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Gabon(gäbôN`), officially Gabonese Republic, republic (2015 est. pop. 1,930,000), 103,346 sq mi (267,667 sq km), W central Africa. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west, on Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon in the north, and on Congo (Brazzaville) in the east and south. LibrevilleLibreville
, city (1993 est. pop. 362,400), capital of Gabon, a port on the Gabon River estuary, near the Gulf of Guinea. Primarily an administrative center, it is also a trade center for a lumbering region. The city was founded in 1843 as a French trading station.
..... Click the link for more information. (the capital) and Port-GentilPort-Gentil
, city (1993 est. pop. 80,041), W Gabon, a seaport on Cape Lopez Bay (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean). Timber and locally manufactured plywood are exported. Petroleum is produced and refined nearby.
..... Click the link for more information. , both seaports, are the country's only large cities.
Land and People
Much of Gabon, which is situated astride the equator, is drained by the Ogooué River (and its tributaries, the Ngounie and the Ivindo), which flows into the Atlantic through a long and broad estuary. The rest of the coastline comprises a narrow low-lying strip, which, south of the Ogooué's mouth, includes a series of lagoons. The interior of the country is made up of mountain ranges and high-lying plateaus. To the north of the Ogooué are the Cristal Mts. and to the south is the Chaillu Massif, which includes Mt. Iboundji (5,165 ft/1,574 m), Gabon's highest point. In the northeast is the Woleu-Ntem Plateau, which reaches c.2,500 ft (760 m), and in the southeast is the hot and arid Bateke Plateau (c.2,700 ft/820 m).
The inhabitants of Gabon belong to several ethnic groups including the Fang (who make up about one quarter of the population) in the north, the Omiéné along the coast, the Bakota in the northeast, and the Eshira in the southwest. French is the country's official language, but African languages are also spoken, and the country is seeking to increase the use of English. There are large numbers of immigrant workers from other French-speaking African nations, as well as Europeans, mainly French. The population is predominantly Christian in the cities, but most people in the countryside adhere to traditional beliefs.
Since the 1970s the Gabonese economy has been centered on the oil industry, which has provided it with one of the highest per capita incomes in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for almost 80% of its export income and 50% of its GDP. Oil wealth, however, led to government corruption, and the population at large has failed to benefit from oil profits. Gabon's economy also is subject to fluctuating oil prices, and it must contend with diminishing reserves. Decreases in production since the mid-1990s have hurt the economy, although it benefited from oil price increases after 2000. The exploitation of forest products and the mining of manganese, which formed the backbone of the economy until oil became predominant, remain relatively important today, and in 2010 the government began taking specific steps to further diversify the oil-reliant economy. The country's most significant forest products are okume (a softwood used in making plywood), mahogany, ebony, and rubber. Other minerals extracted are gold, uranium, and iron ore.
The chief products of Gabon's industrial sector include refined petroleum, chemicals, food and beverages, textiles, and wood products. Despite this economic activity, the majority of Gabonese workers are engaged in subsistence farming, with sugarcane, cassava, plantains, and taro the chief crops. There is also fishing. However, food must be imported to meet the country's needs. Cocoa, coffee, and palm products are produced for export. Few animals are raised, partly because of the prevalence of the tsetse flytsetse fly
, name for any of several bloodsucking African flies of the genus Glossina, and in the same family as the housefly. The larva of the tsetse fly develops inside the body of the mother until it is ready to pupate in the soil.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Gabon's main exports are crude petroleum, forest products, manganese and uranium ores, and cocoa; the principal imports are machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, and construction materials. The leading trade partners are the United States and France. Gabon's limited transportation network was improved with the construction (1986) of the Trans-Gabon railway, which links the deepwater port of Owendo with iron ore and manganese deposits.
Gabon is governed under the constitution of 1991. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a seven-year term; there are no term limits. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The bicameral legislature consists of the 91-seat Senate, whose members are indirectly elected for six-year terms, and the 120-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into nine provinces.
Early History to Independence
The region that is now Gabon was inhabited in Paleolithic times. By the 16th cent. A.D. the Omiéné were living along the coast, and in the 18th cent. the Fang entered the region from the north. From the 16th to the 18th cent. the area was part of the decentralized Loango empire, which included most of the area between the Ogooué and Congo rivers. In the 1470s, Portuguese navigators found the Ogooué estuary, and shortly thereafter they began to trade with coastal merchants for slaves who had been acquired in the interior. The Portuguese were followed by Dutch, English, and French traders, and by the late 18th cent. the French had gained a dominant position. Despite the abolition of the slave trade (1815) by the Congress of Vienna, slaves continued to be exported from the Gabon coast until the 1880s, although French naval patrols succeeded in reducing the number exported annually.
In the mid-19th cent., several treaties were signed with African rulers of the Ogooué estuary and neighboring territories, and Christian missions were established. In 1849, Libreville was founded by the French as a settlement for freed slaves. Paul B. Du Chaillu (in the 1850s) and A. M. A. Aymes (in the 1860s) explored the lower Ogooué. In the late 1870s, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza reached the source of the river, and in the 1880s he founded Franceville (near the present-day border with the Republic of the Congo). In 1885 the Conference of Berlin recognized French rights to the region N of the Congo River that included Gabon. In 1886 the French assigned a governor to Gabon, which from 1889 to 1904 was included in the French Congo.
From 1910 to 1957, Gabon was a part of French Equatorial AfricaFrench Equatorial Africa,
former French federation in W central Africa. It consisted of four constituent territories: Gabon, Middle Congo (see Congo, Republic of the), Chad, and Ubangi-Shari (now the Central African Republic). The capital was Brazzaville.
..... Click the link for more information. . The Fang and some other African peoples resisted the imposition of French rule until 1911. In 1913, Albert SchweitzerSchweitzer, Albert
, 1875–1965, Alsatian theologian, musician, and medical missionary. Determined to become a medical missionary, he obtained a doctorate in medicine at the Univ.
..... Click the link for more information. established a hospital at Lambaréné on the Ogooué. During World War II, Free French forces gained control (1940) of Gabon from the Vichy government. In 1946, Gabon became an overseas territory of France, and in 1958 the country became internally self-governing within the French CommunityFrench Community,
established in 1958 by the constitution of the Fifth French Republic to replace the French Union. Its members consisted of the French Republic, which included metropolitan France (continental France, Corsica, Algeria and the Sahara), the overseas territories
..... Click the link for more information. .
The New Nation
On Aug. 17, 1960, Gabon became an independent republic. Leon Mba, a Fang, was the country's first president. In Feb., 1964, Mba was ousted by a military coup led by Jean-Hilaire Aubame, but he was restored to power within a day with the help of French troops. Mba died in 1967 and was succeeded by Omar BongoBongo, Omar
(El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba) , 1935–2009, Gabonese political leader, president of Gabon (1967–2009), b. Albert-Bernard Bongo. He entered the civil service (1958), became minister of information and tourism in 1966, vice president in 1967, and then
..... Click the link for more information. , who established (1968) the Gabonese Democratic party (PDG) as the country's sole political organization. Bongo was returned to office in the elections of 1973 and 1979.
Gabon was one of the few African countries to recognize and furnish supplies to BiafraBiafra, Republic of,
secessionist state of W Africa, in existence from May 30, 1967, to Jan. 15, 1970. At the outset Biafra comprised, roughly, the East-Central, South-Eastern, and Rivers states of the Federation of Nigeria, where the Igbo people predominated.
..... Click the link for more information. during the Nigerian civil war (1967–70). During its first decade of independence, Gabon retained close political and economic ties with France. In the early 1970s, however, the government sought increased influence in the foreign (mainly French) companies active in Gabon, and it generally tried to loosen its ties with France. Disillusionment with Bongo's repressive policies led to the formation of a large opposition movement in the early 1980s and demands for a multiparty government.
Bongo was reelected to a fourth term in 1986. Popular discontent with the regime reached a high point in 1989 with seven days of riots in Port-Gentil, which were put down by the army. In 1990 opposition parties were legalized and multiparty legislative elections were held for the first time in 22 years. Amid charges of fraud, Bongo's party won a majority of seats. The same charges were leveled as Bongo was reelected in Gabon's first multiparty presidential election in 1993.
Despite constitutional reforms (1995) intended to reduce election fraud, the 1998 polls, in which Bongo once again was reelected, were termed unfair by observers. Bongo's party again won a majority of the legislative seats in 2001. The president was elected to a third term in 2005; the election was again criticized by the opposition, which was divided and relatively weak. The Dec., 2006, legislative elections were again solidly won by the president's party, but voter turnout was low.
Bongo died in June, 2009; the head of the senate, Rose Francine Rogombe, became Gabon's interim president. In the Aug., 2009, presidential election, Ali Bongo, the son of the late president, was elected with 42% of the vote. Opposition parties denounced the result as rigged, and opposition supporters rioted in the capital and Port-Gentil, but the constitutional court affirmed the results. In Jan., 2011, André Mba Obame, who had lost to Bongo in 2009, declared himself the rightful president, appointed a cabinet, and attempted to rally his supporters against Bongo. The government accused him of treason and dissolved his party. Opposition parties largely boycotted the elections in Dec., 2011, for the National Assembly, and governing party candidates won all but six of the seats.
Bongo narrowly won the Aug., 2016, but the opposition again said the tally had been rigged, and the outcome was also questioned by international observers; in Bongo's home province he was recording as winning 95% of a nearly 100% turnout. Assembly elections slated for Dec., 2016, were several times postponed and finally held in Oct., 2018, when the ruling party won the overwhelming majority of the seats. From Oct., 2018 to Mar., 2019, Bongo received medical treatment abroad after a stroke; in his absence junior army officers unsuccessfully attempted (Jan., 2019) to oust him.
See J. Bouquerel, Le Gabon (1970); D. E. Gardinier, Historical Dictionary of Gabon (1981); M. A. Saint Paul, Gabon (1989).
Republic of Gabon (République Gabonaise), a state in central Africa. Member of the French Community. Borders in the northwest on Equatorial Guinea, in the north on Cameroon, in the northeast, east, southeast, and south on the People’s Republic of the Congo. In the west Gabon is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. Area, 267,700 sq km. Population, 485,000 (1969 estimate, based on data of the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, March 1971). Capital city, Libreville. Divided administratively into nine regions, which are further subdivided into districts and communes.
Constitution and government. Gabon is a republic. Its operative constitution was adopted in February 1961, with changes introduced in 1967 and 1968. The head of state and government is the president, who is elected by the people for seven years. This election is held at the same time as elections to the National Assembly. The president possesses broad powers in all spheres of government activity: he appoints and replaces ministers, as well as other persons in high positions and judges; he represents the country in foreign affairs; he is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The president, vice-president, and members of the government—the Council of Ministers—are not responsible to the parliament.
The parliament—the unicameral National Assembly— consists of 49 deputies, elected by secret balloting in general direct elections, for a term of seven years. Founded under the auspices of the government and parliament is the Ecomonic and Social Council, which at the request of the government provides recommendations for plans and bills of an economic, financial, and social nature. The electoral franchise is enjoyed by citizens who have reached the age of 21. Elections are conducted on the basis of one complete national list (that is, the entire country consists of one electoral district).
The regions and districts are headed by prefects and sub-prefects, who are appointed by the president. In the seven urban communes, the local organs of power are the municipal councils, which are elected for five years by general elections. In the districts so-called rural collectives have been established, which are governed by councils; some of the members are elected and some occupy positions as a matter of office (tribal chiefs).
The court system is made up of the Supreme Court, a court of appeals, and courts of first instance. The Supreme Court—the court of highest instance—also exercises constitutional surveillance and supervision of the conduct of referenda and elections of the president and the deputies to the National Assembly.
IU. A. IUDIN
Natural features. Gabon is located in equatorial and sub-equatorial forest zones. The coastline south of Cape Lopez is flat and straight, with shallow lagoons and no natural harbors; to the north the coast is more dissected, with river estuaries serving as convenient bays (the Bay of Gabon and others).
TERRAIN, GEOLOGICAL STRUCTURE, AND MINERAL RESOURCES. The interior of Gabon occupies the massifs and plateaus of the southern Guinean upland. The highest elevations are found in the Chaillu Mountains (Mount Iboundji, 1,580 m), located in the central part of Gabon and composed of deeply metamorphosed rocks and granites of the early Precambrian period. Northwest of them rise the Cristal Mountains (Mount Dana, 1,000 m), composed of Precam-brian, crystalline rocks. In the west along the Atlantic coast-line there is a lowland plain up to 200 km wide, which is a region of extremely intensive depressions with a chalk foundation; these led to the accumulation of sediment strata many kilometers in width, at first of the lagoon-continental type, then saline and marine. The presence of salt in the lowest places of the cross section caused saline tectonics to appear, beneath which are located petroleum and natural gas de-posits. From the southwest to the Chaillu Mountains several chains of low mountains and hills branch out—the northern end of the late Proterozoic system of the West Congolian— and from the east, the sloping Franceville depression, filled in with the middle Proterozoic sedimentary terrigenous range of the same name, which contains manganese ore deposits (located in the Franceville region is one of the largest de-posits in the world; its total reserves are estimated at 200 million tons of ore, including approximately 50 million proved tons that have a content of more than 50 percent of manganese dioxide), as well as an important deposit of uranium ore (Mouana). There are iron ore deposits in the northeastern portion of the country (Belinga and others), which is occupied by mesa plateaus (500-600 m in elevation), and also in the southwestern portion (Tchibanga).
