Much of Gabon, which is situated astride the equator, is drained by the Ogooué River (and its tributaries, the Ngounie and the Ivindo), which flows into the Atlantic through a long and broad estuary. The rest of the coastline comprises a narrow low-lying strip, which, south of the Ogooué's mouth, includes a series of lagoons. The interior of the country is made up of mountain ranges and high-lying plateaus. To the north of the Ogooué are the Cristal Mts. and to the south is the Chaillu Massif, which includes Mt. Iboundji (5,165 ft/1,574 m), Gabon's highest point. In the northeast is the Woleu-Ntem Plateau, which reaches c.2,500 ft (760 m), and in the southeast is the hot and arid Bateke Plateau (c.2,700 ft/820 m).
The inhabitants of Gabon belong to several ethnic groups including the Fang (who make up about one quarter of the population) in the north, the Omiéné along the coast, the Bakota in the northeast, and the Eshira in the southwest. French is the country's official language, but African languages are also spoken. There are large numbers of immigrant workers from other French-speaking African nations, as well as Europeans, mainly French. The population is predominantly Christian in the cities, but most people in the countryside adhere to traditional beliefs.
Since the 1970s the Gabonese economy has been centered on the oil industry, which has provided it with one of the highest per capita incomes in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for almost 80% of its export income and 50% of its GDP. Oil wealth, however, led to government corruption, and the population at large has failed to benefit from oil profits. Gabon's economy also is subject to fluctuating oil prices, and it must contend with diminishing reserves. Decreases in production since the mid-1990s have hurt the economy, although it benefited from oil price increases after 2000. The exploitation of forest products and the mining of manganese, which formed the backbone of the economy until oil became predominant, remain relatively important today. The country's most significant forest products are okume (a softwood used in making plywood), mahogany, ebony, and rubber. Other minerals extracted are gold, uranium, and iron ore.
The chief products of Gabon's industrial sector include refined petroleum, chemicals, food and beverages, textiles, and wood products. Despite this economic activity, the majority of Gabonese workers are engaged in subsistence farming, with sugarcane, cassava, plantains, and taro the chief crops. There is also fishing. However, food must be imported to meet the country's needs. Cocoa, coffee, and palm products are produced for export. Few animals are raised, partly because of the prevalence of the tsetse fly.
Gabon's main exports are crude petroleum, forest products, manganese and uranium ores, and cocoa; the principal imports are machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, and construction materials. The leading trade partners are the United States and France. Gabon's limited transportation network was improved with the construction (1986) of the Trans-Gabon railway, which links the deepwater port of Owendo with iron ore and manganese deposits.
Gabon is governed under the constitution of 1991. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a seven-year term; there are no term limits. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The bicameral legislature consists of the 91-seat Senate, whose members are indirectly elected for six-year terms, and the 120-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into nine provinces.
The region that is now Gabon was inhabited in Paleolithic times. By the 16th cent. A.D. the Omiéné were living along the coast, and in the 18th cent. the Fang entered the region from the north. From the 16th to the 18th cent. the area was part of the decentralized Loango empire, which included most of the area between the Ogooué and Congo rivers. In the 1470s, Portuguese navigators found the Ogooué estuary, and shortly thereafter they began to trade with coastal merchants for slaves who had been acquired in the interior. The Portuguese were followed by Dutch, English, and French traders, and by the late 18th cent. the French had gained a dominant position. Despite the abolition of the slave trade (1815) by the Congress of Vienna, slaves continued to be exported from the Gabon coast until the 1880s, although French naval patrols succeeded in reducing the number exported annually.
In the mid-19th cent., several treaties were signed with African rulers of the Ogooué estuary and neighboring territories, and Christian missions were established. In 1849, Libreville was founded by the French as a settlement for freed slaves. Paul B. Du Chaillu (in the 1850s) and A. M. A. Aymes (in the 1860s) explored the lower Ogooué. In the late 1870s, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza reached the source of the river, and in the 1880s he founded Franceville (near the present-day border with the Republic of the Congo). In 1885 the Conference of Berlin recognized French rights to the region N of the Congo River that included Gabon. In 1886 the French assigned a governor to Gabon, which from 1889 to 1904 was included in the French Congo.
