Gabon -- Geography--
Official name: Gabonese Republic
Capital city: Libreville
Vernacular languages: Fang, Myene
Official currency: Central African CFA franc
Religions: Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam
Provinces and departments: 9 provinces, 37 departments
Population: 1,514,993 (2009 est.)
Land area: 267.667 sq km
Landforms: This West African country with the Atlantic as its western border is also bounded by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and the Congo. Its area is slightly less than Colorado's. Most of the country is covered by a dense tropical forest.
Climate: tropical; always hot, humid
Gabon -- History --
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Pygmy peoples. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes as they migrated.
In the 15th century, the first Europeans arrived. The nation's present name originates from "Gabão", Portuguese for "cloak", which is roughly the shape of the estuary of the Komo River by Libreville. French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza led his first mission to the Gabon-Congo area in 1875. He founded the town of Franceville, and was later colonial governor. Several Bantu groups lived in the area that is now Gabon when France officially occupied it in 1885.
In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959. These territories became independent on August 17, 1960. The first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, was Léon M’ba, with Omar Bongo Ondimba as his vice president. French interests were decisive in selecting the future leadership in Gabon after Independence; French logging interests poured funds into the successful election campaign of M'ba, an 'evolue' from the coastal region. After M'ba's accession to power, the press was suppressed, political demonstrations banned, freedom of expression curtailed, other political parties gradually excluded from power and the Constitution changed along French lines to vest power in the Presidency, a post that M'ba assumed himself. However, when M'ba dissolved the National Assembly in January 1964 to institute one-party rule, an army coup sought to oust him from power and restore parliamentary democracy. The extent to which M'ba's dictatorial regime was synonymous with "French Interests" then became blatantly apparent when French paratroopers flew in within 24 hours to restore M'ba to power. After a few days of fighting, the coup was over and the opposition imprisoned, despite widespread protests and riots. The French government was unperturbed by international condemnation of the intervention; and paratroops still remain in the Camp de Gaulle on the outskirts of Gabon's capital.
When M'Ba died in 1967, Bongo replaced him as president, and continued to be the head of state until his death in 2009, winning each contested election with a substantial majority.
Gabon -- Economy --
Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most of sub-Saharan African nations. 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, poor fiscal management hobbles the economy. Devaluation of its currency by 50% in 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 privatization 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, overborrowing from the central bank, and slipping on its schedule for privatization 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. Gabon signed a 14 month Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF in May 2004, and received Paris Club debt rescheduling later that year. Short-term progress depends on an upbeat world economy and fiscal and other adjustments in line with IMF policies.
Cabon -- Culture --
Gabon is an African country whose musical output is little-known in comparison with regional giants like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon. The country boasts an array of folk styles, as well as pop stars like Patience Dabany (who now lives in the US). Dabany's albums, though recorded in Los Angeles, have a distinctively Gabonese element and are popular throughout Francophone Africa. Other musicians include guitarists like Georges Oyendze, La Rose Mbadou and Sylvain Avara, and the singer Oliver N'Goma. Imported rock and hip hop from the US and UK are popular in Gabon, as are rumba, makossa and soukous.
Gabonese folk instruments include the obala.
The history of modern Gabonese music did not begin until about 1974, when the blind guitarist and singer Pierre Akendengue released his first album. He was classically trained in Europe, and his compositions reflect the influence of Western classical music. Akendengue's European career started after being treated for eye disease at a hospital in Paris. He stayed, and studied at the Petit Conservatoire. By the 1970s, he was at the forefront of a wave of popular Francophone African music stars, beginning with the release of Nandipo in 1974. Akendegue was supported by Pierre Barouh, a powerful man in the French music industry, responsible for launching the careers of Brigitte Fontaine and Jacques Higelin, among others. Akendegue came to be seen as a spokesperson for the Gabonese people, and for the poor and dispossessed of all Africa. After spending twenty years in France, Akendegue returned to Gabon despite concerns over government censorship of his music. He wound up being appointed a government advisor.
The 1980s saw the formation of Africa No. 1, a radio station devoted to African music, and the opening of the first Gabonese recording studio, Studio Mademba. Musicians from across Africa and even in the Caribbean travelled to Libreville to record.
Though Libreville was producing enough pan-African hits in the 80s to rival cities like Abidjan and Johannesburg for popular music, the end of the decade saw the music scene die out.
Any discussion of Gabonese music must include the sacred music of the Bwiti whether attributed to the Mitsogo or the Fang or other peoples. The french ethnographer Bureau sets the stage when he states, "Gabon is to Africa what Tibet is to Asia, the spiritual center of religious initiations". Recent studies have demonstrated the knowledge of the Bwiti on the relationship of the music of iboga to effect the journey of iboga.
A country with a primarily oral tradition up until the spread of literacy in the 21st century, Gabon is rich in folklore and mythology. "Raconteurs" are currently working to keep traditions alive such as the mvett among the Fangs and the ingwala among the Nzebis.
Gabon also features internationally celebrated masks, such as the n'goltang (Fang) and the relicary figures of the Kota. Each group has its own set of masks used for various reasons. They are mostly used in traditional ceremonies such as marriage, birth and funerals. Traditionalists mainly work with rare local woods and other precious materials.
Gabon -- Political system, law and government --
In March 1991, a new constitution was enacted. Among its provisions are a bill of rights, the creation of a body to guarantee those rights (National Council of Democracy) and a governmental advisory board which deals with economic and social issues. Multi-party legislative elections were held in 1990–91 even though opposition parties had not yet been formally declared legal.
President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, in power from 1967 until his death in June 2009, was re-elected to his third consecutive seven-year term on November 27, 2005. According to figures provided by Gabon's Interior Ministry, he received a 79.1% majority of votes. Succeeding Bongo as interim president upon his death was Rose Francine Rogombé, President of the Senate of Gabon.
The voting age in Gabon is 21 years of age. In 2003, the President amended the Constitution of Gabon to remove any restrictions on the number of terms a president is allowed to serve. The president retains strong powers, such as authority to dissolve the National Assembly, declare a state of siege, delay legislation, conduct referendums, and appoint or dismiss the prime minister as well as cabinet members. In provisional results, the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) won 84 out of 120 parliamentary seats.
On September 3 2009, the son of Omar Bongo, Ali Ben Bongo, was elected president. As with previous Gabonese elections, the opposition parties have contested the results. There were calls for a boycott and accusations of electoral fraud and bribery. The announcement of the result sparked looting and the torching of the French consulate in Port-Gentil. However, several international observers including the Economic Community of Central African States have reported that the election "met international standards" for democratic voting, and urged the people of Gabon to accept the result. Gabon has a small, professional military of about 5,000 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 1,800-member guard provides security for the president.
In September, 2007, René Ndémezo'o Obiang, the government's spokesperson, announced that Gabon's cabinet council had decided to formally abolish the death penalty, which had not been applied in the country in over a decade.
Gabon placed 8th out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries in the 2008 Ibrahim Index of African Governance. The Ibrahim Index is a comprehensive measure of African governance, based on a number of different variables which reflect the success with which governments deliver essential political goods to its citizens.