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Gabon Bureau of African Affairs
June 2007

Background Note: Gabon

Rain forest in Lope Reserve, Gabon,
July 4, 2001. [© AP Images]

Flag of Gabon is three equal horizontal bands of green at top, yellow, and


Gabonese Republic

Area: 267,667 sq. km. (103,347 sq. mi.); about the size of Colorado.
Cities: Capital--Libreville (pop. 673,995). Other cities--Port-Gentil
(118,940), Franceville.
Terrain: Narrow coastal plain; hilly, heavily forested interior (about 80%
forested); some savanna regions in east and south.
Climate: Hot and humid all year with two rainy and two dry seasons.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Gabonese (sing. and pl.).
Population (July 2007 est.): 1,454,867.
Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 2.036%.
Ethnic groups: Fang (largest), Myene, Bapounou, Eshira, Bandjabi, Bakota,
Nzebi, Bateke/Obamba.
Religions: Christian (55%-75%), Muslim, animist.
Languages: French (official), Fang, Myene, Bateke, Bapounou/Eschira,
Education: Years compulsory--to age 16. Attendance--60%. Literacy--63%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--54/1,000. Life expectancy--54 yrs.
Work force (500,000 est.): Agriculture--52%; industry and commerce--16%;
services and government--33%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: August 17, 1960.
Constitution: February 21, 1961 (revised April 15, 1975; rewritten March 26,
1991; revised July 29, 2003).
Branches: Executive--president (head of state); prime minister (head of
government) and appointed Council of Ministers. Legislative--bicameral
legislature (National Assembly and Senate). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 9 provinces, 36 prefectures, and 8
Political parties: Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG) holds the largest number
of seats in the National Assembly; there are several others.
Suffrage: Universal, direct.
Central government budget (2001 est.): Receipts--$1.6 billion; expenses--$1.2
billion; defense (1999)--3.0% of government budget.

GDP (2006 est.): $7.052 billion.
Annual real growth rate (2006 est.): 2.8%.
Per capita income (2006 est.): $7,200.
Avg. inflation rate (2006 est.): 2.2%.
Natural resources: Petroleum (43% of GDP), timber, manganese, uranium.
Agriculture and forestry (5.9% of GDP): Products--cocoa, coffee, rubber,
sugar, and pineapples. Cultivated land--1%.
Industry (59.7% of GDP): Types--petroleum related, wood processing, food and
beverage processing.
Services (25% of GDP).
Trade (2006): Exports--$6.677 billion (f.o.b.): petroleum, wood, manganese.
Major markets--U.S. 53%, China 8.5%, France 7.4%, EU, Asia. Imports--$1.607
billion (f.o.b.): construction equipment, machinery, food, automobiles,
manufactured goods. Major suppliers--France 43%, U.S. 6.3%, U.K. 5.8%,
Netherlands 4%. Current account balance (2006 est.)--$1.807 billion.

Almost all Gabonese are of Bantu origin. Gabon has at least 40 ethnic groups,
with separate languages and cultures. The largest is the Fang (about 30%).
Other ethnic groups include the Myene, Bandjabi, Eshira, Bapounou, Bateke/
Obamba, Nzebi, and Bakota. Ethnic group boundaries are less sharply drawn in
Gabon than elsewhere in Africa. French, the official language, is a unifying
force. More than 12,000 French people live in Gabon, including an estimated
2,000 dual nationals, and France dominates foreign cultural and commercial
influences. Historical and environmental factors caused Gabon's population to
decline between 1900 and 1940. It is one of the least densely inhabited
countries in Africa, and a labor shortage is a major obstacle to development
and a draw for foreign workers. The population is generally accepted to be
just over 1 million but remains in dispute.

During the last seven centuries, Bantu ethnic groups arrived in the area from
several directions to escape enemies or find new land. Little is known of
tribal life before European contact, but tribal art suggests rich cultural
heritages. Gabon's first European visitors were Portuguese traders who
arrived in the 15th century and named the country after the Portuguese word
"gabao," a coat with sleeve and hood resembling the shape of the Komo River
estuary. The coast became a center of the slave trade. Dutch, British, and
French traders came in the 16th century. France assumed the status of
protector by signing treaties with Gabonese coastal chiefs in 1839 and 1841.
American missionaries from New England established a mission at Baraka (now
Libreville) in 1842. In 1849, the French captured a slave ship and released
the passengers at the mouth of the Komo River. The slaves named their
settlement Libreville--"free town." An American, Paul du Chaillu, was among
the first foreigners to explore the interior of the country in the 1850s.
French explorers penetrated Gabon's dense jungles between 1862 and 1887. The
most famous, Savorgnan de Brazza, used Gabonese bearers and guides in his
search for the headwaters of the Congo River. France occupied Gabon in 1885
but did not administer it until 1903. In 1910, Gabon became one of the four
territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until
1959. The territories became independent in 1960 as the Central African
Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), and Gabon.

