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Brief History

Gabon, officially known as the Gabonese Republic, has been ruled by only two autocratic presidents since its independence from France on August 17, 1960. The first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, was Léon M’ba who executed a dictatorial regime. An army coup sought to oust him from power and restore parliamentary democracy, however, after a few days of fighting, the coup was over and the opposition imprisoned. When M'Ba died in 1967, Bongo replaced him as president, serving for more than four decades and introducing a nominal multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s. When he died in 2009, Ali Ben Bongo –his son- was brought to power. Gabon remains one of the more prosperous and stable African countries. In January 2010, Gabon assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2010-2011 term.

Geography

Gabon, capital Libreville, is located in Western Africa covering an area of 267,667 square kilometers. It shares borders with the Gulf of Guinea to the west, Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, and Cameroon to the north, with the Republic of the Congo curving around the east and south. Gabon has the moist, hot climate typical of tropical regions; the hottest month is January. Rainforests cover 85% of the country. Gabon's largest river is the Ogooué which is 1200 km long. It has three karst areas where there are hundreds of caves located in the dolomite and limestone rocks. The natural resources that Gabon is rich in include petroleum, natural gas, diamond, niobium, manganese, uranium, gold, timber, iron ore, and hydropower.

People

Gabon has a population of 1,545,255 (2010). Almost all Gabonese are of Bantu origin, though Gabon has at least forty ethnic groups with diverse languages and cultures. Batnu tribes include four major tribal groupings that are Fang, Bapounou, Nzebi, and Obamba. Others include Africans and Europeans. The official language is French, and there are other spoken languages as Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, and Bandjabi. The literacy rate is 63.2% (1995) and the unemployment rate is 21% (2006). Its religions are distributed among 55%-75% Christians, animist, and Muslims (less than 1%).

Government

The government of Gabon is subject to a republic system. It legal system is based on French civil law system and customary law. It has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. Following the death of President Bondo on June 8, 2009, his son Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba was brought to power since October 16, 2009 by elections held on August 30, 2009. The head of government, appointed by the president, is Prime Minister Paul Biyoghemba since July 15, 2009. The official currency is the Central African CFA franc, where 534 francs are equivalent to US$1.

Economy

Gabon's per capita income is over four times that of most sub-Saharan African countries, but because of high income inequality, a large proportion of the population remains poor. Despite the abundance of natural wealth, poor fiscal management hobbles the economy.Gabon depended on timber and manganese until oil was discovered offshore in the early 1970s.The Gabon oil industry is the key to the economy of the country and is its most important natural resource. Gabon is the fourth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa and has the region’s third largest oil reserves. In particular, the upstream oil industry is its major source of foreign exchange, accounting for the majority of all exports; it now accounts for more than 50% of GDP. Other industries include manganese, gold; chemicals, ship repair, food and beverages, textiles, lumbering and plywood, and cement.

Gabon remains heavily reliant on its natural resources. Potash, uranium, columbium (niobium), iron ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, marble, and phosphate have also been discovered, and several deposits were being exploited commercially. It is an exporter of manganese, iron, and wood. Planned efforts to exploit rich iron deposits north-east of Makokou are expected to begin in 2012.The country also has a wealth of agricultural and fishery resources but these have been largely neglected and are therefore underdeveloped. Most of the population relies on subsistence farming, although complications such as tsetse fly make farming difficult in some areas. Still, agriculture accounts for 98% of the GDP and emplys 60% of the labor force. Agricultural products produce cocoa, coffee, sugar, palm oil, rubber; cattle, okoume (a tropical softwood), and fish.

Gabon signed a 14-month Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF in May 2007, and received Paris Club debt rescheduling later that year.The inflation rate is 1.9% (2009), and the country’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is estimated to be US$ 7,243.43 (2010).


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