Gabon is a central African country rich is natural resources. It is bordered by Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. With a population of 1.7 million over a surface area of 268,000 square kilometers, Gabon is a sparsely populated country with forests covering 85% of the territory.
It possesses one of the highest urbanization rates in Africa with more than four in five Gabonese citizens living in urban areas. The capital, Libreville, along with Port Gentil, the economic capital of the country, is home to 59% of the population. One in two Gabonese citizens is under the age of 20, and the fertility rate in urban areas stands at almost four children per woman, against six in rural areas according to the 2012 Second Demographic and Health Survey conducted in Gabon.
The Gabonese Democratic Party (Parti démocratique gabonais or PDG) dominates the political landscape. Omar Bongo held the presidency from 1968 to 2009, and his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, won the presidential elections in August 2009, against a backdrop of social crisis. The opposition boycotted the legislative elections in 2011. It competed in both the municipal and departmental elections held in December 2013, and the Senate election held in December 2014. Still, all these elections were won by the party in power.
On August 31, 2016 the Minister of Interior announced that President Bongo had been re-elected with 49.8% of the votes according to provisional results. Jean Ping received 48.23% of the votes. The participation rate was 59.26%. The opposition representatives refused to validate the results. The country went through a political turmoil that lead to violent clashes, shut down of telecommunications and series of demonstrations both inside and outside the country
On September 23, 2016, the Constitutional Court confirmed the presidential election results. Ali Bongo during a live TV declaration announced that he is in favor of peace and reaches out to the other parties for discussions. The situation remains tense.
Gabon is an upper-middle-income country. The fifth largest oil producer in Africa, it has experienced strong economic growth over the past decade, driven in particular by oil and manganese production. On average, over the past five years, the oil sector has accounted for 80% of exports, 45% of GDP, and 60% of budget revenue. However, the country is facing a decline in its oil reserves. The Gabonese government has therefore based its new strategy on economic diversification.
Gabon’s GDP growth rate slowed down to 3.9% in 2015, despite an attempt to compensate protracted low oil prices by ramping up production. Crude oil production, after a sustained decline in 2013 and 2014, increased from 80 to 87 million barrels between 2014 and 2015. The fiscal situation worsened in 2015, with Gabon recording a fiscal deficit for the first time since 1998, despite government’s attempts to rein in expenditure and mitigate the decline in oil revenue.
The fiscal picture will further deteriorate in 2016 with a deficit of 2.7% of GDP as oil production declines and prices remain low, before the deficit progressively decreases to 1.8% in 2018 as non-oil revenues kick in. The 2016 budget contains measures to adjust to this decline in revenues. To rein in expenditure, the Government of Gabon is planning sharp cuts on most sectors, with a lot of the adjustment falling on health and infrastructure; given the current low allocation to social sectors (including health), this could threaten the Gabon’s ability to significantly improve social outcomes.
In spite of expected lower oil prices economic prospects remains positive over the medium term. The non-oil economy (mainly manganese, wood-processing, agribusiness and services) will continue to be the major drivers of growth in the forthcoming years. In mining, the Moanda-Franceville metallurgic cluster which started in 2015 will boost manganese production. In agriculture and fisheries, the public-private partnership with Singapore-based OLAM is expected to increase palm oil, rubber, and fishing outputs. The public-private partnership with Mauritius-based Tropical Holdings will also increase the fishery sector value chain. Total GDP growth is projected to reach 5.4% on average in 2016-2017. Given the decline in oil prices, inflation is expected to remain in average at 2.5% in 2016-2017.
The poor quality of Gabon’s business climate stands as a major challenge to the diversification of its economy. Gabon ranked 162 out of 189 in the 2016 Doing Business report. The government’s strategy for the promotion of non-oil sectors has so far been based on the granting of specific incentives to foreign investors. A recent World Bank policy note has highlighted the importance of improving human capital, building a fair and transparent business environment, and improving the quality and cost of core infrastructure, as critical building blocks for economic and export diversification. Recent measures adopted by the government to improve the business climate include the creation of a one-stop shop for investors; the adoption of a public-private partnership (PPP) framework, the creation of a domestic arbitration court, and the adoption of codes for hydrocarbons and mining.
A 2013 McKinsey report suggests that about 30% of the population remains vulnerable, living with monthly incomes below the guaranteed minimum wage of FCFA 80,000. The study further states that the social situation has deteriorated in terms of access to basic social services (e.g. health care, drinking water, and electricity) in 60% of the regions. On the basis of this report, the Government of Gabon organized a large-scale national consultation, ‘Assises Sociales’ in 2014 to define Gabon’s human investment strategy (SIHG). The new social policy that will be the top priority of the government that was appointed in late January 2014 has three objectives: (i) assist the most vulnerable populations (elders, orphans, disabled…), through integrated social programs; (ii) help low-income people develop income-generating activities and (iii) reduce inequalities in access to basic public services. Gabon occupies the 110th place out of 188 in the 2015 United Nations Human Development Index.
Even though the primary enrollment rate at 96.4%, one of the highest in Africa, the education system remains characterized by a high repetition rate and a low primary completion rate (37.2%).
The weakness of the statistical system is another challenge that Gabon needs to address, especially in the current context of oil price decline where knowing the social impact of the on-going adjustments of the public sector is paramount. Reliable data on poverty and income distribution is not available and latest national accounts date back to 2010. Furthermore, the consumer price index is still based on a household consumption structure from a 2003 survey.
Last Updated: Oct 11, 2016