At the time of Gabon's independence in 1960, two principal political parties
existed: the Bloc Democratique Gabonais (BDG), led by Leon M'Ba, and the
Union Democratique et Sociale Gabonaise (UDSG), led by J.H. 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
(from 67 to 47). 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 February 18, 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 Albert Bongo) were
elected President and Vice President. 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 Parti Democratique 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 7-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.

Economic discontent and a desire for political liberalization provoked
violent demonstrations and strikes by students and workers in early 1990. In
response to grievances by workers, Bongo negotiated with them on a
sector-by-sector basis, making significant wage concessions. In addition, he
promised to open up the PDG and to organize a national political conference
in March-April 1990 to discuss Gabon's future political system. The PDG and
74 political organizations attended the conference. Participants essentially
divided into two loose coalitions, the ruling PDG and its allies, and the
United Front of Opposition Associations and Parties, consisting of the
breakaway Morena Fundamental and the Gabonese Progress Party.

The April 1990 conference approved sweeping political reforms, including
creation of a national Senate, decentralization of the budgetary process,
freedom of assembly and press, and cancellation of the exit visa requirement.
In an attempt to guide the political system's transformation to multiparty
democracy, Bongo resigned as PDG chairman and created a transitional
government headed by a new Prime Minister, Casimir Oye-Mba. The Gabonese
Social Democratic Grouping (RSDG), as the resulting government was called,
was smaller than the previous government and included representatives from
several opposition parties in its cabinet. The RSDG drafted a provisional
constitution in May 1990 that provided a basic bill of rights and an
independent judiciary but retained strong executive powers for the president.
After further review by a constitutional committee and the National Assembly,
this document came into force in March 1991. Under the 1991 constitution, in
the event of the president's death, the prime minister, the National Assembly
president, and the defense minister were to share power until a new election
could be held.

Opposition to the PDG continued, however, and in September 1990, two coup
d'etat attempts were uncovered and aborted. Despite anti-government
demonstrations after the untimely death of an opposition leader, the first
multiparty National Assembly elections in almost 30 years took place in
September-October 1990, with the PDG garnering a large majority.

Following President Bongo's re-election in December 1993 with 51% of the
vote, opposition candidates refused to validate the election results. Serious
civil disturbances led to an agreement between the government and opposition
factions to work toward a political settlement. These talks led to the Paris
Accords in November 1994, under which several opposition figures were
included in a government of national unity. This arrangement soon broke down,
however, and the 1996 and 1997 legislative and municipal elections provided
the background for renewed partisan politics. The PDG won a landslide victory
in the legislative election, but several major cities, including Libreville,
elected opposition mayors during the 1997 local election.

President Bongo coasted to easy re-elections in December 1998 and November
2005, with large majorities of the vote against a divided opposition. While
Bongo's major opponents rejected the outcome as fraudulent, some
international observers characterized the results as representative despite
any perceived irregularities. Legislative elections held in 2001-02, which
were boycotted by a number of smaller opposition parties and were widely
criticized for their administrative weaknesses, produced a National Assembly
almost completely dominated by the PDG and allied independents. National
Assembly elections were held again in December 2006.

Under the 1961 constitution (revised in 1975, rewritten in 1991, and revised
in 2003), Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government. The
National Assembly has 120 deputies elected for a 5-year term. The president
is elected by universal suffrage for a 7-year term. The president can appoint
and dismiss the prime minister, the cabinet, and judges of the independent
Supreme Court. The president also has other strong powers, such as authority
to dissolve the National Assembly, declare a state of siege, delay
legislation, and conduct referenda. A 2003 constitutional amendment removed
presidential term limits and facilitated a presidency for life.

In 1990 the government made major changes to Gabon's political system. A
transitional constitution was drafted in May 1990 as an outgrowth of the
national political conference in March-April and later revised by a
constitutional committee. Among its provisions were a Western-style bill of
rights; creation of a National Council of Democracy to oversee the guarantee
of those rights; a governmental advisory board on economic and social issues;
and an independent judiciary. After approval by the National Assembly, the
PDG Central Committee, and the President, the Assembly unanimously adopted
the constitution in March 1991. Multiparty legislative elections were held in
1990-91, despite the fact that opposition parties had not been declared
formally legal.

The elections produced the first representative, multiparty National
Assembly. In January 1991, the Assembly passed by unanimous vote a law
governing the legalization of opposition parties. After President Bongo was
re-elected in a disputed election in 1993 with 51% of votes cast, social and
political disturbances led to the 1994 Paris Conference and Accords, which
provided a framework for the next elections. Local and legislative elections
were delayed until 1996-97. In 1997, constitutional amendments were adopted
to create an appointed Senate and the position of vice president, and to
extend the president's term to 7 years.

Facing a divided opposition, President Bongo was re-elected in December 1998.
Although the main opposition parties claimed the elections had been
manipulated, there was none of the civil disturbance that followed the 1993
election. Peaceful though flawed legislative elections in 2001-02 produced a
National Assembly dominated by the President's party and its allies. National
Assembly elections were held again in 2006.

