Gabon - What? Where?
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The nation of Gabon straddles the equator on the west coast of Africa. It covers an area of 103,347 square miles (267,668 square kilometers). It is bordered by Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon to the north, Congo to the south and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Libreville, the capital city, is located near the coast on the Gabon Estuary. The country consists of a narrow coastal plain, backed by a hilly interior and savanna in the south and east.

Little is known about Gabon's pre-colonial past, other than that Pygmy and Bantu tribes were the first to populate the area. The region came to the notice of Europeans when the Portuguese landed there in 1472. Although Gabon later became a center for the slave trade, it was initially ignored by European powers. When the French

Map Of Gabon

colonial era began, around mid-19th century, the slave trade was abolished and the newly freed subjects established the Free Town (which would later become Libreville). The country became a territory of French Equatorial Africa in 1910 and, after decades of colonial neglect, obtained its independence in 1960.

Gabon Flag

While Gabon doesn't have the breadth of attractions of some of its neighbors, it does have something the others don't have: stability. Gabon's rich natural resources have made the country prosperous and secure. They've also made it a bit pricey. Libreville, the capital, is one of Africa's (and the world's) most expensive cities.

With the great price, however, comes great beauty. Gabon looks like a Hollywood version of tropical Africa: dense jungle veined by rivers and inhabited by gorillas, hippos and crocodiles.

The population includes more than 40 separate tribal groups with distinct customs and languages; however, tribal boundaries are less sharply drawn than elsewhere in Africa. The Fangs, representing about 40% of the population, make up the largest single group. The Bapounou, about 20% of the population, live mostly in the north. Many Bantu languages are spoken, but French is the official language because the country was for many decades a colony of France. Thousands of Europeans (primarily French) live in Gabon, too.

Gabon At A Glance
Rain Forest

A plateau that ranges from about 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300 to 600 meters) high spreads over most of the country. Several mountain ranges rise above the plateau. The highest peak is Mount Iboundji at 3,215 feet (980 meters). Coastal lowlands extend inland for 20 to 120 miles (30 to 190 kilometers). Much of Gabon is covered by a dense rain forest.

The largest river, the Ogooue, flows in an arc through the center of the country and empties into the ocean near Port-Gentil. Temperatures are warm and humid year-round. Rainfall varies from an annual average of 120 inches (305 centimeters) at Libreville to 150 inches (380 centimeters) in the northwest.

Forestry was the main industry until mineral exploitation began in the 1960s. The chief timber export is okoume, or Gabon mahogany, a hardwood that long was the major factor in the economy. Other valuable woods include ebony and kevazingo. Gabon has large reserves of manganese, iron ore, petroleum, natural gas, and uranium. In the 1970s petroleum became the major mineral for export, but, after oil prices began dropping in the 1980s, it became a less reliable source of national income. Food crops include cassava, plantains, sugarcane, corn (maize), peanuts (groundnuts), bananas, palm oil, and cacao. Coffee and cacao are raised for export.

Manufacturing accounts for less than 5 percent of Gabon's gross national product, though light industry has been expanding since the opening in 1967 of an oil refinery near the capital. A great increase in the annual production of electricity resulted from the construction of the country's first hydroelectric plant at Kinguele near the capital.

Like most of tropical Africa, Gabon is plagued by poor health conditions. Provision of adequate health care has been a top government priority. This probably stems from the example set by Albert Schweitzer, the 20th century's most famous medical missionary, who established a hospital at Lambarene in Gabon.

President Of Gabon

The coast of Gabon was explored by Portuguese traders in the 15th century. Gabon became part of the colony of the French Congo in 1886. In 1910 it was made a territory of French Equatorial Africa. It gained full independence on Aug. 17, 1960. From 1968 to 1990 Gabon had a one-party political system, which gave executive power to a president elected on an unopposed ballet. Since 1967, the country's leading political figure has been President Omar Bongo. He ruled a one-party state for more than 26 years and then was elected president in the nation's first multiparty elections in 1993.

Following numerous riots and several attempts over the years to overthrow him, Bongo lifted the ban on a multiparty system in April 1990. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in April 1993, demanding the installation of running water and electricity and the paving of roads. On Dec. 5, 1993, Gabon finally held its first multiparty elections. Bongo was returned by 51 percent of the vote, but opposition leader Paul Mba Abessole claimed victory, saying the election was disorganized, and he formed a rival government.

For the latest advisories, call the U.S. State Department's Citizen's Emergency Center (202-647-5225), the Canadian Travel Advisory Line (800-267-6788), the British Travel Service (037-500-900) or the Australian Travel Advisory Line (06-261-2093).


Even though this capital city on the Como River and the Atlantic coast is quite modern - skyscrapers rise above wide, tree-lined boulevards downtown - Libreville (pop. 360,000/1993 est.) still has a strong colonial feeling. On the riverfront you'll see thousands of logs awaiting export.

There are several nice beaches nearby. The closest out-of-town beach area is Pointe Denis, Cap Esterias (about 25 mi/40 km northwest of town) and Sabliere. There are several other excursions worth taking (each requires at least one day): Wonga-Wongue National Park; Fang villages on the Mbei River near Kango; a ferry ride to Coniquet Island to see the caves where escaped slaves once hid; and Kinguele Falls.

Note: It is not advisable to walk the city streets at night. Robberies of visitors near downtown hotels are common.