The Gabonese Republic (République gabonaise) lies on the west coast of Africa at the equator. The country has borders with Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon in the north and the Republic of Congo in the east and south, with the west coast it borders on the South Atlantic Ocean. The country covers an area of 267 667 km², half the size of France, Gabon’s largest trading partner.
Geographically, a coastal strip and a mountainous area over 1,000 m high can be distinguished. The coastal area is on average 200 km wide and strongly structured by lakes and lowlands. To the north is Cape Lopez, which rises far into the sea, and a peninsula called the Gabon estuary (estuary: Latin for river estuary, which has been extended into a tube under the influence of tidal currents). In this area lies the port and capital of the country, Libreville, which, with about 540 000 inhabitants (agglomeration), is also the largest city in the country. The southern coast is dominated by a spit coast with sections of sea almost completely enclosed by the surrounding land.
The mountainous interior rises to an altitude of over 1,000 m and is largely covered with rainforest. Gabon’s most important river and waterway is the 1,200 km long Ogowe, which with its numerous tributaries forms a kind of central axis of the republic. It has its source in neighbouring Congo and flows into the Atlantic Ocean. South of the river rises the mountains of the “Massif du Chaillu”, where Mont Iboundji (1,575 m) is the highest mountain in the country.
About 40 tribes live on the territory of Gabon, which in turn can be divided into ten linguistic subgroups. The approximately 1.32 million inhabitants all speak Bantu dialects, the official language French is spoken by a good third of the population and read by about a quarter. A special feature are the pygmies with a few thousand members who live in the tropical rainforests of Gabon and make up only about 1% of the population.
The largest groups in the country in terms of numbers are Fang north of the river Ogowe (35.5% of the population), Mpongwe on the north coast (15%) and Mbete (14%) and Punu (11.5%) south of Ogowe.
About three quarters of the total 85% of Christians belong to the Roman Catholic faith. Only a very small percentage of Gabon’s inhabitants are officially followers of the traditional folk religions, although many people practice indigenous and Christian religious practices in parallel. Muslims who have immigrated from other African countries form only a small minority.
The population is growing by 1.5% on average, although a very high percentage (7.9%) of the total population is infected with HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy is therefore just under 56 years. A good 63% of Gabonese can read and write.
According to the 1991 constitution, Gabon is a presidential republic with a multiparty system. The head of state with extensive powers is the president directly elected by the people for seven years (Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba, since October 2009). Together with a prime minister appointed by him (Daniel Ona Ondo, since January 2014) and the cabinet, he exercises executive power.
The legislature is divided into two parts. It consists of a Senate with 91 senators indirectly elected for six years and a National Assembly, whose 120 deputies are directly elected every five years.
The country’s highest court consists of three chambers, the legal system is based on French civil law. Gabon is administratively divided into nine provinces.
Gabon’s economy is characterised by private enterprise. The privatization of state-owned enterprises was initiated in 1995. As part of the French franc zone, the country has been able to secure relatively high economic and political stability for the region. Its economy is more closely tied to Europe and the USA than to the surrounding states, although good economic ties with Cameroon are an exception. Nevertheless, a third of the population lives in poverty, and the country is very dependent on oil revenues and the dollar exchange rate.
Almost four fifths of the working population work in agriculture, which generates only 4% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Cocoa, coffee, oils, sugar cane and rubber are exported. Despite a declining trend, the timber industry continues to be an important economic factor, which can fall back on available tropical timber.
Off the coast of Port-Gentil, but also on-shore oil is produced. The country is also one of the world’s leading exporters of manganese. However, a major problem for the effective exploitation of existing deposits is the inadequate infrastructure. For example, only 840 km of the 8 500 km road network is asphalted and there is a lack of funds to quickly change this situation. The transgabun railway built in the 1980s is a particularly important transport route in view of this fact, but the Ogowe River is also of great importance as the most important waterway. