Gabon, in the long form of the Gabonese Republic, is a country located in central Africa, crossed by the equator, bordering on the east, south-east and south of the Republic of Congo, in the north-north-west of Equatorial Guinea and north of Cameroon. Former French colony, Gabon has been independent since August 17, 1960. It is a forest country where the flora and fauna are still well preserved and protected in thirteen national parks, including the Lopé National Park, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. A small population, large forest resources and abundant oil have made Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. It is, in fact, the country with the highest human development index in sub-Saharan Africa according to the United Nations, with the second income per capita behind Equatorial Guinea and ahead of Botswana. The GDP increased by more than 6% per year for the period 2010-2012. However, due to the inequality in the distribution of income, a significant proportion of the population remains poor.
Geological and paleontological history Franceville fossil group. Gabon harbors the oldest traces of multicellular life known to date. They date back 2.1 billion years and were discovered in the Francevillien in the Franceville region in 2008. In June 2014, the CNRS announced the discovery of new macroscopic fossils up to 17 cm in size and confirmed the age of the fossil deposit at 2.1 billion years. Prehistory and protohistory Regarding the human aspect, there are traces of a prehistoric settlement in Gabon dating back 400,000 years and continuing until the Iron Age. The current Pygmies, who would come from this settlement, are the first known inhabitants of what is currently Gabon. Hunter-gatherers, they settled around 5,000 years before our era. A wave of Bantu settlement follows them. The Bantu having themselves left 5,000 years ago from the Sahelian zone in the process of drying up, their expansion towards the south and the east dates from approximately 1,000 or 2,000 years before our ere. Unlike the Pygmies, the Bantu peoples are semi-sedentary and practice animal husbandry; they also master metallurgy from the 1st millennium BC. When they arrived in Gabon, they therefore found a pygmy settlement on the spot.
Settlement of Gabon Later, the Mpongwes (of the Bantus) settled between the 11th century and the 18th century in the area of the current province of the Estuary. The settlement of Gabon continued until the sixteenth century both from the north via the Ivindo valley (Mitsogos, Okandés, Bakotas …) and from the south (Échiras, Punus, Balumbus, Nzebi, Adoumas …) The Fangs, them also Bantu, settled progressively until the course of the 19th century. Arrival of Europeans The settlement of Gabon is therefore constituted by successive waves of immigration, until the nineteenth century, from Pygmies then more massively from Bantus, nowadays the majority. It was during this process that the first Europeans and Portuguese landed in the fifteenth century. The name of Gabon comes from these early settlers; Gabão in Portuguese means “caban”, in relation to the shape of the Estuary which borders the coasts of Libreville. According to the dictionary of the origin of the names and nicknames of the African countries of Arol Ketchiemen, it is however very likely that the name “Gabon” was borrowed from the local African populations. The Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, engage in the slave trade, trading with the coastal chiefs and in particular the Mpongwes, established in the Komos estuary and the Orungus, established in the Ogooué delta. The slaves were first destined for the plantations of Sao Tomé before trade with America developed. Trade also concerns rubber, wood, ivory … During this period, which extends to the 19th century, Europeans do not seek to penetrate the country; they established settlements and forts in the littoral zone and relations with the interior of the country passed through the coastal peoples.
French colonization France gradually occupied Gabon from the middle of the 19th century, after a treaty signed with “King Denis” in 1839. Explorers began to penetrate the hinterland (such as the Franco-American Paul Belloni Du Chaillu, who gave his name in the Chaillu massif, or Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza which goes up the course of the Ogooué in 1874, then 1876-1878 and 1879-1882). In 1886, Gabon became a colony which, in 1888, was merged with that of the Congo under the name of Gabon-Congo then, in 1898, of French Congo. In 1904, following a decree of December 29, 1903, Gabon again became a separate colony, the rest of French Congo forming the two colonies of Moyen-Congo and d’Oubangui-Chari and the military territory of Chad. In 1910, the colonies of Gabon and Congo were integrated into French Equatorial Africa20. In 1940, Gabon was first held by Vichy forces, but after the brief Gabon campaign, it passed, with the AEF, into the camp of Free France. Its colonial leaders were then interned. In 1946, Gabon became an overseas territory. In October 1958, the French Community being newly created, the Government Council of Gabon, relying on article 76 of the new Constitution of the Fifth Republic (version of 1958), requests the transformation of Gabon into a French department. Léon Mba, president of this Council, instructs Louis Sanmarco, colonial administrator, to present the request to the metropolitan government. Sanmarco receives an end of non-reception, General de Gaulle not being favorable, to the chagrin of Léon Mba.
