Examining Gabon’s Politics, Economy, Society and Security

Gabon is a small central African nation lying along the Atlantic coast between Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea. Although relatively stable and prosperous compared to regional neighbors, Gabon still faces challenges from autocratic governance, commodity dependence, and social divides. This paper provides a comprehensive assessment of Gabon’s contemporary political, economic, social and security landscape. Key developments, trends and issues are analyzed to paint a nuanced picture of where Gabon stands today in critical domains.

Political Situation

Autocratic System

Gabon has been ruled by the Bongo family and the Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG) since 1967.[1] Current president Ali Bongo Ondimba took power in 2009 upon his father Omar Bongo’s death after 42 years in charge. The Bongo regime has relied on patronage networks, co-optation of elites and restrictions on dissent to maintain predominance.[2] Opposition groups are weak and fragmented. Critics argue the regime exploits the country’s oil wealth for self-enrichment and elite privileges rather than public welfare.

2016 Election Crisis

Bongo’s disputed reelection in 2016 triggered Gabon’s worst violence in decades.[3] Deadly clashes erupted after Bongo was declared the winner by under 6,000 votes amid allegations of fraud and an opposition boycott of the vote verification process.[4] The African Union said results lacked transparency but ruled out a recount.[5] A coup attempt against Bongo by junior officers was quickly quashed.[6] The crisis highlighted public discontent with the family dynasty and demands for democratic reforms.

Human Rights Issues

Government restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly remain pervasive in Gabon.[7] Independent media and journalists face harassment for critical reporting. Few protests occur due to bans on unauthorized public gatherings. Government critics have faced arbitrary detention and politically motivated prosecutions.[8] These repressive practices aim to silence dissent against the ruling regime. However, some civil society groups continue pushing for democratic change.[9]

Corruption Challenges

Systemic corruption poses major economic and political governance problems.[10] Collusion between political and business elites breeds cronyism in sectors like mining, logging and oil. Audits uncovering large-scale embezzlement scandals led to some prosecutions but limited structural reforms.[11] Gabon’s ranking of 124/180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index indicates serious shortcomings.[12] Reducing corruption is crucial for improved governance.

Uncertain Political Future

President Bongo’s medical evacuations abroad and rumors of poor health have fueled uncertainty over Gabon’s leadership succession.[13] The PDG remains dominated by Bongo loyalists. But splits within the ruling class could emerge during any power transition. The fragmented opposition may gain more traction amid leadership turmoil.[14] But splits along regional and ethnic lines complicate unity efforts.[15] Free elections and political opening remain distant prospects for now.

Economic Situation

Natural Resource Reliance

Gabon is an upper middle income country heavily dependent on oil and manganese for economic growth.[16] Oil accounts for 80% of exports and a quarter of GDP.[17] This leaves Gabon vulnerable to price swings and reserves depletion. Manganese is the other major export commodity.[18] Lack of diversification constrains private sector development outside the extractive sector. Efforts to promote timber processing, agriculture and tourism offer some hope for diversifying.

Inequality and Poverty

Gabon has sub-Saharan Africa’s third highest per capita income at $7,500 but this obscures deep inequality.[19] Poverty remains around a third nationally and is far higher outside cities.[20] Gabon’s inequality stems from an economic structure rewarding connections over merit, the World Bank reports.[21] Oil revenues enrich elites while public services are underfunded. Diversifying wealth creation opportunities is critical for inclusive growth.

Fiscal Challenges

Gabon has struggled with deficits, debt and unstable growth due to over-reliance on oil exports.[22] Government revenues collapsed when oil prices crashed in 2014, widening the fiscal deficit to 5% of GDP.[23] Debt climbed to 83% of GDP in 2020.[24] Declining oil output as reserves mature exacerbates budget woes.[25] Economic diversification and improved fiscal management are essential to stabilize public finances.

Regional Role

Despite its small size, Gabon is one of Central Africa’s most prosperous nations and punching above its weight regionally.[26] Gabon has played an active role in multilateral bodies like OPEC, the African Union and UN.[27] It has also been a major troop contributor to UN peacekeeping alongside France’s interventions in the CAR and elsewhere.[28] Gabon is a leader in Central African economic cooperation efforts. But regional diplomatic tensions with Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea persist.

