth population; more than 60% of the population is under the age of 25. With a fertility rate still averaging more than 4 children per woman, the youth population will continue to grow and further strain the mismatch between Gabon’s supply of jobs and the skills of its labor force.
Gabon has been a magnet for migrants from neighboring countries since the 1960s because of the discovery of oil, as well as the country’s political stability and timber, mineral, and natural gas resources. Nonetheless, income inequality and high unemployment have created slums in Libreville full of migrant workers from Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, and elsewhere in West Africa. In 2011, Gabon declared an end to refugee status for 9,500 remaining Congolese nationals to whom it had granted asylum during the Republic of the Congo’s civil war between 1997 and 2003. About 5,400 of these refugees received permits to reside in Gabon.
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
French (official), Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi
Roman Catholic 42.3%, Protestant 12.3%, other Christian 27.4%, Muslim 9.8%, animist 0.6%, other 0.5%, none/no answer 7.1%
The earliest inhabitants of Gabon are the pygmy people. Pygmy tribes are known for their hunting & gathering culture in the central African rainforest, and for their height: adult members grow on average to less than 150 cm. Little is know about the people of Gabon until the thirteenth century, at which time the pygmies were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes as they migrated into the area. Of the 40 or so Bantu tribes now present in Gabon, the largest are the Fang, Eshira, Mbele, and Okande. Only a small percentage of native Gabonese live in the towns, as the population is concentrated in the coastal areas and the villages along the banks of the many rivers, following a more traditional rural style of life.
The Gabonese people are proud of their country’s resources and prosperity and they are a spirtual population. 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. 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.
There are several languages in Gabon. The official language is French; while the principal African language is Fang. Moreover, Eshira is spoken by a tenth of the population; and Bantu dialects spoken include Bapounou, Miene, and Bateke. A large majority of Gabon’s population is Christian (60% of the population), with about three times as many Roman Catholics as Protestants. There also exist a small but growing Christian Alliance Church in the southwest and the tiny Evangelical Pentecostal Church (Assembly of God) in the estuary and far northern regions.
Furthermore, a syncretise 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. Besides those religions or beliefs, there are also few thousand Muslims who the majority are immigrants from other African countries.
Education in Gabon is largely based on the French educational system. On the federal level, it is regulated by two Ministries: the Ministry of Education, which is in charge of Pre-school through to High School, and the Ministry of Higher Education and Innovative Technologies, which is in charge of universities and professional schools. Gabon’s education system is regulated by two ministries: the Ministry of Education, in charge of pre-kindergarten through the last high school grade, and the Ministry of Higher Education and Innovative Technologies, in charge of universities, higher education, and professional schools.
Education is compulsory for children ages 6 to 16 years under the Education Act. Most children in Gabon start their school lives by attending nurseries (Crèche), then kindergarten (Jardins d’Enfants). At age 6, they are enrolled in primary school (école primaire) which is made up of six grades. The next level is a secondary school (école secondaire), which is made up of seven grades. The intended age at graduation is 19 years. Graduates of secondary school can apply to universities or other institutions of higher learning, such as engineering schools or business schools.
Education in Gabon is still largely based on the French model, although things are gradually changing. The medium is also still French too, and school is compulsory between ages 6 and 16. Following time spent perhaps at crèche and kindergarten, children aged 6 enrolled at the primary school for 6 years of basic education. While they may graduate with a certificat d’etudes primaires certificate, it is their Concours d’entrée en sixième results that determine the quality of the secondary school they will be routed to thereafter.
Primary School is composed of six grades, and heavy emphasis is put on French and Mathematics. This is in preparation for the Certificat d’Études Primaires (CEP) national exam, which officially sanctions primary school graduation. In addition, the Concours d’Entrée en sixième is used to determine in which public secondary schools students will be routed, based on their performance. It is also used for determining eligibility for the secondary school stipend. The simplest way to graduate from Primary School is to pass both the CEP and Concours and be less than 13 years old.
There are several different kinds of secondary school in Gabon, of which general and technical institutions are the most common. Others include private and international schools. The state program takes 7 years to complete. After 4 years students write their brevet d’études du premier cycle examination. At the end of the period, they graduate with a baccalauréat. Vocational and on-going adult education is under the control of the ministry of technical education and vocational training. Its primary role is to suggest strategies that re-integrate citizens into the more important sectors of the economy.
There is a variety of tertiary education institutions in Gabon, including national higher schools and institutes. The 2 state universities are the University of Sciences and Technologies of Masuku, and the Omar Bongo University.