CLIMATE. The climate is hot and humid, with a transition from equatorial in the north to subequatorial in the west and south, and with a brief dry season (extending from June-July through August-September). The average monthly temperatures range from 22° to 24° C in July and from 25° to 27° C in April. Precipitation amounts to 1,500-2,000 mm annually, and in the northern coastal zone it reaches 2,500-3,000 mm.
RIVERS AND LAKES. The river network of Gabon is extensive and carries a great deal of water. The principal river is the Ogooue; its most important tributaries are the Ivindo and the Ngounie. Less important are the coastal rivers, such as the Nyanga and Como. The rivers are full and high throughout the entire year; their upper reaches have rapids, whereas their lower courses are for the most part suitable for navigation. The potentials for producing hydroelectric power have been estimated at 48 billion kilowatt-hours annually.
SOILS AND FLORA. Approximately 80 percent of the territory is covered by dense, humid evergreen and deciduous-evergreen forests, growing on reddish-yellow laterite (ferrolite) soils. These forests contain many kinds of trees that provide valuable commercial woods, such as the gaboon mahogany, as well as the ozigo, limba, mahogany, smoke tree, ebony, and sandalwood. In the south and the southeast the forests have been partially cleared away and replaced by a secondary growth of tall savanna grasses. Mangrove trees grow along the coastline.
FAUNA. In its composition the fauna is characteristic of the western African subregion of the Ethiopian Zoographic Zone. Living there in abundance are elephants, warthogs, buffalo, and various kinds of forest antelope; among the predators are leopards and hyenas. Apes are numerous (including anthropoid apes—gorillas and chimpanzees). In the rivers are hippopotamuses and crocodiles; in the Bay of Gabon, the coastal lagoons, and the Ogooue River, manatees are en-countered. Represented in abundance are birds, snakes (many of which are poisonous), and insects (including the tsetse fly and the buffalo gnat Simulium).
I. N. OLEINIKOV and V. E. KHAIN
(geological structure and mineral resources)
Population. The largest part of the population are Bantu—the Bakelle, or Bandjambi (30 percent; here and following, estimate from mid-1967), Fang (28.8 percent), Mpangwe (15.6 percent), Bakota (12 percent), and Bateke (5.2 percent). Also living in Gabon are the Maka, Bakongo, Bavili, and other peoples. There are about 15,000 non-Africans, primarily French. The official language is French, but the major portion of the population speaks the languages of the Fang, Bandjambi, or Bakota. Some 42 percent of the population are Catholics, 23 percent are Protestants, 34 per-cent maintain their ancient traditional beliefs, and 1 percent are Muslims. The official calendar is the Gregorian.
The average annual growth rate of the population during the period 1963-69 amounted to 1 percent. The economically active population amounted to 220,000 in 1963; they are involved in agriculture, forestry, and fishing (84.1 percent); mining (3.4 percent); processing industry (1.9 percent); construction (1.7 percent); municipal economy (0.1 percent); commerce, banking, and insurance (3.7 percent); transport and communications (1.3 percent); service fields (3.2 percent); and other occupations (0.6 percent).
Gabon is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Africa; the average density is less than two persons per sq km. In the areas of the major cities the density is ten to 20 persons per sq km. One-fifth of the population lives in cities and towns, the most important of which are Libreville (57,000 inhabitants in 1967, including the suburbs) and Port-Gentil (24,900 inhabitants in 1965).
I. N. OLEINIKOV
Historical survey. The ancient and medieval history of Gabon has not been well studied. The most ancient inhabitants of the country were evidently Pygmies; later the Bantu peoples settled there. In the ethnic history of Gabon an important role was played by the movement of the Fang people from the north during the 18th and 19th centuries; in the process, the older population was pushed to the south.