Social Situation

Ethnic Divisions

Gabon has over 40 ethnic groups with complex relations.[29] The Fang are the largest group.[30] Ethnic affiliation shapes access to jobs and patronage under the Bongo regime.[31] Clan rivalries underpin tensions between Bongo’s Haut-Ogooue base and other regions.[32] Tribal issues factor into xenophobic sentiments against West African immigrants.[33] Addressing inequality and increasing pluralism can mitigate ethnic tensions.

Gender Inequality

Patriarchal norms underpin pervasive gender inequality.[34] Violence against women remains prevalent amid lack of legal protections.[35] Few women hold senior positions in government or business.[36] Improving female education and economic opportunities is critical for advancing women’s rights. Conservative religious leaders hold sway in rural areas where most women reside, limiting progress.[37] But cities feature growing women’s advocacy groups pressing for reforms.

Demographic Pressures

Gabon’s population remains under 2 million but has quadrupled since independence.[38] Over 80% of Gabonese now live in urban areas, up from 20% in 1960.[39] Rapid urban growth outpaces jobs and infrastructure development, spawning slums and strains on services.[40] Youth unemployment fuels social discontent. Reducing fertility and boosting rural development can ease demographic pressures. Strengthening family planning access is also vital.

Health Challenges

Gabon’s upper middle income status hides inadequate health infrastructure and outcomes.[41] Only a quarter of Gabonese have health insurance.[42] Maternal mortality rates are quadruple global benchmarks.[43] HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis prevalence rates are extremely high.[44] Understaffing, poor facilities and corruption hinder progress despite heavy public health spending.[45] Building accountable institutions is essential to meet pressing public health needs.

Security Situation

Relative Stability

Gabon is an island of political stability in unstable Central Africa.[46] No major civil conflicts have occurred since a brief civil war after contested 1993 elections.[47] The Bongo regime represses dissent but avoids mass state violence. Regional crises in nations like Congo rarely spill over into Gabon. Securing borders and maritime resources are Gabon’s main hard security concerns rather than internal threats.

Transnational Crime

Gabon’s porous maritime borders have enabled it to become a major hub for illicit trafficking linked to piracy, illegal fishing and smuggling.[48] The country is a transit point for contraband including drugs, wildlife products and counterfeit goods often linked to Nigeria’s criminal networks.[49] Human trafficking is another problem related to migrants from West Africa transiting through Gabon.[50] Corruption enables these illicit flows. Enhancing coast guard capacities is needed to combat regional crime syndicates.

Terrorism Fears

Gabon faces low risks from terrorism but remains vigilant about militant incursions from chaotic neighbors like Congo.[51] No major attacks have occurred to date besides small explosive devices detonating at foreign embassies deemed pranks.[52] Gabon contributes forces to the Multinational Joint Task Force battling Boko Haram. Radicalization among Muslim minorities is not an acute concern, but violent extremists do transit through en route to North Africa.[53] Maintaining tight border security is crucial.

Foreign Military Presence

France maintains an ongoing military presence under a defense agreement providing for rapid deployments if major unrest erupts.[54] The US also has a small rotational presence.[55] China has provided military aid and technical expertise as it deepens economic ties.[56] Gabon has resisted hosting a major foreign military base thus far.[57] It prefers limited defense partnerships over significant permanent troop deployments by foreign powers on its soil.

conclusion

In conclusion, Gabon has significant strengths including political stability, middle income status and oil wealth. But serious challenges remain across the political, economic, social and security realms. Consolidating democratic reforms, diversifying the economy, reducing inequality and strengthening rule of law are vital for Gabon to reach its development potential. Utilizing oil resources wisely while investing in the Gabonese people will determine the country’s future trajectory. Gabon has the opportunity to set an example in a troubled region if it addresses its difficulties through inclusive and sustainable policies benefiting all segments of society.

Coup d’état in Gabon: everything we know about the situation 30/08/2023

A coup d’État is underway in Gabon on Wednesday, August 30th. The results of the presidential elections held on Saturday, August 26th were announced in the middle of Tuesday night to Wednesday: the president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who has been in power for 14 years, obtained a third term with 64.27% of the expressed votes, announced the president of the Gabonese Electoral Center (CGE), Michel Stéphane Bonda, on Gabon 1re, the state television channel. The main rival of Bongo, Albert Ondo Ossa, only received 30.77% of the votes.

