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.
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.
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 vision of development, the government has scaled up investments to promote non-oil growth, to improve infrastructure and basic service delivery. Given limited capacity for investment management, the government is leveraging partnerships, including working with the American company Bechtel to source technical expertise (Agence Nationale des Grands Travaux). 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 Public Financial Management 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 April 2014, the government of Gabon and the Bank signed a three individual Reimbursable Technical Assistance Agreement. These will consist in providing support to the government in continuing to improve public financial management, fiscal reforms and statistics. The first service agreement (US$2 million) was implemented in 2012-2013 and provided debt management support, an assessment of potential sources of non-oil growth, including mining, an analysis of transportation and ;ogistics costs, and support to improve Public Financial Management.
The 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 four years.
The new CPS 2012-2016 for Gabon came at a time when the World Bank Group 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 In this regard two actives projects have been implemented as such
- 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 and to help reduce the costs of communications services in Central Africa.
- Investment Promotion and Competitiveness Project
A US$18 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) became effective in March 2014 to support the Investment Promotion and Competitiveness Project, which aims to support the Government’s strategy to promote Gabon as a sound investment destination, improve the Investment Climate, and help develop new sectors in the economy.
- Sustainable Management of Critical Wetlands Ecosystems
A US $ 8.47 million GEF grant aims at improving management of selected critical wetlands ecosystems, through knowledge creation and capacity building of national entities.
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.
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.