Gabon is an upper-middle-income country. The fifth largest oil producer in Africa, it has experienced strong economic growth over the past decade, driven in particular by oil and manganese production. On average, over the past five years, the oil sector has accounted for 80% of exports, 45% of GDP, and 60% of budget revenue. However, the country is facing a decline in its oil reserves. The Gabonese government has therefore based its new strategy on economic diversification.
Gabon’s GDP growth rate slowed down to 3.9% in 2015, despite an attempt to compensate protracted low oil prices by ramping up production. The fiscal situation worsened in 2015, with Gabon recording a fiscal deficit for the first time since 1998, despite government’s attempts to rein in expenditure and mitigate the decline in oil revenue.
Gabon faces fluctuating international prices for its oil, timber, and manganese exports. A rebound of oil prices from 2001 to 2013 helped growth, but declining production, as some fields passed their peak production, has hampered Gabon from fully realizing potential gains. GDP grew nearly 6% per year over the 2010-14 period but slowed significantly from 2014 to just 1% in 2017 as oil prices declined. Low oil prices also weakened government revenue and negatively affected the trade and current account balances. In the wake of lower revenue, Gabon signed a 3-year agreement with the IMF in June 2017.
The Government of Gabon is planning sharp cuts on most sectors, with a lot of the adjustment falling on health and infrastructure; given the current low allocation to social sectors (including health), this could threaten Gabon’s ability to significantly improve social outcomes.
Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most sub-Saharan African nations, but because of high-income inequality, a large proportion of the population remains poor. Gabon relied on timber and manganese exports until oil was discovered offshore in the early 1970s. From 2010 to 2016, oil accounted for approximately 80% of Gabon’s exports, 45% of its GDP, and 60% of its state budget revenues.
Despite an abundance of natural wealth, poor fiscal management and over-reliance on oil have stifled the economy. Power cuts and water shortages are frequent. Gabon is reliant on imports and the government heavily subsidizes commodities, including food, but will be hard-pressed to tamp down public frustration with unemployment and corruption.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$36.75 billion (2017 est.)
$36.4 billion (2016 est.)
$35.66 billion (2015 est.
GDP (official exchange rate):
$14.47 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
1% (2017 est.)
2.1% (2016 est.)
3.9% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$19,300 (2017 est.)
$19,400 (2016 est.)
$19,200 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
24.6% of GDP (2017 est.)
24% of GDP (2016 est.)
29.3% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 51.5% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
cocoa, coffee, sugar, palm oil, rubber; cattle; okoume (a tropical softwood); fish
petroleum extraction and refining; manganese, gold; chemicals, ship repair, food and beverages, textiles, lumbering and plywood, cement
Population below poverty line:
2% (2017 est.)
revenues: $3.122 billion
expenditures: $3.991 billion (2017 est.)
The backbone of the agriculture sector in Gabon is primarily made up of subsistence smallholder farmers in the country’s rural hinterlands. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that there are around 70,000 farms of this nature, encompassing a population of approximately 150,000 people. Such farms are between 1 and 2 ha in size, and they primarily cultivate plantain, cassava, taro, yam and various other vegetables. In addition, local husbandry is also practiced at a relatively small level in family compounds.
The Gabonese agricultural sector includes food crops, rubber, and palm oil and employs around 35 percent of the population. However, the sector’s contribution to GDP was only five percent in 2013 (latest data available). Gabon relies heavily on food imports, which account for the majority of domestic food consumption. Imported foodstuffs come mainly from France, South Africa, and Cameroon. Gabon has 22 million hectares of forest, one million hectares of arable agricultural land, and over 800 kilometers of coastline.
In March 2015 Gabon launched an agriculture initiative known as Gabonese Agricultural Achievements and Initiatives of Committed Citizens program. The program is a public-private partnership to expand domestic agricultural production supported by government-provided technical training and land grants. The Singapore-based agricultural conglomerate Olam International is the government’s main technical partner for the program.
Gabon has a growing class of entrepreneurs producing export-ready foodstuffs including dried fruit and jams, spices, and palm oil. Many producers are members of Gabon’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) group. Export of these products to the United States under AGOA’s trade preference regime could provide opportunities for wholesale retailers.
Northern Gabon is a prime location for rubber plantations, and rubber trees have been grown in the region for decades by local villagers. In early 2012, Olam began laying the groundwork for a rubber plantation, located near the city of Bitam 28,000 of the surface obtained 14,800 are plantable in the northern Woleu Ntem province. As of early 2014, Olam had 476,000 plants in the ground and 7,866 planted hectares in 2016. Olam is using rubber clones from Cote d’Ivoire and Malaysia and grafting onto locally produced stems and the produced rubber is destined for export to Asia. The transformation will start with the construction of the rubber plant in 2019. It will be able to process 225 tons of latex per day.
population without electricity: 200,000
electrification – total population: 89%
electrification – urban areas: 97%
electrification – rural areas: 38% (2013)
Electricity – production:
2.045 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
1.907 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 kWh (2016 est.)