But in the early morning, a group of about a dozen Gabonese soldiers spoke on the television channel Gabon 24, housed within the presidency, to read a statement. Among the soldiers present were members of the Republican Guard (GR), the presidential praetorian guard identifiable by their green berets, as well as regular army soldiers and police officers. Here is all that is known about the situation.

The soldiers who appeared on Gabonese television read a statement in which they announced the dissolution of “all the institutions of the Republic.” After noting “irresponsible and unpredictable governance, resulting in a continuous deterioration of social cohesion that could lead the country to chaos […] we have decided to defend peace by ending the current regime,” said one of the soldiers, speaking on behalf of a “transition and restoration committee for institutions.” “To this end, the general elections of August 26, 2023, as well as the manipulated results, are canceled,” he added. “All the institutions of the Republic are dissolved, the government, the Senate, the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court. We call on the population to remain calm and serene and we reaffirm our commitment to respect the commitments of Gabon towards the international community,” he continued, also announcing the closure of the country’s borders “until further notice.”

Among the soldiers were members of the Republican Guard (GR), the presidential praetorian guard recognizable by their green berets, as well as regular army soldiers and police officers. The soldiers particularly believed that the organization of the elections did not “fulfill the conditions of a transparent vote” and denounced “irresponsible and unpredictable governance, resulting in a continuous deterioration of social cohesion that could lead the country to chaos.”

They announced the dissolution of all the country’s institutions and the closure of Gabon’s borders “until further notice.” According to the coup plotters, the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, is “under house arrest” surrounded by his family and doctors, and one of his sons has been arrested, notably for “high treason.”

In a video broadcast on social networks, the president calls on “everyone” his “friends” to “make noise”. In the video, we see him sitting in a chair, visibly worried, although it is impossible to determine when the video was filmed. “I am Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of Gabon […] I am sending a message to all our friends around the world, telling them to make noise about the people who have arrested me and my family,” says Ali Bongo in English. Bongo, who has been leading Gabon for over fourteen years and had just been declared the winner of the election on Saturday before the coup, is 64 years old. In addition to the president’s son, six other high-ranking officials of the regime have been arrested. These include Ali Bongo’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, presidential advisers, as well as the top two officials of the all-powerful Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). The seven men arrested by the coup leaders embody the “young guard” that formed a group of very close and influential advisors to the president since his return from a long convalescence following a stroke in 2018.

Meanwhile, General Brice Oligui Nguema, leader of the Republican Guard and former President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s praetorian guard, was carried in triumph on Wednesday by hundreds of soldiers, with shouts of “Oligui president,” in footage shown on state television.

Gunshots heard in Libreville

In the morning, AFP journalists heard automatic gunfire in Libreville. A few hours later, the internet was restored in the country, three days after being shut down by the government due to the perceived risk of violence on election day, a journalist from AFP observed on Wednesday.

Fraud denounced by Albert Ondo Ossa

Albert Ondo Ossa had denounced “fraud orchestrated by the Bongo camp” two hours before the close of polling on Saturday, and at the time claimed victory. His camp urged Ali Bongo on Monday, August 28, to “peacefully transfer power” based on a count conducted by their own scrutineers without providing supporting documentation.

References

[1] Gildas, Marie Alphonse. “Regime resilience and limits to democratisation in Gabon.” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 59, no. 3 (2021): 329-350.

[2] Yates, Douglas A. “Gabon: enduring strongman rule despite democratic façade.” The Conversation. December 15, 2020. https://theconversation.com/gabon-enduring-strongman-rule-despite-democratic-facade-151929

[3] Dumortier, Benoit-Pierre. “Gabon: turbulent post-electoral crisis shows the desperate need for term limits.” The Conversation. September 16, 2016. https://theconversation.com/gabon-turbulent-post-electoral-crisis-shows-the-desperate-need-for-term-limits-65671

[4] Moubamba, Patience Lee. “Gabon election crisis has exposed just how sick Bongo is.” Mail & Guardian. September 6, 2016. https://mg.co.za/article/2016-09-06-gabon-election-crisis-has-exposed-just-how-sick-bongo-is/

[5] “Gabon: AU Report Details Flaws in Elections.” Human Rights Watch. October 14, 2016. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/14/gabon-au-report-details-flaws-elections

[6] Searcey, Dionne and Onishi, Norimitsu. “Gabon Foils Coup Attempt Against President.” New York Times. January 7, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/07/world/africa/gabon-coup.html

[7] Amnesty International. “Gabon 2017/2018.” https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/africa/central-africa/gabon/report-gabon/

[8] Freedom House. “Freedom in the World 2021: Gabon.” https://freedomhouse.org/country/gabon/freedom-world/2021

[9] Yates, Douglas A. “Gabon’s fragile democracy under threat as coup leader calls for popular uprising.” The Conversation. January 9, 2019. https://theconversation.com/gabons-fragile-democracy-under-threat-as-coup-leader-calls-for-popular-uprising-109622

[10] Nzouankeu, Victor Anatole Maiyo. “The political economy of development in Gabon since 1960.” African Journal of Political Science and International Relations 7, no. 1 (2013): 1-13.