European penetration began when the Portuguese navigators first appeared in Gabon at the end of the 15th century. The peoples of Gabon were at the stage of a disintegrating clan-tribal structure and the emergence of class relations. The coastal part of the country south of Cape Lopez was part of the Congo state. As early as the 16th century, European (Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English) and American slave traders had turned Gabon into one of the principal areas in Equatorial Africa for hunting slaves. The colonial seizure of the territory of Gabon began in 1839 when the French founded their first settlement on the left bank of the Bay of Gabon. Soon they fortified a position on the right bank as well, where in 1849 the city of Libreville was founded. During the period from the 1840’s through the 1860’s, despite the resistance of the local population, the colonizers established themselves along the entire coastline of Gabon, and in the 1870’s and 1880’s they penetrated into the interior regions of the country. The peoples of Gabon stubbornly resisted the French invaders. The struggle against this colonial intrusion continued right up until World War I and, in certain regions, even as late as the 1920’s. Administratively, Gabon was at first part of the French Congo, but in 1886 it became a separate administrative unit; it was officially declared a colony in 1903. From 1910 to 1958, it was part of French Equatorial Africa. During the years of the colonial regime Gabon, with its rich resources of timber and minerals, became an important raw-material base for metropolitan France. A considerable portion of the territory was handed over to French concessionary companies. By forcible methods and to the detriment of food crop production, export crops were introduced (coffee, cacao, peanuts, etc.). The people were subjected to harsh exploitation. During the years of World War II (1939-45), when France was occupied by the fascist German armies, Gabon, in September 1940, joined the Free French Movement (from July 1942, known as Fighting French). Resistance by a part of the colonial forces that supported the Vichy regime was put down by the troops of General C. de Gaulle.
After World War II the national liberation movement, which had earlier taken the form of isolated outbreaks, began to acquire an organized and mass character. During the late 1940’s and the 1950’s the first national parties were founded (the Gabonese Democratic Bloc, the Gabonese Democratic and Social Union, the Party of Gabonese National Unity, and others), as well as trade unions. Amid the incipient disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism, France was compelled to grant Gabon a number of political concessions. In 1946 the Territorial Assembly was established—a representative organ with advisory functions. In 1957 the Government Council was formed—the first governing body in the country that had the participation of Africans; however, its resolutions were subject to the approval of the French colonial governor. In 1958, Gabon acquired internal autonomy with the rights of a member-state of the French Community. In that same year the country was proclaimed a republic. In February 1959, Gabon’s first constitution was adopted; the Government Council was transformed into the Council of Ministers, and the Territorial Assembly became the Legislative Assembly. On July 15, 1960, the French government was compelled to sign an agreement to recognize the sovereignty of Gabon. On Aug. 17, 1960, the independence of Gabon was proclaimed, and in September, Gabon was admitted to the with the rights of a member-state of the French Community. and in 1960 concluded an agreement with France regarding cooperation in the field of foreign policy, defense, and so forth. Gabon joined the African, Malagasy, and Mauritian Common Organization in 1961. In February 1961 a new constitution was adopted by Gabon; L. Mba, the leader of the ruling party (the Gabonese Democratic Bloc), became presi-dent. Since 1958 he had headed the Government Council, which later became the Council of Ministers. The antidemocratic domestic policy of Mba’s government (persecution of political opposition, establishment of supervisory control over the activity of trade unions and other public organizations, and limitations on freedom of the press), as well as his pro-Western course of foreign policy, led to an acute aggravation of the situation in the country. On Feb. 18, 1964, the army with the support of the opposition forces overthrew the Mba government. A provisional government was headed by J.-H. Aubame, the leader of the Gabonese Social and Democratic Union.. However, with the aid of French troops who were sent into Gabon, Mba was restored to the post of presi-dent. Despite the harsh repressive measures that followed this action, antigovernment demonstrations, strikes, and clashes with the police did not cease. The popular movement was led by the National Confederation of Gabonese Workers. The decline of the ruling party’s prestige turned out to be
|Table 1. Planted acreage and harvest of main agricultural crops|
|1Annual average 21948-49-1952-53 31961-62 *|
|Cassava||12000||40 000||52000||60 000||1 30 000||130 000|
|Bananas||3 000||2000||2000||10 000||10,000||10,000|
|Rice||1 000||1000||1,000||1,000||1 ,000|
so significant that the new president, A. Bongo (who re-placed Mba after the latter’s death in November 1967), announced in March 1968 the creation of the Gabonese Democratic Party, which was called upon to replace the Gabonese Democratic Bloc. A. Bongo’s government continued a course directed at maintaining close ties with the West.
G. A. NERSESOV
Political parties and trade unions. The Gabonese Democratic Party (Partie Democratique Gabonais), created in 1968, is the only legal party in the country. It depends for its support on the semifeudal and clan-tribal aristocracy, as well as the rising bureaucratic and entrepreneurial bourgeoisie. It advocates a close alliance with the Western powers, especially with France. It is the ruling party.
The National Confederation of Gabonese Workers was created in 1962. The Gabonese Confederation of Religious Workers was established in 1957. There is also the General Confederation of Labor of Gabon, which was formed in 1956.
Economic geography. The rich and varied natural resources of Gabon are favorable to the country’s economic growth. However, under conditions of domination by foreign, especially French, capital, which retained the key positions in Gabon’s economy even after the attainment of independence, growth occurred only in those branches of the economy that served the world capitalist market. For a pro-longed period of time the economy specialized almost exclusively in the production of valuable woods for export. Since the end of the 1950’s the country has witnessed a sharp growth in the extraction of minerals, and the mining industry, in addition to the timber industry, has become a very important export branch of the economy. Gabon occupies one of the top places in the capitalist world in the extraction of manganese ore and has also become an important supplier of uranium ore.
The five-year plan (1966-70) for the economic and social development of Gabon provided for the further growth of the mining industry, exploitation of the timber resources of the remote interior regions (while at the same time reforesting the coastal areas), hydroelectric power construction, construction of certain enterprises in the processing industry, and extension of agricultural production. Special attention was devoted to transport construction. A new five-year plan has been worked out for the period 1971-75. Gabon is a member of the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa.
AGRICULTURE. To a considerable degree agriculture has retained its natural character and does not completely supply the cities and industrial centers with foodstuffs. Characteristic of the agrarian structure is the communal ownership and individual cultivation of land. Small-scale peasant farms are predominant among the local population. The market sale of commercial farm produce has been carried out since 1964 by means of a nationwide government organization for the purchase and export of agricultural products. The basic agricultural method among the peasants is slash-and-burn hoe farming. The area under cultivation amounts to 127,000 hectares, as of 1962, including fruit crops. The principal export crops are coffee and cacao, with exports in 1967 totaling 1,600 tons and 3,900 tons respectively; these crops are cultivated in the north and the northeast. Also of some export value are peanuts and pepper. Grown for internal consumption are cassava, bananas, corn, rice, oil palm, taro, and yams. (See Table 1 for the planted acreage and harvest of the most important agricultural crops.)
Because of the spread of the tsetse fly, livestock raising has been poorly developed. As of 1967-68 there were 5,000 horned cattle, 7,000 pigs, 47,000 sheep, and 51,000 goats. There is fishing in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean (1,500 tons in 1966), and a whaling trade has developed. Supplementary occupations are hunting (including ivory from elephant tusks) and gathering fruits of the wild oil palm.
INDUSTRY. The leading export branch of the economy is the mining industry, which is controlled by foreign monopolies. A French company, the Societe des Petroles de 1’Afrique Equatoriale, with the participation of the American Mobil and the Anglo-Dutch Shell groups, has been extracting petroleum along the coastal belt and on a section of the adjacent shelf. Along with petroleum, natural gas is extracted and supplied to the thermal electric power plant at Port-Gentil. The Compagnie Minière de 1’Ogooué, which is controlled by the United States Steel Corporation, an American trust, is working the manganese deposit at Moanda near Franceville. The Compagnie des Mines d’Uranium de Franceville, one of whose principal shareholders is the French Atomic Energy Commission, is exploiting the uranium deposit at Mouana. Gold is being mined, and preparations are under way to exploit the iron ore deposits west of Mekambo in the region of Belinga. (See Table 2 for the mineral yield in Gabon.)
|Table 2. Mineral yield|
|* By metal content in ore|
|Manganese ore(tons)||—||473 000||640 000|
|Natural gas (millions of cu m)||7||10||24|
|Petroleum (millions of tons)||0.8||1.1||46|
|Uranium concentrates U3O8 (tons)||—||500||1,370|
Second in importance to mining is the timber industry, which is also in the hands of foreign, primarily French, companies. But since the end of the 1960’s the participation of national capital in this field has been ever increasing—a trend that has been encouraged by the government. Gabon has the greatest reserves of and produces the most gaboon mahogany in the world. In 1969, 2.3 million cu m of wood was produced (including 1.9 million cu m of gaboon mahogany). Most of the timber produced is shipped out unprocessed (715,000 tons of gaboon mahogany logs in 1968); a lesser amount goes through preliminary processing at local sawmills and plywood plants, among them the largest plywood plant in Africa, located at Port-Gentil. In 1968,53,000 cu m of sawed lumber, 8,000 cu m of veneer, and 69,000 cu m of plywood were produced.
The total rated capacity of the electric power plants in 1966 was 21,200 kilowatts (kW), including thermal electric power plants—21,000 kW (most important ones at Port-Gentil and Libreville)—and hydroelectric power plants—200 kW. The production of electric power in 1968 amounted to 74 million kW-hrs. Under construction as of 1971 was the Kinguelé Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Mbe River, east of Libreville.