Electricity – imports:
337 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
670,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
50.7% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 18,946
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 167 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 15.4% (July 2016 est.)
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.
Due to the fact that the Gabonese economy is dependent upon oil (crude oil accounts for 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.
Partly due to the huge market for palm oil in West and Central Africa, Gabon’s sector has attracted a variety of foreign investors, with companies such as Olam and India-based 3F Oil Palm Agrotech planning substantial investments in Gabon. Olam started planting in its private plantations in 2014, which include 43,000 ha in Mouila and 7000 ha in Awala, with planting set to finish by 2017.
In anticipation of a growing agricultural sector in Gabon, along with currently low levels of usage in regional markets, the government is looking to develop a local fertilizer industry, with two planned projects through government joint ventures with Olam and Morocco’s formerly state-owned phosphate company, OCP.
Some 85% of Gabon’s land, equivalent to 24.3m ha, is covered by forest, according to the World Bank, and roughly 12.5m ha of this is suitable for timber production. However, sector growth slowed from 28.5% in 2014 to 5.5% in 2015 on the back of a softer export market.
Gabon’s broader economy is experiencing a slowdown that has been engendered by lower oil prices, and the nation faces challenges associated with limited infrastructure. Furthermore, restricted spending potential will constrain the government’s ability to underwrite industrial and ancillary activity.
Nevertheless, a number of sizeable investments have already been planned for the secondary sector and the drive to develop SEZs should help encourage further foreign and domestic investment in Gabonese industry, as well as the development of downstream activity. The latter is of particular importance as the government is looking to push for a ban on all raw exports by 2020. Such a move could help open up space for entrepreneurs in a number of key segments, from timber and rubber to minerals, beverages, and dairy.
Banking and Finance
Gabon’s financial system is shallow and financial intermediation levels remain low compared to other developing countries. The state plays an important role in the financial sector. It controls two of the nine banks and has a stake in most of the others. Credit to the private sector lies below the average for oil-exporting countries in sub-
Saharan Africa, amounting to 18.3% of non-oil GDP in 2011, down slightly from 18.7% in 2010.
Domestic credit is limited and expensive in Gabon. The microfinance sector is only just starting to emerge in the country with few regulated microfinance institutions (MFIs) registered, covering only a limited segment of the population. However, a substantial number of informal, unregulated MFIs are believed to operate in the country. The Caisse d’Epargne Postale (CEP), a postal savings bank, offers deposit, savings and payment services to lower income layers and is estimated to reach about 13.5 percent of the population. The CEP does not, however, offer loans.
Gabon shares a common Central Bank and a common currency, the CFA Franc, which is pegged to the Euro, with the other countries of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). which ensures the legality of the operations carried out by financial institutions. BEAC issues the currency and controls liquidity within the zone. The interest rate structure is common to all member countries of the zone. Within the CEMAC zone, the CFA franc circulates freely and may be freely converted to other currencies through the banking system.
Gabon’s banking system includes one development bank, the Gabonese Development Bank (BGD), and five main commercial banks. The BGD normally lends to small and medium-sized companies. The International Gabonese and French Bank (BGFI) are the principal banks in Gabon and the largest financial group in the CEMAC zone. There is one commercial American bank, Citigroup, present in Gabon.
Commercial banks offer most corporate banking services or can procure them from overseas. Local credit to the private sector is limited and expensive but available to both foreign and local investors on equal terms. The country’s main economic actors, the oil companies, finance themselves outside Gabon. Commercial banks have transferred excess liquidity to correspondent banks outside the region.
The insurance industry is small. By the last review, the industry included four major companies, the largest two of which dominate the market, and whose portfolios are mainly linked to the oil sector. The framework for national insurance supervision is well developed and refers to the Inter-African Conference of Insurance Markets (CIMA).
Gabon’s tourism industry is still in its infancy stage, but beautiful weather all year round, there is almost never a bad time to explore Gabon. The bigger cities like Libreville and Port-Gentil are full of restaurants, bars, and casinos, but we particularly like the country’s parks and beaches, so be sure to check out our top recommendations. Gabon’s various ecosystems include everything from pristine coastal beaches to lush rainforests, and the country’s biodiversity and low population ensure that the savanna and forests are teeming with a huge variety of wildlife—not tourists. Pack your camera; the natural wonders of Gabon are worth remembering for a lifetime. Making everyone at home jealous of your photos is just a fringe benefit.