[11] Mandjouhou, Yves Paul. “Can Gabon Achieve Transparency in Its Oil Industry?” Natural Resource Governance Institute. January 8, 2018. https://resourcegovernance.org/blog/can-gabon-achieve-transparency-its-oil-industry

[12] Transparency International. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2021.” https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2021

[13] Searcey, Dionne. “President Ali Bongo of Gabon Has Stroke.” New York Times. October 24, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/24/world/africa/gabon-ali-bongo-stroke.html

[14] International Crisis Group. “Gabon: Pre-election Tensions Cloud Prospects for Reform.” Briefing No. 160. May 3, 2021. https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/b160-gabon-pre-election-tensions.pdf

[15] Fessy, Thomas. “Gabon election: Is there a culture of violence?” BBC News. August 31, 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37218279

[16] World Bank. “The World Bank in Gabon.” 2022. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/gabon/overview

[17] CIA World Factbook. “Gabon: Economy.” https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/gabon/#economy

[18] Schilling, Mark. “Gabon pins growth hopes on processing raw materials.” Deutsche Welle. June 14, 2021. https://www.dw.com/en/gabon-pins-growth-hopes-on-processing-raw-materials/a-57884908

[19] Moumidou, Sonia Rolley and Olivier. “Inequality concerns shape Gabon’s presidential race.” France24. August 19, 2016. https://www.france24.com/en/20160819-gabon-inequality-presidential-election-bongo-ping-moubamba-corruption

[20] Mailey, J.R. “The Impact of Oil in Gabon.” Cultural Survival. 2015. https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/impact-oil-gabon

[21] World Bank. “Gabon: Systematic Country Diagnostic.” 2018. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/523671524014997350/pdf/Gabon-SCD-04162018.pdf

[22] International Monetary Fund. “Gabon: 2019 Article IV Consultation.” IMF Country Report No. 19/276. August 2019. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2019/08/05/Gabon-2019-Article-IV-Consultation-Press-Release-Staff-Report-and-Statement-by-the-48579

[23] Musangi, Patrick. “Gabon’s economy not yet out of the woods.” The Conversation. February 11, 2019. https://theconversation.com/gabons-economy-not-yet-out-of-the-woods-110976

[24] World Bank. “Gabon’s Debt Distress Leads it to Restructure External Debt with Paris Club and Private Creditors.” December 3, 2021. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/12/03/gabons-debt-distress-leads-it-to-restructure-external-debt-with-paris-club-and-private-creditors

[25] International Crisis Group. “Gabon: Pre-election Tensions Cloud Prospects for Reform.” Briefing No. 160. May 3, 2021. https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/b160-gabon-pre-election-tensions.pdf

[26] Bokwe, Sadio Moran. “Gabon seeking to establish itself as the region’s sea power.” Deutsche Welle. June 18, 2019. https://www.dw.com/en/gabon-seeking-to-establish-itself-as-the-regions-sea-power/a-49305149

[27] Berman, Calev. “Is Gabon the next bright light of Francophone Africa?” Atlantic Council. January 10, 2020. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/africasource/is-gabon-the-next-bright-light-of-francophone-africa/

[28] Nzongola-Ntalaja, Georges. Patrice Lumumba. Ohio University Press, 2014. p. 246.

[29] Bertelsmann Stiftung, BTI 2020 Country Report — Gabon. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2020.

[30] Yates, Douglas A. The rentier state in Africa: Oil rent dependency and neocolonialism in the Republic of Gabon. Africa World Press, 1996.

[31] Reed, Kristin Michelitch. “Uncovering the potentially discriminatory effects of patronage appointments.” American Economic Review 105, no. 11 (2015): 3150-84.