The processing industry, in addition to wood-processing, has been represented basically by small-scale enterprises engaged in processing agricultural raw materials (refining rice and coffee, making palm oil, soap, etc.). In 1967 a petroleum refinery was put into operation; in 1969 it turned out 725,000 tons of petroleum products at Pointe Clairette, near Port-Gentil. It was intended to satisfy the needs for petroleum products in Gabon, the People’s Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and the republics of Chad and Cameroon. All these states and a number of foreign companies are shareholders in this refinery. Built in 1968-69 were a brewery, a flour mill, and a factory producing cotton prints in Libreville and a cement plant in Owendo. There also are an oxyacetylene plant and shipyards.
TRANSPORTATION. The principal transport routes are roads for motor vehicles; there are approximately 5,000 km of roads, but only 100 km are paved with asphalt. The total length of navigable waterways is more than 1,700 km. The principal seaports are Port-Gentil (with a freight turnover of 3.9 million tons in 1968) and Libreville (0.5 million tons). An important role in serving foreign commercial transport operations is played by the port of Pointe Noire in the People’s Republic of the Congo, through which manganese ore is exported; the Moanda mine is connected by a suspension cable railroad with the Mbinda station in the Congo. Under construction in 1971 was the port of Owendo for exporting timber and iron ore. International airports are located at Libreville and Port-Gentil.
EXTERNAL ECONOMIC RELATIONS. More than three-fifths of Gabon’s total export value during 1969 was from its mineral raw material (petroleum, manganese ore, and uranium concentrates) and more than one-third, from timber and wood materials. Also exported are cacao and coffee. Predominant among imports are machines and equipment, means of transportation, foodstuffs, metals and metal products, and tex-tiles. First place in Gabon’s foreign trade is occupied by France (35.3 percent of export value and 58.4 percent of import value in 1969), followed by the USA, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Great Britain. The unit of currency is the African franc. As of January 1971, 277.7 African francs were equal to US $1.
I. N. OLEINIKOV
Armed forces. The armed forces number about 1,500 men (1968) and consist of ground forces (one infantry battalion), an air squadron (six airplanes), one coast guard cutter, and a gendarmerie (700 men). The supreme commander in chief is the president. There is a police force (900 men). Combat materiel and armament are of French production. Building up the armed forces to prescribed strength is accomplished in accordance with a law providing for universal military ser-vice, as well as by recruiting volunteers. The term of compulsory military service is one year. Officers receive their training in France, and the combat training of troops is carried out under the direction of French instructors.
Health and social welfare. In 1960-61 (later data have not been published) the birthrate amounted to 35 and the mortality rate to 30 per 1,000 inhabitants; infant mortality was 229 per 1,000 live births. The average life span for men was 25 years; for women, 45. The hot, moist climate facilitates the spread of diseases carried by insects, including malaria (more than 50 percent of the children infected), filariases, and sleeping sickness. There exist natural focuses of yellow fever. Intestinal infections are widespread. Focuses of schistomatosis are known to exist in the city of Libreville (18 percent of the adults are infected) and in the valleys of the Ogooue and Como rivers. Each year outbreaks of smallpox are noted (49 cases in 1964). In 1964, 2.3 percent of the population was infected with leprosy. Most prevalent among tumors is cancer of the liver.
In 1967 there were 4,800 hospital beds in use (10.1 beds per 1,000 population). Outpatient service was being conducted at four outpatient divisions of hospitals, one polyclinic, 25 public health centers, and 90 dispensaries. Medical service for mothers and children is provided at 17 centers. Near the town of Lambarene is located the hospital founded by A. Schweitzer. In 1967, 80 physicians were practicing in Gabon (one physician per 5,900 inhabitants), two dentists, 12 pharmacists, 38 midwives, and 175 nurses.