The government aims to increase visitor numbers to 100,000 tourists a year by 2020, an ambitious goal since the total number of visitors to the country between 2006 and 2011 was 100,000. Though the majority of visitors to Gabon travel for professional purposes – business tourists represented about 84% of visitors in 2013 – opportunities for developing luxury tourism projects to entice business visitors to lengthen their stay are helping the country to establish its niche in the region. While most visitors stay in the capital, Libreville, or Port-Gentil, the center of Gabon’s oil sector, developments in the national parks are raising the country’s profile as a destination for natural attractions and high-end hospitality.
Many tourists visiting Gabon come from other countries in the region, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon, which together account for about 32% of arrivals. Visitors from Cameroon account for the largest market source (17.5%).
Lopé National Park has protected rain forest and savanna areas of the park are home to elephants, buffalo, and hogs. Keep your eyes peeled for the colorful and sometimes intimidating mandrills, too.
Mayumba is located near the Congolese border. With its white, serene beaches, Mayumba is a premier resort area in Gabon. From July to September, thousands of humpback whales swimming in the sea and leatherback turtles nesting in the sand.
Cirque de Léconi is a beautiful, circular, red rock canyon. The best way to enjoy the canyon is to rent camping equipment and spend the night. The view of the canyon in the waning sunlight is unforgettable.
Bateke Plateau National Park: Covering 790 square miles in the southeastern part of Gabon, Bateke Plateau National Park is hard to reach but an amazing site to visit. The ancient volcanic area is full of elephants, buffalo, lions, gorillas, and other animals. Take a walk through the park and cross the large bridges that span the rivers.
National Museum of Arts and Tradition: A walk through the halls of the museum, which include sections on statues and masks, will introduce you to the traditions and art of Gabon.
Presidential Palace: Built in 1970, the Presidential Palace in Libreville is a magnificent building that rises from the low-lying landscape of the city.
The oldest prehistoric artifacts discovered in Gabon are Stone Age tools, such as rock spearheads. This suggests the presence of life from as early as the 7000 BC. However, very little is known about the country’s ancient inhabitants.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Pygmy peoples. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes as they migrated. Bantu peoples began to migrate to what is now Gabon from Cameroon and eastern Nigeria at least 2,000 years ago. The Myene people arrived in Gabon in the 13th century, mainly establishing a fishing community near the coast. They were followed by the Bantu, which is one of the three main ethnic groups in Gabon today. The prevalent Fangs did not arrive until the 16th century (Loango Empire). The groups were separated from each other by dense forests.
Gabon’s first confirmed European visitors were Portuguese explorers and traders who arrived in the late 15th century. The Portuguese settled on the offshore islands of São Tomé, Príncipe, and Fernando Pó, but were regular visitors to the coast. The Portuguese sighted the coast as early as 1470 and gave Gabon its name because the shape of the Rio de Como estuary reminded them of a “gabao,” a Portuguese hooded cloak. They named the Gabon region after the Portuguese word gabão — a coat with sleeve and hood resembling the shape of the Komo River estuary. The coast became a center of the slave trade.
The Portuguese 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. Some Portuguese adventurers established themselves as rulers of areas in Gabon. One such was Ogandaga é Butu, son of a Portuguese father and a Gabonese mother. He ruled some islands along the coast, which are still controlled by his descendant Mbourou Eranga Yanelle Prunella.
The Kingdom Orungu
By the 18th century, a Myeni speaking kingdom known as Orungu formed in Gabon. The Kingdom of Orungu (c. 1700–1927) was a small, pre-colonial state of what is now Gabon in Central Africa. Through its control of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was able to become the most powerful of the trading centers that developed in Gabon during that period.
The Kingdom of Orungu is named for its founders, the Orungu, a Myènè speaking people of unknown origin. Most scholars believe they migrated into the Ogooué River delta in the early 17th century from the south. This is further backed up by the fact that the Orungu seemed to have been heavily influenced by the Kingdom of Loango or at very least its BaVili traders. During this period of migration, the Orungu drove another Myènè speaking people, the Mpongwe, toward the Gabon Estuary in an effort to dominate trade with Europeans. The scheme was successful, and a prosperous kingdom emerged at Cape Lopez.
