Currently viewing country profile for Gabon
Gabon is one of West Africa's more stable countries. Since independence from France in 1960 Gabon has had just two presidents. Its late leader, President Omar Bongo, was in power for over four decades.
Despite being made up of more than 40 ethnic groups, Gabon has escaped the strife afflicting other West African states.
his is partly down to its relative prosperity due to oil and to the presence of French troops, which in 1964 reinstated President Leon Mba after he had been overthrown in a coup.
Gabon's dependence on oil has made its economy - and political stability - hostage to fluctuations in oil prices. When oil prices fell in the late 1980s, opposition to President Bongo increased, culminating in demonstrations in 1990.
These ushered in political liberalisation. A multi-party system was introduced in 1991.
Government critics have pointed to the wealth gap between the urban elite and the rural poor.
Thanks to its oil exports and a small population it enjoys more wealth per head of population than many of its neighbours. However, most of its people live in poverty.
As oil reserves diminish, eco-tourism could grow in economic importance. Gabon's rainforests teem with wildlife, including lowland gorillas and forest elephants. National parks make up around one tenth of the land area.
- Full name: The Gabonese Republic
- Population: 1.5 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Libreville
- Area: 267,667 sq km (103,347 sq miles)
- Major languages: French, Bantu-group languages
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 64 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc = 100 centimes
- Main exports: Crude oil, timber, manganese, uranium
- GNI per capita: US $7,370 (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .ga
- International dialling code: +241
President: Ali Ben Bongo
Ali Ben Bongo was declared the winner of the presidential election on 3 September 2009. He had been widely tipped to succeed his father, Omar Bongo, who died in June after 42 years in power.
At the time of his death, Omar Bongo was Africa's longest-serving head of state, having led Gabon since he succeeded the post-independence leader Leon Mba in 1967.
Omar Bongo portrayed himself as the custodian of Gabon's political stability and was credited with encouraging foreign investment. His critics accused him of having authoritarian tendencies.
Opponents of the late president have long accused the Bongo family of running the country as their private property. Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his time in office, and was accused of embezzling oil revenues and bribery.
Opposition leaders denounced his son's election as a fraud, saying that the poll had been fixed in order to ensure a dynastic succession.
Though the election result was confirmed by Gabon's Constitutional Court, opposition leaders continued to dispute it, describing Ali Bongo's victory as "a constitutional coup d'etat".
Born in 1959 in Brazzaville, Ali Ben Bongo was educated in France from the age of nine and graduated from the Sorbonne with a PhD in law.
He entered politics in 1981 and became foreign affairs minister in 1989, but was forced to stand down in 1991 because he was too young. He later served as defence minister from 1999 to 2009.
Both he and his father converted to Islam in 1973, when Ali Ben changed his name from Alain Bernard Bongo.
He is said to be a gifted musician - inheriting his talent from his mother, the Gabonese singer Patience Dabany - and is also a passionate football fan, something he shares with many of his countrymen.
Gabon's main broadcast media are government-controlled.
Rights organisation Reporters Without Borders noted in 2006 that "the powerful state press spend a lot of energy in discrediting not only opposition parties but also the independent press."
There is one government daily and a number of private weeklies, many controlled by opposition parties. There are a few private broadcasters.
Gabon's national state broadcaster operates two TV stations, a French-language radio network and a network of provincial stations.
Radio France Internationale is available via an FM relay.
- L'Union - government daily
- Le Temps - private weekly
- Le Temoin - private weekly
- La Lowe - private weekly
- Le Journal - private, bi-monthly
- La Relance - private weekly
- Radiodiffusion-Television Gabonaise - state-run, operates two channels
- TeleAfrica - private
- TV Sat - pay-TV operator
- Radiodiffusion-Television Gabonaise - state-run, operates two networks
- Africa No1 - pan-African broadcaster based in Gabon, heard across Africa on shortwave and on FM relays in many cities; French concerns have a financial stake
A chronology of key events:
1470 - Portuguese arrive in what is now Gabon.
1839 - Local Mpongwe ruler signs away sovereignty to the French.
1910 - Gabon becomes part of French Equatorial Africa.
1958 - Gabon votes to become autonomous republic in the French Community.
1960 - Gabon becomes independent.
1961 - Leon Mba elected president.
1964 - French forces restore Mba's presidency after crushing military coup.
1967 - Bongo becomes president after Mba dies.
1973 - Bongo converts to Islam and assumes the first name of Omar.
1990 - Opposition parties legalised, accuse the government of fraud in parliamentary elections held in September and October.
1991 - Parliament adopts a new constitution that formalises the multi-party system.
1993 - Omar Bongo narrowly wins presidential election, the first held under the new multi-party constitution; opposition accuses government of electoral fraud.
1996 - Governing Gabonese Democratic Party wins significant majority in parliamentary elections.
1998 - Bongo re-elected to a seven-year term.
2002 January - Ruling Gabonese Democratic Party retains a convincing majority in parliamentary elections.
2003 July - Constitution changed to allow President Bongo to run for president as many times as he wishes.
2004 February - French oil firm Total signs deal to export Gabonese oil to China.
2004 September - Agreement signed with Chinese company to exploit around one billion tonnes of iron ore.
2005 November - Omar Bongo is re-elected as president. Opposition supporters clash with police in the capital.
2006 February - Gabon and Equatorial Guinea agree to start talks over disputed islands in potentially oil-rich waters in the Gulf of Guinea.
2006 December - President Bongo's party wins parliamentary elections comfortably amid opposition accusations of fraud.
2008 January - Government temporarily bans 20 non-governmental organisations for alleged interference in politics.
2009 February - French court freezes President Omar Bongo's bank accounts in the country after he was ordered to return a payment made to him to release a jailed French businessman, Rene Cardona.
2009 June - President Omar Bongo dies while undergoing treatment at a clinic in Spain.
2009 September - Ali Ben Bongo, son of late president, named winner of August election. Critics say poll was fixed to ensure dynastic succession. Opposition supporters clash with security forces.
2010 August - Gabon marks 50 years of independence.
Bongo says France no longer its exclusive parter, as Gabon signs deals with India and Singapore for major infrastructure projects.
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