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