Independence On August 17, 1960, like the vast majority of French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, Gabon gained independence. Independence contrary to the wish of its Prime Minister Léon Mba, who had asked that it become a French overseas department; the latter became its first president1. He will be supported by France who will even ensure his military maintenance in power (intervention by the French army in 1964 for his benefit), this until his death in 1967 where he is replaced by his chief of staff, Albert-Bernard Bongo, later called “Omar Bongo Ondimba”. President Bongo established monopartism with the creation of the Gabonese Democratic Party. The exploitation of the country’s natural wealth (wood, minerals and especially oil) ensures relative prosperity in Gabon; President Bongo becomes a very courted head of state, notably by France, who makes him one of his safest African allies. In exchange for the support of the Elysee Palace, which can intervene to dismiss him, Bongo agrees to make available to France part of the wealth of Gabon and in particular its oil and uranium, strategic resources. On international political issues, Gabon aligns itself with Paris.
In 1968, Omar Bongo, still under the influence of Jacques Foccart, was forced by France to recognize the pseudo-independence of Biafra (south-eastern Nigeria). He must even accept that Libreville airport be used as a hub for arms deliveries operated in favor of Colonel Ojukwu (the secessionist leader of Biafra). It will also be from Gabon that the mercenaries of Bob Denard will try to destabilize the Marxist-Leninist regime in Benin. At the end of the 1980s, the drop in oil prices plunged Gabon into a serious economic crisis, prompting the population to multiply social and political demands. A national conference was held in March-April 1990. At the end of this, and of demonstrations, important political reforms were adopted, including the creation of a national senate, the decentralization of finances, the freedom of assembly and the press, the abolition of the compulsory exit visa and multiparty politics. The first multi-party legislative elections in almost thirty years took place in September-October 1990. After this national conference, in the context of elections where he is no longer the only candidate, Omar Bongo was re-elected in 1993, 1998 and 2005, albeit under conditions that were often contested. On September 3, 2009, Ali Bongo, Minister of Defense and son of Omar Bongo, became the third president of Gabon, elected on the basis of a single-ballot majority vote, with 41.79% of the votes cast, i.e. approximately 141,000 votes out of a total of 800,000 registered voters. He is ahead of Pierre Mamboundou, credited with 25.64% of the vote, and André Mba Obame, the new Gabonese opposition leader and former Minister of the Interior. The results are strongly disputed and following strong suspicions of fraud, riots break out and are violently suppressed by the police, loyal to power.
Subsequently, several surveys attest that the scores were rigged. In a documentary broadcast on France 2 in December 2010, diplomat Michel de Bonnecorse, former Africa adviser to President Jacques Chirac, confirms this version of the facts. The American ambassador Charles Rivkin, in a telegram transmitted in November 2009 to the Secretary of State, also confirms it: “October 2009, Ali Bongo reverses the counting of votes and declares himself president”. On August 31, 2016, following new presidential elections, the electoral commission announced that Ali Bongo won the ballot with five thousand votes. The opposition immediately denounces these results. Riots even more brutally suppressed than those of 2009 broke out, with the culmination of the attack on the opposition headquarters by the presidential guard which left many dead. On September 24, 2016, Ali Bongo was proclaimed victorious by the Constitutional Court with 50.66% of the votes, followed by Jean Ping with 47.24% of the votes. On February 2, 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution declaring that the presidential results “lack transparency” and are “extremely doubtful” 36. On January 7, 2019, a unit of mutineer soldiers, claiming the state of health of Ali Bongo, recovering from a stroke, briefly took control of Radio Gabon and transmitted a call for uprising, in an apparent attempted coup of State. This insurrection failed the same day; out of five mutineers, two are killed and the others arrested. On January 12, a new Prime Minister was appointed, Julien Nkoghe Bekalé. The Gabonese government is experiencing a clan war at the top. Ministerial reshuffles follow one another between January and December 2019, while uncertainty remains about the state of health of Alo Bongo.