In November 2005, President Bongo was elected for his sixth term. He won
re-election easily, but opponents claim that the balloting process was marred
by irregularities. There were some instances of violence following the
announcement of Bongo's win, but Gabon generally remained peaceful.

For administrative purposes, Gabon is divided into 9 provinces, which are
further divided into 36 prefectures and 8 separate subprefectures. The
president appoints the provincial governors, the prefects, and the

Principal Government Officials
President of the Republic, Founder of the Gabonese Democratic Party--El Hadj
Omar Bongo
Vice President--Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge
Prime Minister, Head of Government--Jean Eyeghe Ndong
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Jean Ping
Ambassador to the United States--Jules Marius Ogouebandja
Ambassador to the United Nations--Denis Dangue-Rewaka

Gabon maintains an embassy in the United States at 2034 20th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-797-1000).

Gabon's economy is dominated by oil. Oil revenues comprise 65% of the
Government of Gabon budget, 43% of gross domestic product (GDP), and 81% of
exports. Oil production is now declining rapidly from its high point of
370,000 barrels per day in 1997. In spite of the decreasing oil revenues,
little planning has been done for an after-oil scenario. Gabon public
expenditures from the years of significant oil revenues were not spent
efficiently. Overspending on the Transgabonais railroad, the oil price shock
of 1986, the CFA franc devaluation of 1994, and low oil prices in the late
1990s caused serious debt problems. Gabon has earned a poor reputation with
the Paris Club and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the management
of its debt and revenues. Successive IMF missions have criticized the
government for overspending on off-budget items (in good years and bad),
over-borrowing from the Central Bank, and slipping on the schedule for
privatization and administrative reform. In September 2005, Gabon
successfully concluded a 15-month Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF. Gabon
seeks a multi-year successor arrangement.

Gabon's oil revenues have given it a strong per capita GDP of $7,200,
extremely high for the region. On the other hand, a skewed income
distribution and poor social indicators are evident. The richest 20% of the
population receives over 90% of the income, and about a third of Gabonese
live in poverty. The economy is highly dependent on extraction of abundant
primary materials. After oil, logging and manganese mining are the other
major sectors. Foreign and Gabonese observers have consistently lamented the
lack of transformation of primary materials in the Gabonese economy. Various
factors have so far stymied more diversification--small market of 1 million
people, dependence on French imports, inability to capitalize on regional
markets, lack of entrepreneurial zeal among the Gabonese, and the fairly
regular stream of oil "rent". The small processing and service sectors are
largely dominated by just a few prominent local investors. At World Bank and
IMF insistence, the government embarked on a program of privatization of its
state-owned companies and administrative reform, including reducing public
sector employment and salary growth, but progress has been slow.

Gabon has a small, professional military of about 10,000 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 well-trained, well-equipped 1,500-member guard provides
security for the president.

Gabon has followed a nonaligned policy, advocating dialogue in international
affairs and recognizing both parts of divided countries. Since 1973, the
number of countries establishing diplomatic relations with Gabon has doubled.
In inter-African affairs, Gabon espouses development by evolution rather than
revolution and favors regulated free enterprise as the system most likely to
promote rapid economic growth. Concerned about stability in Central Africa
and the potential for intervention, Gabon has been directly involved with
mediation efforts in Chad, the Central African Republic, Angola, Congo/
Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. In December
1999, through the mediation efforts of President Bongo, a peace accord was
signed in Congo/Brazzaville between the government and most leaders of an
armed rebellion. President Bongo has remained involved in the continuing
Congolese peace process, and has also played a role in mediating the crisis
in Cote d'Ivoire. Gabon has been a strong proponent of regional stability,
and Gabonese armed forces played an important role in the Central African
Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) mission to the Central African

Gabon is a member of the UN and some of its specialized and related agencies,
as well as of the World Bank; the African Union (AU); the Central African
Customs Union/Central African Economic and Monetary Community (UDEAC/CEMAC);
EU/ACP association under the Lome Convention; the Communaute Financiere
Africaine (CFA); the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); and the
Nonaligned Movement. Gabon withdrew from the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1995.

Relations between the United States and Gabon are excellent. In 1987,
President Bongo made an official visit to Washington, DC. In September 2002,
Secretary of State Colin Powell made a brief but historic visit to Gabon to
highlight environmental protection and conservation in the Central Africa
region. This was followed by a visit to the White House by President Bongo in
May 2004. The United States imports a considerable percentage of Gabonese
crude oil and manganese and exports heavy construction equipment, aircraft,
and machinery to Gabon. Through a modest International Military Education and
Training program, the United States provides military training to members of
the Gabonese armed forces each year. U.S. private capital has been attracted
to Gabon since before its independence.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--R. Barrie Walkley
Deputy Chief of Mission--Katherine Dhanani
Management Officer--Mark Moody
Public Affairs/Economic/Commercial Officer--Michael Garcia
Consular Officer--Bridgette Anderson

The U.S. Embassy is located on the Blvd. de la Mer, B.P. 4000, Libreville,
Gabon (tel: 241-762-003/004; fax: 241-745-507).

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at For
additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
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