Located in Central Africa and richly endowed with natural resources, Gabon is bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and shares its borders with Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo. With a population of 1.672 million over a surface area of 268,000 km2, Gabon is a sparsely populated country, with 85% of the territory covered by forest.
Gabon has one of the highest urbanization rates in Africa: more than four in five Gabonese citizens live in urban areas. 59% of the population lives in Libreville, the capital, and Port Gentil, the economic capital of the country. One in two Gabonese citizens is under age 20 and the fertility rate in urban areas stands at 3.9 children per woman, against 6.1 in rural areas (source: Second Demographic and Health Survey - Gabon 2012).
A former French colony, Gabon obtained independence in 1960. The Gabonese Democratic Party [Parti démocratique gabonais PDG] of Omar Bongo (President of Gabon for 42 years, from 1968 to 2009) continues to dominate political life. His son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, won the presidential elections in August 2009 against a backdrop of social crisis. The last municipal and departmental elections in December 2013, which were marked by a return of the opposition party (which had boycotted the legislative elections in 2011), resulted in victory for the party in office. The next presidential elections will take place in 2016, and the opposition parties are beginning to prepare themselves for this event.
Following his election, Ali Bongo set himself the goal of transforming Gabon into an emerging country by 2025 with a strategy based on three growth pillars: "Industrial Gabon" (which includes, in particular, promotion of the forestry sector); "Green Gabon" (given that 11%
of the country is made up of national parks); and "Service-Oriented Gabon" (which aims to create jobs in growth-promoting sectors such as ICT). In January 2014, Professor Daniel Ona Ondo, the First Vice President of the National Assembly, was appointed Prime Minister and was tasked with implementing the strategic plan "Emerging Gabon" and tackling inequality.
Despite having a relatively high per capita income (GDP of US$11,571 per capita based on data for 2013), the poverty rate remains high in Gabon—one in three Gabonese citizens is still living below the poverty line. Gabon occupies 112th place out of 189 countries on the 2014 Human Development Index established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
According to the MDG National Report 2013, although the country has a net enrollment rate of 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%). Based on statistical data from the National Employment Office [Office national de l'emploi ONE], the unemployment rate for young people under age 30 stands at 30%. According to the Second Demographic and Health Survey - Gabon (DHS-II 2012), the majority of women and men aged 15 to 49 do not have health insurance. Nevertheless, the country has made noteworthy progress in the area of maternal and child health, with an under-five mortality rate of less than 31% over the past decade (65 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 against 94.4 per 1,000 in 1990) and a maternal mortality rate of less than 39% (133 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2012). However, this progress is still insufficient and remains far from the target set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
In an effort to improve social indicators in Gabon, in January 2014, President Ali Bongo Ondimba called on the Government to implement the “Social Pact”, which is based on three components: the implementation of a mandatory health insurance and social security system, the provision of economic safety nets and solidarity funding, and the improvement of methods for financing income-generating activities targeting the poorest.
Gabon is ranked as an upper-middle-income country. The fifth largest oil producer in Africa, Gabon 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.
The Gabonese economy continues to expand as a result of the large-scale public works policy, the fact that commodity prices have held steady, and wood processing activity, given that the forest industry is the second largest economic sector in the country. Overall GDP growth was estimated at 5.6% in 2013, against 5.5% in 2011. The average annual inflation rate dropped 0.75% by end-December 2013.
The medium-term outlook is encouraging. GDP growth in 2014 should definitely be lower than initially estimated (6%) following planned budget cuts in the 2014 amendment budget law, but it should not fall below 5%. This growth rate should be maintained in the medium term owing to the output of major oil deposits and the rapid growth of the non-oil sector (extraction, wood processing, and construction).
Budget balance remains a major challenge for Gabon. The surge in public investments and current accounts (linked primarily to wages and benefits) led, for the first time since 1998, to an overall budget deficit estimated at close to 2% of GDP in 2013.The non-oil budget deficit remains very high (24.4% in 2013). In this context, managing the volatility of oil prices will continue to be a major challenge in the years ahead.
Last Updated: Oct 10, 2014