Gabon has a hybrid regime. It contains both the characteristics of the presidential and the so-called parliamentary regime. The first president of the Gabonese Republic is Léon Mba in 1960. Omar Bongo becomes the second president of the Gabonese Republic in 1967, with the death of Léon Mba. At the age of 32, he was the youngest head of state in the world. He remained in power from 1967 until his death in 2009. Between 1968 and 1990, the country was under the regime of the single party, the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). A national conference was held in March-April 1990. At the end of this, major political reforms were adopted, including the creation of a national senate, the decentralization of finance, freedom of assembly and of the press. , the abolition of the compulsory exit visa and multiparty politics, with the first multiparty legislative elections in almost thirty years in September-October 1990. Despite this certain democratization, the economic situation of the country hardly changes while Omar Bongo and his presidential party remain in power. He died on June 8, 2009, at the age of 73.The interim is provided by the President of the Senate, Rose Rogombé, until the early election of 2009. Ali Bongo then succeeds his father.
Gabon is a country with a very rich underground. It exports manganese, petroleum (it joined the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1975 and withdrew in 1995 then reinstated the organization in 2016), gas, iron, wood and much other products of its soil and its basement for a long time. Exploitation of the Mounana uranium mines, located 90 km from Franceville, was interrupted in 2001 due to the arrival on the world market of new competitors. The revival of the exploitation of its important uranium deposits is today topical. The train from Franceville to Libreville (the Transgabonais) has been exporting resources from the manganese, uranium and iron mines located in Moanda since the 1980s. The Bélinga iron deposits northeast of Makokou, whose reserves are estimated at one billion tonnes99, are not yet exploited. However, overall, the “oil windfall” has only very partially served to modernize the country and diversify the economy. The country has the highest human development index in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding Mauritius and the Seychelles. As far as continental Africa is concerned, it has the second per capita income behind Equatorial Guinea and ahead of Botswana. GDP per capita is relatively high, ≈ 15 to 16,000 US $ 105 with 73rd place in the world. And, although affected by the international crisis of 2009, Gabon’s GDP has since grown by more than 6% per year for the period 2010-2012. However, due to the inequality in the distribution of income, a significant proportion of the population remains poor. GDP in purchasing power parity places the country in 113th place and the World Bank estimates that in 2005 a third of the population was affected by poverty. From a social point of view, “Gabon is confronted with the socio-economic paradox of belonging by virtue of its per capita GDP to the group of Intermediate Income Countries (PRI) while being similar in terms of its social indicators to the group of Countries Least Developed Countries (LDCs) knowing that the country is also experiencing a high unemployment rate, at 27% of the active population in 2012. Gabonese people must also face the deterioration of access to healthcare, the inadequacy of public services, or recurrent power cuts.
Hydrocarbons account for almost 50% of GDP, 60% of tax revenue and 80% of exports109. Shell Gabon and Total Gabon account for 60% of production. The city of Port-Gentil and its surroundings (cap Lopez) concentrate the major part of petroleum activities (refining, oil pipeline, oil terminal). The second economic sector, by weight in GDP, is that of wood, which represents 13% of exports and 60% of non-oil export earnings. It is, after the State, the largest employer in the country, with 28% of the active population. There are around sixty species of wood exploited, okoumé and ozigo being the two main ones. Gabon is the second world producer of okoumé (after Cameroon) and the first world exporter. Since January 1, 2010, Gabon has prohibited the export of logs to encourage local wood processing. The third economic sector is that of minerals, notably manganese, which represents 4% of the GDP and 6% of the country’s exports. Gabon is the second largest producer of manganese, after China. Gabonese agriculture is poorly developed, most of the agricultural production is subsistence. In 2007, the agricultural sector represented 3.5% of GDP. There is a cocoa-coffee sector inherited from the colonial period; it has been in constant decline since the 1970s. Rubber production has stabilized since the mid-1990s but the level of production is very low (the order of magnitude is 1 to 20) compared to the main producers. As for livestock farming, it is essentially “village”, marketed locally. Finally, Gabon’s fishery potential is high, but under-exploited; Gabonese are the biggest consumers of fish per inhabitant of the sub-region and fishing covers only a third of the needs.