T. A. KOBAKHIDZE and A. E. BELIAEV
Education and cultural affairs. At the time when Gabon’s independence was declared, 77 percent of the population over the age of 14 was illiterate. With the establishment of the republic considerable funds began to be assigned to the development of public education (18 percent of the state budget in 1965) for the purpose of implementing the law adopted in 1959 for the compulsory education of children from the ages of six to 16; private schools have been placed under the supervisory control of the state, and Africanization of the educational programs is being carried out. Instruction is conducted in French. The initial unit in the educational system is composed of kindergartens for children three to five years of age; in 1967 more than 600 children were in such schools. At the age of six, children enter the six-year primary school. In 1969 a majority of children at the age for primary instruction were enrolled in school. The term of instruction in the complete secondary school (lycee) is seven years (four and three years of instruction), and in the incomplete school (college) it amounts to four years. During the 1968/69 academic year, there were 93,000 pupils enrolled in primary schools and 6,400 students in the secondary schools. Vocational training is carried out in technical lycees of two stages (four and three years of instruction) and technical colleges for three years, following the primary school. Teachers with low-level qualifications (tutors) for primary schools are trained in one-year teacher-training courses based on completion of college; whereas teachers with diplomas attend three-year normal schools based on the first stage of the lycee. During the 1968/69 academic year more than 1,300 persons were enrolled in vocational training programs, and 136 persons were studying in normal schools. Teachers for the secondary schools are trained abroad—at the three-year Higher Normal School in Brazzaville (People’s Republic of the Congo) and in France. There are educational institutions with incomplete courses of higher education (the agricultural, juridical, and polytechnical institutes of Central Africa). During the 1966/67 academic year they had an enrollment of 364 per-sons; 376 persons were obtaining a higher education abroad, including 271 in France. In Libreville there is the Scientific Technical Center for Tropical Forestry, the Research Institute of Agriculture and Livestock Raising, as well as a number of affiliates of French scientific institutions.
V. Z. KLEPIKOV
Press, radio, and television. The Gabonese Information Agency (Agence Gabonaise d’lnformation) was established in 1961; it publishes the Bulletin quotidien d’information, with a circulation of 500 (1969); Gabon d’aujourd’hui, since 1964, with a circulation of 3,000 (1969), is the weekly organ of the Ministry of Information. Issued twice a month since 1959 is the Journal officiel de la Republique Gabonaise. It is an official publication that prints laws, decrees, and ordinances.
The organs of radio broadcasting and television belong to the government. The central radio station is in Libreville; its broadcasts are conducted in French and also in the languages of the Fang, Mpangwe, and others. There are television stations in Libreville and in Port-Gentil.
N. V. PYKHTUNOV
Folk art. There are highly developed arts of woodcarving, ivory carving, artistic braiding (mats with polychromatic geometrical designs), and weaving. Unusual and elegant in their own way are the softly modeled wooden statuettes and heads with elongated necks made by the Fang people. The Bakota people create highly original flat, beaten mbulu-ngulu figurines with copper plates; their expressiveness is achieved by a skillful juxtaposition of smooth, embossed surfaces with various tones of copper. The white masks made by the Mpangwe people, with faces characteristic of the Far East, are well known; despite the conventional treatment, these articles possess definitely individual traits.
REFERENCESNoveishaia istoriia Afriki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Suret-Canale, J. Afrika Zapadnaia i Tsentral’naia. Moscow, 1961. (Translated from French.)
Deschamps, H. Quinze ans de Gabon: Les debuts de l’etablissement français: 1839-1853. Paris, 1965.
Pommeret, J. Civilisations prehistoriques au Gabon, vols. 1-2. Libreville, 1965.
Walker, A. R. Notes d’histoire du Gabon. [Brazzaville] 1960.
Suret-Canale, J. Afrique Noire Occident ale et centrale. [Vol. 2. Paris, 1964.]
Charbonnier, F. Gabon, terre d’avenir. Paris, 1957.
Sautter, G. De I’Atlantique au fleuve Congo: Une geographie du sous-peuplement: Republique du Congo, Republique Gabonaise. Paris, 1966.
Bulletin mensuel de statistiques de la Republique Gabonaise, 1967, nos. 94-105.
Tretii obzor sostoianiia zdravookhranenii v mire (1961-64). Moscow, 1968. [Translation.]
Underwood, L. Figures in Wood of West Africa. London, 1947.
Official name: Gabonese Republic
Capital city: Libreville
Internet country code: .ga
Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of green (top), yellow, and blue
National anthem: “La Concorde”
Motto: “Gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple”
Geographical description: Western Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean at the Equator, between Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea
Total area: 103,347 sq. mi. (267,667 sq. km.)
Climate: Tropical; always hot, humid
Nationality: noun: Gabonese (singular and plural); adjective: Gabonese
Population: 1,454,867 (July 2007 CIA est.)
Ethnic groups: Approximately 40 Bantu tribes, including Fang, Bapounou, Nzebi, and Obamba; about 150,000 expatriates from Europe and elsewhere in Africa
Languages spoken: French (official), Fang, Myene, and other local languages
Religions: Christian 55%-75%, indigenous religions and Muslim less than 1%