General background: Ruled by autocratic presidents
since independence from France in 1960, Gabon introduced
a multiparty system and a new constitution in the early
1990s that allowed for a more transparent electoral
process and for reforms of governmental institutions.
A small population, abundant natural resources, and
considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon
one of the more prosperous black African countries.
Area comparative: Slightly smaller than Colorado
Climate: Tropical; always hot, humid
Terrain: Narrow coastal plain; hilly interior;
savanna in east and south
Ethnic groups: Bantu tribes including four major
tribal groupings (Fang, Bapounou, Nzebi, Obamba), other
Africans and Europeans 154,000, including 10,700 French
and 11,000 persons of dual nationality
Religions: Christian 55%-75%, animist, Muslim
less than 1%
Language: French (official), Fang, Myene, Nzebi,
Government type: Republic; multiparty presidential
regime (opposition parties legalized in 1990)
Legal system: Based on French civil law system
and customary law; judicial review of legislative acts
in Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court; has
not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.
Economic overview: Gabon enjoys a per capita
income four times that of most nations of sub-Saharan
Africa. This has supported a sharp decline in extreme
poverty; yet 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 oil sector now accounts for
50% of GDP. Gabon continues to face fluctuating prices
for its oil, timber, and manganese exports. Despite
the abundance of natural wealth, the economy is hobbled
by poor fiscal management. In 1992, the fiscal deficit
widened to 2.4% of GDP, and Gabon failed to settle arrears
on its bilateral debt, leading to a cancellation of
rescheduling agreements with official and private creditors.
Devaluation of its Francophone currency by 50% on 12
January 1994 sparked a one-time inflationary surge,
to 35%; the rate dropped to 6% in 1996. The IMF provided
a one-year standby arrangement in 1994-95, a three-year
Enhanced Financing Facility (EFF) at near commercial
rates beginning in late 1995, and stand-by credit of
$119 million in October 2000. Those agreements mandate
progress in privatisation and fiscal discipline. France
provided additional financial support in January 1997
after Gabon had met IMF targets for mid-1996. In 1997,
an IMF mission to Gabon criticized the government for
overspending on off-budget items, over-borrowing from
the central bank, and slipping on its schedule for privatisation
and administrative reform. The rebound of oil prices
in 1999-2000 helped growth, but drops in production
hampered Gabon from fully realizing potential gains.
In December 2000, Gabon signed a new agreement with
the Paris Club to reschedule its official debt. A follow-up
bilateral repayment agreement with the US was signed
in December 2001.
Communication/Telephone system: Adequate service
by African standards and improving with the help of
the growing mobile cell system.
Places of interest: Beautiful rainforests, teeming
Travel tips: Gabon's roads are not in the best
of conditions and once you get off the main roads and
railways, getting around is a hard slog.