The Orungu Kingdom was made up of some 20 clans. One of these clans held the line to succession as king, while the others exercised control over maritime commerce coming from the interior. The kingdom was unique in an area where the basic political unit was a clan ruling a village via a kind of collective leadership. The Orungu cast this aside for a single monarch, which their tradition maintains was descended from a legendary figure called the Mani Pongo The titles of the kingdom’s political offices were adopted from the kingdom of Loango as well as a sense of clan hierarchy. These institutions likely moved with the Orungu from the Chilongo district in Loango. The king’s title, Agamwinboni, seems to have its origin among the Orungu themselves and does not borrow from the “mani” prefix attached to kingdoms like Loango and Kongo.
The Orungu people held strongly to their traditional beliefs and were hostile to European missionaries. As a result, few gained western educations thus limiting their influence in colonial administration or post-colonial politics of Gabon. Today the Orungu is one of Gabon’s smaller ethnic groups numbering around 10,000 people. The fall of the Orungu Kingdom was directly tied to the fall of the slave trade. The king had become dependent on it and was unable to maintain the custom of royal patronage without it. This caused the kingdom to disintegrate and in 1873, King Ntchengué signed a treaty granting the French a post on Orungu territory. In 1927, the French had colonized the remnants of the kingdom.
It was not until 1839 that the French established the first long-term European settlement in the territory and Gabon became part of French Equatorial Africa, together with Cameroon, DRC, Central African Republic, and Chad. Gabon remained a French Overseas Territory until it declared independence in 1960.
The abolition of the slave trade by France in 1815 ruined many merchants but did not end French interest in the Gabon coast. French vessels were entrusted to prevent the illegal slave trade, and the search for new products for trade led to French occupation of the coastal ports. In 1839, the French concluded a treaty with Denis, the African king whose authority extended over the northern Gabon coast, by which the kingdom was ceded to France in return for French protection. A similar treaty gained 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 1855–59, 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 1876–78. 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 were the early leaders of the independence movement in Gabon, but their political inclinations were different. 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, having the richest economic potential in the region, would end up supporting its poorer neighbors in any federal system.
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, healthcare, and education.
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.
At the time of Gabon’s independence in 1960, two principal political parties existed: the Gabonese Democratic Bloc (BDG), led by Léon M’Ba, and the Gabonese Democratic and Social Union (UDSG), led by Jean-Hilaire Aubame. In the first post-independence election, held under a parliamentary system, neither party was able to win a majority. The BDG obtained support from three of the four independent legislative deputies, and M’Ba was named Prime Minister. Soon after concluding that Gabon had an insufficient number of people for a two-party system, the two party leaders agreed on a single list of candidates. In the February 1961 election, held under the new presidential system, M’Ba became President and Aubame became foreign minister.
This one-party system appeared to work until February 1963, when the larger BDG element forced the UDSG members to choose between a merger of the parties or resignation. The UDSG cabinet ministers resigned, and M’Ba called an election for February 1964 and a reduced number of National Assembly deputies. The UDSG failed to muster a list of candidates able to meet the requirements of the electoral decrees. When the BDG appeared likely to win the election by default, the Gabonese military toppled M’Ba in a bloodless coup on 18 February 1964.
French troops re-established his government the next day. Elections were held in April 1964 with many opposition participants. BDG-supported candidates won 31 seats and the opposition 16. Late in 1966, the constitution was revised to provide for automatic succession of the vice president should the president die in office. In March 1967, Leon M’Ba and Omar Bongo (then known as Albert Bongo) were elected President and Vice President, with the BDG winning all 47 seats in the National Assembly. M’Ba died later that year, and Omar Bongo became president.
In March 1968, Bongo declared Gabon a one-party state by dissolving the BDG and establishing a new party: the Gabonese Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Gabonais) (PDG). He invited all Gabonese, regardless of previous political affiliation, to participate. Bongo was elected president in February 1975; in April 1975, the office of vice president was abolished and replaced by the office of prime minister, who had no right to automatic succession. Bongo was re-elected president in December 1979 and November 1986 to seven-year terms. Using the PDG as a tool to submerge the regional and tribal rivalries that divided Gabonese politics in the past, Bongo sought to forge a single national movement in support of the government’s development policies.
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.
On June 8, 2009, President Omar Bongo died of cardiac arrest at a Spanish hospital in Barcelona, ushering in a new era in Gabonese politics. In accordance with the amended constitution, Rose Francine Rogombé, the President of the Senate, became Interim President on June 10, 2009. The first contested elections in Gabon’s history that did not include Omar Bongo as a candidate were held on August 30, 2009, with 18 candidates for president. The lead-up to the elections saw some isolated protests, but no significant disturbances. Omar Bongo’s son, ruling party leader Ali Bongo Ondimba, was formally declared the winner after a 3-week review by the Constitutional Court; his inauguration took place on October 16, 2009.