Capital: Libreville (pop. 673,995). Other cities–Port-Gentil (150,000), Franceville (31,183).
Population: (2010 est.): 1,545,255.
Languages: French (official), Fang, Myene, Bateke, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi
Religions: Seventy-five percent of the Gabonese identify themselves as Roman Catholic, and 20 percent as Protestants. In reality, however, many Gabonese hold animist (spirit) beliefs while also practicing Christianity. Witchcraft is one element of animism that still exists in Gabon. Belief in evil spirits and in sorcerers who can call and use them is common. Death is often explained as the work of an evil spirit, or of a neighbor who is skilled in casting spells.
Ethnic groups: Fang (largest), Myene, Bapounou, Eshira, Bandjabi, Bakota, Nzebi, Bateke/Obamba
Government: Type: Republic.
Independence: August 17, 1960.
Branches: Executive–President Ali Bongo Ondimba (head of state); prime minister Raymond Ndong Sima (head of government) and appointed Council of Ministers.
Legislative–bicameral legislature (National Assembly and Senate).
Judicial–Supreme Court and Constitutional Court.
Living Conditions: Education: Years compulsory–to age 16. Attendance–94%. Literacy–86%. Health: Infant mortality rate–55/1,000. Life expectancy–60 years
Gabon relies heavily on its oil exports and is one of the least densely inhabited countries in Africa, giving it a high GDP/cap of $8,600. There is still a wide rich/poor gap.
Almost all Gabonese are of Bantu origin. Gabon has at least 40 ethnic groups, with separate languages and cultures. Ethnic group boundaries are less sharply drawn in Gabon than elsewhere in Africa. Most ethnicities are spread throughout Gabon, leading to constant contact and interaction among the groups. Intermarriage between the ethnicities is quite common, helping reduce ethnic tensions. French, the official language, is a unifying force. More than 10,000 native French live in Gabon, including an estimated 2,000 dual nationals. France dominates foreign cultural and commercial influences.
Politics have been turbulent since independence with many changes in the form of government and frequent violence.
History: Over the last 7 centuries, Bantu ethnic groups arrived in the area from several directions to escape enemies or find new land. In the process they displaced other groups in the region, among them the pygmies who now inhabit the jungle in the country’s far east. Gabon’s first European visitors were Portuguese traders who arrived in the 15th century. Dutch, British, and French traders followed the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the coast became a center of the slave trade. In a bid to beat the other European powers, France began to formalize its status in Gabon by signing treaties with Gabonese coastal chiefs in 1839 and 1841.
Libreville, the capital, grew out of a series of small settlements along the Komo River estuary. The first settlement was started in 1842 by American missionaries from New England who established a Presbyterian mission on a hilltop overlooking the estuary. The mission, called Baraka, is now located in the section of Libreville called Glass. In 1849, the population along the Komo River estuary swelled when the French captured an illegal slave ship and released the passengers at the mouth of the Komo River. The slaves named their settlement Libreville–“free town.” Between 1862 and 1887, French explorers penetrated the dense jungles of what would become Gabon. Capitalizing on treaties signed with indigenous chiefs earlier in the century, France occupied Gabon in 1885 during the European scramble for Africa. However, it did not begin to administer it until 1903. In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959. The territories became independent in 1960–forming the independent nations of the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), and Gabon.
Men of Peace.
The defeat of spiritual powers and animism.
A positive spiritual heritage from the founding missionaries.
An end to syncretism.