[32] International Crisis Group. “Gabon: Pre-election Tensions Cloud Prospects for Reform.” Briefing No. 160. May 3, 2021. https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/b160-gabon-pre-election-tensions.pdf

[33] Taylor, Scott D. Culture and Customs of Gabon. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

[34] Mebiame Zomo, Maureen. “Women in politics in Gabon: those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.” Institute for Security Studies. November 2, 2018. https://issafrica.org/iss-today/women-in-politics-in-gabon-those-who-sow-the-wind-shall-reap-the-whirlwind

[35] Global Fund for Women. “Violence Against Women in Gabon.” March 2013. https://www.globalfundforwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/VAW-Gabon-FINAL.pdf

[36] British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. “Gabon: Human Rights Priority Country 2022.” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gabon-human-rights-priority-country-2022-ministerial-statement/gabon-human-rights-priority-country-2022-ministerial-statement

[37]

Taylor, Scott D. Culture and Customs of Gabon. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

[38] World Bank. “Gabon: Systematic Country Diagnostic.” 2018. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/523671524014997350/pdf/Gabon-SCD-04162018.pdf

[39] Mailey, J.R. “The Impact of Oil in Gabon.” Cultural Survival. 2015. https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/impact-oil-gabon

[40] Closas, Alvar, and Minvielle, Lucie. “Gabon’s Unrest Reveals the Country’s Need for Economic Diversification.” Chatham House. October 11, 2016. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2016/10/gabons-unrest-reveals-countrys-need-economic-diversification.

[41] Bertelsmann Stiftung, BTI 2020 Country Report — Gabon. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2020.

[42] World Health Organization. “Gabon.” https://www.who.int/countries/gab/en/

[43] UNICEF. “Gabon: Maternal and Newborn Health Disparities.” 2019. https://data.unicef.org/resources/maternal-newborn-health-disparities-country-profiles/

[44] World Bank. “Gabon: Systematic Country Diagnostic.” 2018. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/523671524014997350/pdf/Gabon-SCD-04162018.pdf

[45] Viney, Kieran. “Healthcare Corruption in Africa Threatens Efforts to Curb COVID.” Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. January 26, 2021. https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/14093-healthcare-corruption-in-africa-threatens-efforts-to-curb-covid

[46] Searcey, Dionne. “Gabon, with Safe Image and Stable Leader, Is Shaken by Violence.” New York Times. September 2, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/03/world/africa/gabon-election-ali-bongo-ongala.html

[47] Nzouankeu, Jacques Mariel. “The Role of the National Conference in the Transition to Democracy in Africa: The Cases of Benin and Gabon.” Issue: A Journal of Opinion 22, no. 1 (1994): 42-46.

[48] UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Transnational Organized Crime in the Gulf of Guinea. Vienna: UNODC, 2013.

[49] Obi, Cyril. “Economic Community of West African States on the Ground: Comparing Peacekeeping in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte D’Ivoire, and Guinea-Bissau.” African Security 2, no. 2-3 (2009): 167-186.

[50] Morgades-Gil, Sílvia. “The Gabonese Communities in France: The Reinvention of Migrant Belonging.” Population, Space and Place 21, no. 5 (2015): 452-463.

[51] Ploch, Lauren. “Africa and the War on Terrorism.” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. January 11, 2007.

[52] Searcey, Dionne. “Blasts at 2 Embassies in Gabon Believed to Be ‘Amateurish,’ Authorities Say.” New York Times. June 15, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/15/world/africa/gabon-embassy-explosions.html

[53] Hanon, Maxime Ricard. “The Geopolitics of Borders and Borderlands in Africa: Issues from West, North, and the Horn of Africa.” Geopolitics 25, no. 4 (2020): 899-923.

[54] Shurkin, Michael. “France’s War in the Sahel and the Evolution of Counter-Insurgency Doctrine.” Texas National Security Review 3, no. 3 (2020).

[55] Ploch, Lauren. “Africa and the War on Terrorism.” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. January 11, 2007.

[56] Abi-Habib, Maria. “China’s ‘Belt and Road’ Plan in Pakistan Takes a Military Turn.” New York Times. December 19, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/world/asia/pakistan-china-belt-road-military.html

[57] Searcey, Dionne. “U.S. Wary of Its New Neighbor in Djibouti: A Chinese Naval Base.” New York Times. February 27, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/world/africa/us-djibouti-chinese-naval-base.html

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

Articles: 14306

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *