Gabon has an estimated population of 1.5 million inhabitants, of which more than 75% live in urban areas. The population is young, with 50% under the age of 19.
Gabon was a French colony from 1885 to 1960. The first president of independent Gabon was Mr. Leon M’ba. Upon his death in 1967, he was replaced by then-vice president Mr. Omar Bongo Ondimba who remained in power until his death in June, 2009. At that point, he was the longest-serving head of state in the world, having ruled Gabon uninterruptedly for 42 years. Following President Omar Bongo’s death, presidential elections were held on August 30, 2009. His son Ali Bongo Ondimba, , was declared the winner ballot.
From 1968 to 1990, Gabon was a one-party state. In early 1990, economic discontent and a desire for political liberalization triggered violent demonstrations and strikes by students and workers. This movement led to a number of political reforms, including the creation of a national Senate, decentralization of the budgetary process, freedom of assembly and press, and the cancellation of the exit visa requirement. In 1990, the first multiparty National Assembly elections in almost 30 years also took place.
While Gabon has been politically stable since its independence, the new political era marked by the election of Ali Bongo is characterized by a certain level of political and social uncertainty and unrest. Presidential candidates rejected the results announced by the electoral commission after the August 2009 election, and significant social unrest ensued A poll recount, demanded by the Constitutional Court, upheld the victory of the ruling party’s candidate, and Ali Bongo was sworn in as the third President of Gabon on October 16, 2009. Four years after his election, President Ali Bongo is still contested by a large part of the political opposition. The ruling party, the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), has dominated politics in Gabon since the 1960s. The opposition is fragmented and most parties are either weak or short-lived. A new opposition party, Union Nationale (UN) was created in February 2010 and dissolved in January 2011 following its leader Mba Obame self-proclamation as the country’s rightful president.
With a seven-year mandate, the next presidential election is not due until 2016. The Senate elections are due in January 2015. National Assembly elections were held in December 2011. The PDG won 114 out of 120 seats after opposition leaders called for boycott. Local elections will be held in November 2013. Opposition parties will be participating.
Gabon has played a strategic role in promoting peace and stability in the region. The country’s diplomatic position internationally, however, depended largely on former President Omar Bongo’s personal relations - built over his long reign - with other African and world leaders. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited Gabon in June 2010 and expressed support for the reforms underway since October 2009, in particular initiatives to promote peace and stability.
Gabon is a resource-rich country and the fifth largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite declining oil production and attempts at economic diversification, Gabon remains largely dependent on oil 40 years after the start of oil exploitation. On average over the last five years, the oil sector has accounted for 81% of exports, 45% of gross domestic product (GDP), and 60% of the budget revenue.
The country is also well endowed with arable land, forest, and mineral resources. It has extraordinary biodiversity, as well as rich deposits of magnesium and iron ore. It is Sub-Saharan Africa’s second exporter of manganese.
Following a history of poor economic performance and fiscal management, Gabon’s economic performance has improved over the last five years. Higher oil prices coupled with the government’s commitment to fiscal adjustment and structural reforms have considerably improved economic and financial management. Structural reforms, including privatization, implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), budgetary capacity improvements, and the promotion of an attractive business climate, are on track. However, renewed pressure on expenditures is expected over the four-year period, 2012-2016.
The economy recovered in 2010, after suffering from the effects of the global crisis in 2009. After declining by 1.4% in 2009, real GDP growth reached 6.6% in 2010 before slipping to 4.8% in 2011, while inflation has remained low. The current account and the overall fiscal balance remain positive, but due to the increased capital spending the non-oil primary deficit deteriorated and the gap with the sustainable non-oil primary balance widened. GDP growth is estimated to have accelerated to 5.6% in 2012, driven by the expansionary fiscal policy of the government which has announced a CFAF 12,000 billion (about $12 billion) infrastructure development plan for 2012-2016.
In the short term, any negative impact is expected to be limited, given the modest integration of the country’s financial system with the global economy and marginal flows of remittances. However, should the crisis be protracted and spread to other parts of the world (especially Asia), Gabon could be affected by a decline in world demand for its mineral resources, mainly oil and manganese. In this case, having a lower debt burden, Gabon could rely on external financing, mainly foreign direct investment (FDI) and concessional loans from countries such as China and Singapore that have been active in the country over the last years.
Gabon’s human development outcomes compare favorably with Sub-Saharan Africa, but fall short of countries with similar levels of per capita income. The situation is particularly challenging with a dramatic increase registered from 0.7% in 1990 to 5.4% in 2010.
Gabon is ranked 106 out of 187 countries in the 2012 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) and is unlikely to meet a number of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. In particular those indicators relating to poverty, the percentage of malnourished children, completion of primary school, infant and maternal mortality, prevalence of HIV and access to sanitation facilities.
While Gabon’s HDI ranking recently improved, the authorities recognize the need to diversify the economy, build capacities and skills, create jobs, and introduce social safety nets in order to address the gap between their GDP per capita and the country’s social indicators.
The World Bank Group (IBRD, IFC, MIGA) has remained engaged with Gabon on more than these specific topics, through notably its AAA and RAS including: (i) a report on youth and unemployment, being finalized; (ii) the second-phase RAS, a job skills assessment and a health Public Expenditure Tracking analysis; (iii) support to investment climate reform; and (iv) value-chain analyses in agriculture, forestry and tourism and use these sectors to enhance economic growth, economic diversification and job creation.
Last updated October 2013
Recognizing the challenges of economic diversification and the need to better harness revenues from the extractive industries sector to reverse growing inequity and poverty in the country, the Gabonese President has launched the Strategic Plan for Emerging Gabon (Plan Stratégique Gabon Emergent - PSGE).
The PSGE has three pillars: (i) to make the country an industrial pole of reference (Gabon Industriel – Industrial Gabon); (ii) to ensure sustainable forest management and the transformation of Gabon into a global leader in certified tropical timber production, a food secure country and leader in agriculture and livestock farming, sustainable and responsible fisheries (Gabon Vert – Green Gabon); and (iii) to transform Gabon into a center of excellence in business, ecotourism, and value-added services, such as higher education and research, health, media, and information technologies (Gabon des Services – Services Gabon).
To implement this new development vision, the government has scaled up investments to promote non-oil growth, to improve infrastructure and basic service delivery. Given limited capacity for the management of investment, the government is leveraging partnerships, including working with the American company Bechtel to source technical expertise. One of the most important needs is to improve investment spending and the impact of development by strengthening the capacity of Gabon’s public sector in all areas of the project cycle. It is also important that the country’s significantly higher capital budget is in line with a medium-term fiscal strategy and overall PFM reforms. In order to implement this broad agenda, the government has decided to increase the share of resources allocated to public investment from 14% to 40% of the state budget over the 2010-2016 period.
World Bank Group Support
Gabon joined the World Bank Group in 1963. Since then, the Bank has provided support through the financing of more than 20 projects in a wide range of sectors. As a middle-income country, Gabon is eligible for financing from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).
In August 2010, the government of Gabon and the Bank signed a three year Reimbursable Technical Assistance Agreement. The first annual service agreement (up to US$3million) will consist of the provision of support to public financial management for the assessment of potential sources of non-oil growth and to update of the country’s poverty profile.
2012-2016 Country Partnership Strategy (CPS)
The Gabon Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) is the World Bank Group’s roadmap for engagement with every country. It is tailored to the needs and circumstances of each country and lays down the Bank Group's development priorities, as well as the level and type of assistance the Bank will provide over a period of three years.
The preparation of a CPS follows a participatory approach. Before its adoption, key elements of the strategy are discussed with government representatives, and, to ensure the widest possible involvement, public dialogues are also held in the client countries, bringing together a cross section of stakeholders either in face-to-face sessions (conferences, surveys, seminars, etc.) or via Internet-based discussions. However, the CPS is not a negotiated document. Any differences between the country's own agenda and the Bank Group's strategy are highlighted in the document. A progress report is issued in the intervening year.
The new CPS 2012-2016 comes at times when the Bank and Gabon are reinvigorating their relationship, and the government is committed to instituting major strategic reforms. This CPS reflects a demand-driven partnership, a transformative program that is intended to be flexible and responsive to changing client needs.
CAB 4 Fiber Optic project
A US$58 million Central African Backbone (CAB) Fiber Optic Project became effective. The CAB4 Gabon project is part of the regional CAB (fiber optic backbone in Central Africa). The aim of the project is to help expand the geographic reach of broadband networks Show More + and to help reduce the costs of communications services in Central Africa
With a resident mission in the capital, Libreville, the World Bank Group is one of Gabon’s leading development partners. The country’s other main partners include the European Union, the African Development Bank, UNDP, the World Health Organization, and France.
