Country Profile - Gabon
Country Profile of Gabon
President: Ali Bongo Ondimba
Prime Minister: Daniel Ona Ondo
Land area: 267 667 kilometers squared
Population: 1 672 597; growth-rate 1.94%; birth-rate 34.64/1000; life-expectancy 52.06
Monetary unit: CFA Franc
Languages: French (official), Fang, Myene, Ndzebi, Bapounou, Bondjabi
Ethnicity: Bantu tribes, African and Europeans
Literacy rate: 82.3%
Economic summary: GDP/PPP $34.28billion; real-growth 5.1%; Inflation 7%; Imports $4.76 billion; Exports $8.401 billion.
Agriculture: cocoa, coffee, sugar, palm oil, rubber; cattle; okoume (tropical softwood); fish.
Gabon is bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north by Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, and to the east and south by the Congo. The 800km-long sandy coastal strip is a series of palm-fringed bays, lagoons and estuaries. The lush tropical vegetation which covers about 82% of the interior gives way in parts to the savannah. There are many rivers and they remain the main communication routes along which settlements have grown.
Gabon was first explored by the Portuguese navigator Diego Cam in the 15th century. In 1472, the Portuguese explorers encountered the mouth of the Como River and named it “Rio de Gabao,” river of Gabon, which later became the name of the country. The Dutch began arriving in 1593 and the French in 1630 then in 1839; the French founded their first settlement on the left bank of the Gabon estuary and gradually occupied the hinterland during the second half of the 19th century. The land became a French territory in 1888, an autonomous republic within the French Union after World War II, and an independent republic on Aug. 17, 1960.
Albert-Bernard Bongo became Gabon's second president after Leon M'ba in 1967. He changed his name to Omar in 1973, upon converting to Islam. Strikes and riots led to a transitional constitution in May 1990, legalizing political parties and calling for free elections. In Gabon's first multiparty election in Dec. 1993, Bongo received just over 51% of the vote, while the opposition candidate alleged fraud and tried to establish a rival government.
In Dec. 1998, President Bongo, who had by then ruled the country for 31 years, was elected for an additional seven. Gabon lacks roads, schools, and adequate health care.
Despite his reputation for corruption and authoritarianism, Bongo enjoyed a strong national following. In July 2003, the country's constitution was changed, allowing Bongo to be re-elected indefinitely; that year, he changed his name again, to El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba. In Dec. 2005, he was re-elected for another seven-year term.
Bongo died in June 2009. He was Africa's longest-serving head of state, having been in office since 1967. Bongo's son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, won presidential elections in September 2009. The opposition contested the results, calling the race "a constitutional coup d'etat" and an attempt to preserve the Bongo political dynasty. Gabon's Constitutional Court certified the results.
The current President of Gabon is Ali Bongo Ondimba and the Prime Minister is Daniel Ona Ondo. The Capital city is Libreville and with Gabon playing home to over 1.6 million people it uses the CFA Franc as their monetary unit. The official language spoken is French!
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 depended on timber and manganese until oil was discovered offshore in the early 1970s. The economy was reliant on oil for about 50% of its GDP, about 70% of revenues, and 87% of goods exports for 2010, although some fields have passed their peak production. A rebound of oil prices from 1999 to 2008 helped growth, but declining production has hampered Gabon from fully realising potential gains.
An estimated 90% of Gabonese has access to health care services provided by the government. Moreover, 70% of Gabonese has access to safe drinking water and when it comes to adequate sanitation, there is an estimated 21%. With the government’s comprehensive health care programmes and activities, people suffering from diseases like leprosy, malaria, sleeping disorders, intestinal worms, tuberculosis, and others are provided with medical care.
Many nature lovers well acquainted with the African continent consider Gabon a rare and exotic tropical gem, yet tourism here still remains relatively undeveloped. Wildlife rich forests cover 70% of Gabon's landmass, its vast picturesque coastline is predominantly wild and unspoiled, and its inland and coastal waters teem with myriad species of fish, reptiles and marine mammals.