Location of Gabon
Map of Gabon
Flag of Gabon
Gabon (pronounced /ɡəˈbɒn/; French pronunciation: [ɡabɔ̃]) is a state in west central Africa sharing borders with Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, Cameroon to the north, and with the Republic of the Congo curving around the east and south. The Gulf of Guinea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean is to the west. It covers a land area of nearly 270,000 km² and has an estimated population of 1,500,000. Its capital and largest city is Libreville.
Since its independence from France on August 17, 1960, Gabon has been ruled by three presidents. In the early 1990s, Gabon introduced a multi-party system and a new democratic constitution that allowed for a more transparent electoral process and reformed many governmental institutions. The small population density together with abundant natural resources and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in the region, with the highest HDI in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Pygmy peoples. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes as they migrated.
In the 15th century, the first Europeans arrived. The nation's present name originates from "Gabão", Portuguese for "cloak", which is roughly the shape of the estuary of the Komo River by Libreville. French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza led his first mission to the Gabon-Congo area in 1875. He founded the town of Franceville, and was later colonial governor. Several Bantu groups lived in the area that is now Gabon when France officially occupied it in 1885.
In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959. These territories became independent on August 17, 1960. The first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, was Léon M’ba, with Omar Bongo Ondimba as his vice president. French interests were decisive in selecting the future leadership in Gabon after Independence; French logging interests poured funds into the successful election campaign of M'ba, an 'evolué' from the coastal region.
After M'ba's accession to power, the press was suppressed, political demonstrations banned, freedom of expression curtailed, other political parties gradually excluded from power and the Constitution changed along French lines to vest power in the Presidency, a post that M'ba assumed himself. However, when M'ba dissolved the National Assembly in January 1964 to institute one-party rule, an army coup sought to oust him from power and restore parliamentary democracy. The extent to which M'ba's dictatorial regime was synonymous with "French Interests" then became blatantly apparent when French paratroopers flew in within 24 hours to restore M'ba to power.
After a few days of fighting, the coup was over and the opposition imprisoned, despite widespread protests and riots. The French government was unperturbed by international condemnation of the intervention; and paratroops still remain in the Camp de Gaulle on the outskirts of Gabon's capital. When M'Ba died in 1967, Bongo replaced him as president, and continued to be the head of state until his death in 2009, winning each contested election with a substantial majority.
In March 1991, a new constitution was enacted. Among its provisions are a bill of rights, the creation of a body to guarantee those rights (National Council of Democracy) and a governmental advisory board which deals with economic and social issues. Multi-party legislative elections were held in 1990–91 even though opposition parties had not yet been formally declared legal.
President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, in power from 1967 until his death in June 2009, was re-elected to his third consecutive seven-year term on November 27, 2005. According to figures provided by Gabon's Interior Ministry, he received a 79.1% majority of votes. Succeeding Bongo as interim president upon his death was Rose Francine Rogombé, President of the Senate of Gabon.
The voting age in Gabon is 21 years of age. In 2003, the President amended the Constitution of Gabon to remove any restrictions on the number of terms a president is allowed to serve. The president retains strong powers, such as authority to dissolve the National Assembly, declare a state of siege, delay legislation, conduct referendums, and appoint or dismiss the prime minister as well as cabinet members. In provisional results, the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) won 84 out of 120 parliamentary seats.
On September 3, 2009, the son of Omar Bongo, Ali Ben Bongo, was elected president. As with previous Gabonese elections, the opposition parties have contested the results. There were calls for a boycott and accusations of electoral fraud and bribery. The announcement of the result sparked looting and the torching of the French consulate in Port-Gentil. However, several international observers including the Economic Community of Central African States have reported that the election "met international standards" for democratic voting, and urged the people of Gabon to accept the result.
Gabon has a small, professional military of about 5,000 personnel, divided into army, navy, air force, gendarmerie, and national police. Gabonese forces are oriented to the defense of the country and have not been trained for an offensive role. A 1,800-member guard provides security for the president.
In September, 2007, René Ndémezo'o Obiang, the government's spokesperson, announced that Gabon's cabinet council had decided to formally abolish the death penalty, which had not been applied in the country in over a decade.
Gabon placed 21st out of 53 African countries in the 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance. The Ibrahim Index is a comprehensive measure of African governance, based on a number of different variables which reflect the success with which governments deliver essential political goods to its citizens.
Provinces and Departments
Gabon is divided into nine provinces and further divided into 37 departments.
The provinces are:
Gabon is located on the Atlantic coast of central Africa. Located on the equator, Gabon has an equatorial climate with an extensive system of rainforests covering 85% of the country. There are three distinct regions: the coastal plains (ranging between 20 to 300 km from the ocean's shore), the mountains (the Cristal Mountains to the northeast of Libreville, the Chaillu Massif in the centre, culminating at 1575 m with Mont Iboundji), and the savanna in the east. The coastal plains form a large section of the World Wildlife Fund's Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests ecoregion and contain patches of Central African mangroves especially on the Muni River estuary on the border with Equatorial Guinea.
Gabon's largest river is the Ogooué which is 1200 km long. Gabon has three karst areas where there are hundreds of caves located in the dolomite and limestone rocks. Some of the caves include Grotte du Lastoursville, Grotte du Lebamba, Grotte du Bongolo, and Grotte du Kessipougou. Many caves have not been explored yet. A National Geographic Expedition visited the caves in the summer of 2008 to document them (Expedition Website).
Gabon is also noted for efforts to preserve the natural environment. In 2002, President Omar Bongo Ondimba put Gabon firmly on the map as an important future ecotourism destination by designating more than 11% of the nation's territory to be part of its national park system (with 13 parks in total), one of the largest proportions of nature parkland in the world. Natural resources include: petroleum, magnesium, iron, gold, uranium, and forests.
Gabon is more prosperous than most nearby countries, with a per capita income of four times the average for Sub-Saharan Africa. This is in large part due to offshore oil production. Critics note that the income was not invested in modernizing or diversifying the economy and Gabon remains heavily reliant on its natural resources. Gabon was a full member of OPEC from 1975 to 1995. It is an exporter of manganese, iron, and wood. Uranium mines near Franceville were shut down in 2001 with the arrival of new competition on the global market and there is work in progress to re-open them. Planned efforts to exploit rich iron deposits north-east of Makokou are expected to begin in 2012.
During the 1990s, devaluation of the CFA franc left Gabon struggling to pay its overseas debt; France and the IMF have provided further loans and aid in exchange for the implementation of changes to the economy. Gabon's principal trading partners are the United States, China, and Russia for exports while importing mainly from France.
On December 5, 2007 JPMorgan acted as Joint-Bookrunner on the Gabonese Republic’s (BB-/BB-) debut international US$1 billion 10-year bond issue.
Gabon is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Straddling the equator, this rainforest nation is situated on West Africa’s Atlantic coast. Animals are abundant – Gabon is the continent’s fifth least densely populated country – and is 85 per cent covered in tropical forest. This, along with savannahs, mangroves, lagoons and beaches makes it an ideal habitat for varied species of animals and reptiles including 20,000 western lowland gorillas and 60,000 forest elephants – the largest population in Africa – and 700 types of exotic birds.
The National Tourism Strategy, written in consultation with The Wildlife Conservation Society, aims to achieve 100,000 visitors per annum.
The population of Gabon is nearly 1.5 million (1,442,334). Almost all Gabonese are of Bantu origin, though Gabon has at least forty ethnic groups with diverse languages and cultures. The Fang are generally thought to be the largest, although recent census data seem to favor the Bandjabi (or Nzebi). Others include the Myene, Bakota, Eshira, Bapounou, and Okande. Ethnic group boundaries are less sharply drawn in Gabon than elsewhere in Africa. French, the official language, may be regarded as a unifying force. It is estimated that 80% of the country's population are able to speak French, and that 30% of Libreville residents are native speakers of the language. Nationally, 32% of the Gabonese people speak the Fang language as a mother tongue. More than 10,000 French people live in Gabon, and France is the predominant foreign cultural and commercial influence.
Historical and environmental factors caused Gabon's population to decline between 1900 and 1940. It has one of the lowest population densities of any country in Africa, and labor shortages form a major obstacle to development and a draw for foreign workers. Most inhabitants are Christians, with estimates of the Christian population ranging from 55 to 77%, mostly members of the Roman Catholic Church. Muslims make up 12% of the population. Other religious groups include animists and practitioners of indigenous African religions. Gabon's literacy rate is 63.2%.
See also: Ethnic groups of Gabon, Languages of Gabon, Religion in Gabon, and Bwiti
Gabonese music is lesser-known in comparison with regional giants like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon. The country boasts an array of folk styles, as well as pop stars like Patience Dabany and Annie Flore Batchiellilys, a Gabonese singer and renowned live performer. Also known are guitarists like Georges Oyendze, La Rose Mbadou and Sylvain Avara, and the singer Oliver N'Goma. Imported rock and hip hop from the US and UK are popular in Gabon, as are rumba, makossa and soukous. Gabonese folk instruments include the obala, the ngombi, balafon and traditional drums.
A country with a primarily oral tradition up until the spread of literacy in the 21st century, Gabon is rich in folklore and mythology. "Raconteurs" are currently working to keep traditions alive such as the mvett among the Fangs and the ingwala among the Nzebis.
Gabon also features internationally celebrated masks, such as the n'goltang (Fang) and the relicary figures of the Kota. Each group has its own set of masks used for various reasons. They are mostly used in traditional ceremonies such as marriage, birth and funerals. Traditionalists mainly work with rare local woods and other precious materials.
1. ^ Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division (2009) (PDF). World Population Prospects, Table A.1. 2008 revision. United Nations. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wpp2008/wpp2008_text_tables.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
2. ^ a b c d "Gabon". International Monetary Fund. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2010/01/weodata/weorept.aspx?sy=2007&ey=2010&scsm=1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&c=646&s=NGDPD%2CNGDPDPC%2CPPPGDP%2CPPPPC%2CLP&grp=0&a=&pr.x=39&pr.y=13. Retrieved 2010-04-21.
3. ^ "Human Development Report 2009. Human development index trends: Table G". The United Nations. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2009_EN_Complete.pdf. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
4. ^ "Human Development Indices: A statistical update 2008 - HDI rankings". Human Development Reports. United Nations Development Programme. 2008. http://hdr.ndp.org/en/statistics/. Retrieved 2009-01-25. [dead link]
5. ^ "Bongo set to rise to senior world leader", Chicago Sun-Times, February 19, 2008. Retrieved February 19, 2008.
6. ^ a b c d CIA - The World Factbook - Gabon
7. ^ BBC News, Country Profile
8. ^ Bloomberg, September 4, 2009.
9. ^ BBC News, September 8, 2009. Sarkozy congratulates Ali Ben Bongo.
10. ^ CEEAC, September 6, 2009.
11. ^ "Ibrahim Foundation". Moibrahimfoundation.org. http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
12. ^ "OHADA.com: The business law portal in Africa". http://www.ohada.com/index.php. Retrieved 2009-03-22
13. ^ Conrad Ouellon. "Le Gabon". Tlfq.ulaval.ca. http://www.tlfq.ulaval.ca/axl/afrique/gabon.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-27.