A 2010-2014 strategic partnership was signed between Gabon and France during President Sarkozy’s visit to Gabon in February 2010. The partnership envisages high level political consultations on climate change and other main issues of the UN agenda. It builds on traditional ties between the two countries and builds on the momentum of win-win Franco-Gabonese relationships. It includes four cooperation agreements, one of which is a five-year defense partnership between Libreville and Paris; an exchange programme for young professionals; and a series of credit agreements between the French Development Agency (AFD) and the government Gabon.
This strategic partnership which will be submitted for approval by the parliaments of both countries was signed after Paris decided to maintain its only permanent military base on the Atlantic coast of Africa in Libreville.
Last updated October 2013
Significant results and progress have been recorded under the implementation of an on-going IBRD-funded local infrastructure development project in Gabon. The project aims to increase access to basic services for populations living in low-income settlements and improve access of SMEs to public civil works and construction contracts. To date, the project has provided 75,000 people in urban areas with access to all-season roads and 70,000 additional people are benefiting from improved sanitary conditions. Procurement and contracting methods have also been strengthened, in order to improve SME access to public contracts for civil works and construction. A number of additional positive practices have been reinforced as part of the project, including a reduction in delays relating to payment of contracts, implementation of processes that allow for systematic consideration of social and environmental safeguards in project preparation and implementation, and strengthening of control mechanisms (regular technical and financial audits).
The IBRD-funded Gabon Natural Resource Management Development Policy Loan (NRM-DPL) also contributed to important results across a number of sectors. The operation has supported the Government of Gabon in its efforts to improve transparency, governance and law enforcement for natural resource management, covering four policy areas: (i) forestry; (ii) biodiversity-environment; (iii) fisheries; and (iv) mining-oil. The second tranche for $10M was released in June 2011.
Progress made under the NRM-DPL is particularly striking in the forestry sector where short-term rent-seeking behaviors were widespread. The NRM-DPL contributed to the modernization of Gabon’s forest sector, through (i) the creation and use of instruments for improved sector governance and sustainable management of forest ecosystems; (ii) the elimination of pricing and market distortions stemming from SNBG monopoly on international timber sales; (iii) the reinforcement of institutional capacities to improve monitoring and control of forest activities and (iv) a more open and attractive investment environment for investors engaging in responsible forest management activities in Gabon. Amongst other the following two quantifiable outcomes can be attributed to the NRM-DPL operation: (i) a sharp rise in the percentage of areas in compliance with sustainable management prescriptions which have moved from 30 percent to 77 percent over the period of the NRM-DPL; (ii) a sharp increase in the recovery rate of the forest revenues which should move from 40 percent in 2005 to 87 percent for the area fees at the end of NRM-DPL.
Fisheries sector has also benefitted from the NRM-DPL, which has been a vehicle to engage the Bank within the sector in Gabon. The results achieved under this DPL go beyond the expectations initially stated: the regular disclosure of the fishing licenses and associated tax collection status, in the national press (on a semi-annual basis) and posted on the website of the Ministry of Finance, places Gabon amongst the top countries in terms of public access to information in the fisheries sector. In addition conservation measures have been taken to protect and/or restore populations of fish in over-exploited or fragile marine areas through the use of GIS-based technologies and enhance control activities.
The NRM-DPL has also provided support to the Environment sector through measures to improve capacity to monitor the social and environmental impacts of development programs including a new code of environment As a result, the DGE has managed to significantly increase the number of control missions (quantity) but also to better target the control missions, based on potential major pollution risks (quality). In addition, the DGE has substantially improved the quality of review process for the Environmental Impact Assessments / Environmental Management Plans (EIA/EMPs) that are submitted to the DGE (see para.45). Moreover, EIA/EMPs are also available at the DGE offices for public disclosure. In the specific sector of Mining, a strategic socio-environmental review of the industrial mining sector has been conducted in September 2008 : the review has provided strong analytical background that are currently being used by the Government as it is in the process reforming of the mining sector, particularly through the revision of its Mining Code
The Bank has also been able –through the Trust for Statistical Capacity Building -to financially and technically support Gabon to develop its first National Strategy for the Development and help to improve the monitoring of the MDGs through the extension of its socioeconomic database.