Gabon is part of the “underpopulation zone” of the Gabon-Congo area with a very low population density (5.7 inhabitants / km2 versus 37 inhabitants / km2 for the entire African continent) and significantly lower than average fertility: in 2010 the total fertility rate was 4.6 and the annual growth rate 2%, compared to 5.8 and 2.8% for sub-Saharan Africa. This low fertility, particularly in the east of the country, was one of the reasons for the creation of the “International Center for Medical Research at Franceville” in 1979. The paradox of this sparsely populated country is that half of its population lives in the two big cities (Libreville and Port-Gentil) which gives Gabon one of the highest rates of urbanization in Africa with a concentration of high stand. In comparison, within the country, the density outside the agglomeration is similar to that of the Saharan desert countries, less than 2 inhabitants / km².
Among the Millennium Development Goals, those concerning education (“Ensure primary education for all; promote gender equality and empower women”) are on track to be achieved. In 2010, the “net primary school enrollment rate” reached 94.7% in 2010 and “the gender parity index (GPI) in primary education” stood at 96.7% (2005). The overall literacy rate of the population is one of the highest in the region at 85.4% (in 2005). On the other hand, at the secondary level, the efficiency of the education system is low “marked by high repetition rates (31%) and high dropouts and exclusions (20.1% exclusion rate), all like the results of the national exams (23% success at the BEPC and 30% at the baccalaureate in 2007).
The official language of Gabon is French, which is estimated to be spoken by 80% of the population. This is the highest proportion of all the countries on the African continent. Gabon is a full member of the International Organization of the Francophonie as well as of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie. Before the Second World War, very few Gabonese had learned French and almost everyone who knew French worked in the colonial administration. After the war, France introduced primary education for all in all its African colonies and the 1960 census showed that 47% of Gabonese over the age of fourteen spoke French, even if only 13% could read and write in this language. In the 1990s, the literacy rate reached around 60%. French is the mother tongue of a third of Gabonese. More than 10,000 French people live in Gabon and the influence of France remains predominant economically and culturally. Gabon is home to the first international radio station on the African continent, Africa No. 1, which broadcasts in French. The transmitters are installed in Moyabi, 600 km south of Libreville. About fifty Bantu languages as well as Baka, a Pygmy language, are spoken in Gabon.
Gabon has nearly fifty ethnic groups. None of the Gabonese ethnic groups is in the majority, but the most important from a numerical point of view are: the Fangs (or Ekangs) (32%), present in five of the nine regions, but especially in Woleu-Ntem (north) and in the Estuary (Libreville region) . Mpongwès (Myènes subgroup) (15%) the Obambas (or Mbédés) (14%) Punus (12%). Then come the Guisirs (or Échiras), the Vilis, the Nzebis (or Banzebis or Ndzebis), the Bakotas (or Kotas, Ikotas or Ba-Kotas), the Vungus, the Massangos (or Massangus), the Tekes, the Myenes, etc. Other ethnic groups have only a few hundred individuals. Culturally, some are led to gradually melt into the crowd and lose their language and their peculiarities. It is difficult to give an exhaustive list of ethnic groups because some are only subsets of other groups and it all depends on the level of detail used. Names or spellings may vary to indicate the same ethnicity. Indeed, the prefix Ba is often the mark of the plural in the Bantu languages so that “Bapunu” and “Punu” designate the same ethnic group, considered in the plural or in the singular. We can also find a more or less francized form of the same name; “Punu” and “Pounou” are one and the same word, spelled differently.
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