#AfricanHistory: Congo
August 16, 2016
Gabon Election Overview
August 26, 2016

GetToKnow: Gabon

Located on the west coast of Africa, Gabon is one of the region’s politically stable countries.[1] Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Gabon has had three democratically elected presidents.[2]

In 1990, protests prompted by economic hardships led to multiparty legislative elections in the country. Omar Bongo Ondimba and the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) retained power over subsequent years through a series of flawed elections.[3] The late President Omar Bongo Ondimba ruled for more than four decades until his death in 2009.[4] During Omar Bongo’s tenure, the country maintained a close relationship with France under a system known as ‘Francafrique’; the receiving of both political and military support in exchange for business favours.[5]

However, relations have cooled since his son Ali Ondimba won a contested election in 2009 and French authorities launched a long-running corruption investigation into the family’s assets. Gabon is a major oil producer but a third of its population live in poverty, according to the World Bank.[6]

Born in 1959 in Brazzaville – Congo where his father was serving in the armed forces – Ali Ondimba was educated in France. He entered politics in 1981 and has served as both foreign and defence minister. In 2011, the main opposition candidate during the 2009 vote, Andre Mba Obame, declared himself the rightful winner and legitimate president.[7] Ali Ondimba responded by banning Obame’s opposition party, the National Union (NU). Consequently, Obame was charged with treason which prompted him to go into exile in 2012 to France. Eventually in February 2015, Gabon lifted the ban on the main opposition due to mounting criticism on government over a range of grievances and trade union disputes, leading to violent demonstrations.[8]

Ali Ondimba’s presidency has been overshadowed by a long-running French investigation into allegations of embezzlement involving the Bongo family’s assets.[9]

Opponents of the late President Omar Bongo have long accused the Bongo family of running the country as their private property. Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his time in office, and was accused of embezzling oil revenues and bribery.[10] Along with Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Congo-Brazzaville’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, the late president was the subject of a long-running fraud probe by French police into the source of money spent on assets in France.[11] Opposition leaders continue to denounce his son’s election as a fraud, saying that the poll had been fixed in order to ensure a dynastic succession. According to the Freedom House Index, Gabon is not an electoral democracy and human rights and civil liberties continue to be repressed under the leadership of Ali Ondimba.[12]

Ali Ondimba is standing for re-election on 27 August 2016; critics have protested against his candidacy, saying he is ineligible to run. Among other reasons, they argue that he was adopted and born in a different country, but supporters say the allegations about his nationality are false.[13]

Country Overview[14]

Independence Year 17 August 1960
President Ali Bongo Ondimba
Government Republic
Capital City Libreville
GDP (2015) $ 14.34 billion
Population (2015) 1.730 million
Religion Christianity
Major Languages French
Currency CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) Franc
Life Expectancy 62 years (men), 64 years (women)


[1] The World Bank. 2016. Country Overview: Gabon. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/gabon/overview. [Accessed: 16 August 2016]

[2] BBC News. 2016. Gabon profile. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13376333.  [Accessed: 12 August 2016].

[3] Freedom House Index. 2012. Gabon. Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2012/gabon. [Accessed: 12 August 2016].

[4] The World Bank. 2016. Gabon. Available at:  http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/gabon/overview.  [Accessed: 12 August 2016].

[5] South African History Online. 2011. Gabon gains independence from France. Available at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/gabon-gains-independence-france . [Accessed: 12 August 2016].

[6] n.2

[7] BBC News. 2016. Violence in Gabon after death of Andre Mba Obame. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32280678. [Accessed: 14 August 2016]

[8] Reuters Africa. 2015.Gabon lifts ban on main opposition party. Available at: http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFKBN0L90IN20150205. [Accessed: 16 August 2016].

[9] Le Gabon.org. 2016. Emerging Policy: A general overview of Gabon. Available at: http://www.en.legabon.org/emerging-gabon/emerging-policy. [Accessed: 12 August].

[10] n.1

[11] n.7

[12] n.2

[13] Africa News. 2016. Gabon opposition denounces Bongo candidacy. Available at: http://www.africanews.com/2016/06/24/gabon-opposition-denounces-bongo-candidacy/. [Accessed: 16 August 2016].

[14] n.2