From 1910 to 1957, Gabon was a part of French Equatorial Africa. The Fang and some other African peoples resisted the imposition of French rule until 1911. In 1913, Albert Schweitzer established a hospital at Lambaréné on the Ogooué. During World War II, Free French forces gained control (1940) of Gabon from the Vichy government. In 1946, Gabon became an overseas territory of France, and in 1958 the country became internally self-governing within the French Community.The New Nation
On Aug. 17, 1960, Gabon became an independent republic. Leon Mba, a Fang, was the country's first president. In Feb., 1964, Mba was ousted by a military coup led by Jean-Hilaire Aubame, but he was restored to power within a day with the help of French troops. Mba died in 1967 and was succeeded by Omar Bongo, who established (1968) the Gabonese Democratic party (PDG) as the country's sole political organization. Bongo was returned to office in the elections of 1973 and 1979.
Gabon was one of the few African countries to recognize and furnish supplies to Biafra during the Nigerian civil war (1967-70). During its first decade of independence, Gabon retained close political and economic ties with France. In the early 1970s, however, the government sought increased influence in the foreign (mainly French) companies active in Gabon, and it generally tried to loosen its ties with France. Disillusionment with Bongo's repressive policies led to the formation of a large opposition movement in the early 1980s and demands for a multiparty government.
Bongo was reelected to a fourth term in 1986. Popular discontent with the regime reached a high point in 1989 with seven days of riots in Port-Gentil, which were put down by the army. In 1990 opposition parties were legalized and multiparty legislative elections were held for the first time in 22 years. Amid charges of fraud, Bongo's party won a majority of seats. The same charges were leveled as Bongo was reelected in Gabon's first multiparty presidential election in 1993.
Despite constitutional reforms (1995) intended to reduce election fraud, the 1998 polls, in which Bongo once again was reelected, were termed unfair by observers. Bongo's party again won a majority of the legislative seats in 2001. The president was elected to a third term in 2005; the election was again criticized by the opposition, which was divided and relatively weak. The Dec., 2006, legislative elections were again solidly won by the president's party, but voter turnout was low.
Bongo died in June, 2009; the head of the senate, Rose Francine Rogombe, became Gabon's interim president. In the Aug., 2009, presidential election, Ali Bongo, the son of the late president, was elected with 42% of the vote. Opposition parties denounced the result as rigged, and opposition supporters rioted in the capital and Port-Gentil, but the constitutional court affirmed the results.
See J. Bouquerel, Le Gabon (1970); D. E. Gardinier, Historical Dictionary of Gabon (1981); M. A. Saint Paul, Gabon (1989).
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Gabon (or /gaˈbõ/ in French) is a country in west central Africa sharing borders with Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo and the Gulf of Guinea. The capital and largest city is Libreville. Since its independence from France on August 17, 1960, the Republic has been ruled by two 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. A small population (less than two million), 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.
In the 15th century, the first Europeans arrived. The nation's present name originates from "Gabão", Portuguese for "cabin", 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 Mba, an 'evolue' from the coastal region. After Mba'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 Mba assumed himself. However, when Mba 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 Mba's dictatorial regime was synonymous with "French Interests" then became blatantly apparent when French paratroopers flew in within 24 hours to restore Mba 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 outskirt's of Gabon's capital. When M'Ba died in 1967, Bongo replaced him as president, and has been the head of state ever since, 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 since 1967, 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. 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.
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. There were also incidences of violence and protest, particularly in the first round of voting held two weeks prior. However, several international observers including the Economic Community of Central African States have reported that the election "met international standards" for democratic voting.
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.
The provinces are:
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, JPMorgan acted as Joint-Bookrunner on the Gabonese Republic’s (BB-/BB-) debut international US$1 billion 10-year bond issue. The issue was very well received despite the challenging market environment.
The population of Gabon is nearly 1.5 million (1,454,867). Almost all Gabonese are of Bantu origin, though Gabon has at least forty ethnic groups with separate 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 one-third of Libreville residents are native speakers of the language. 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. Other religious groups include animists, Muslims, and practitioners of indigenous African religions. Gabon's literacy rate is 63.2%.
Gabonese music is little-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.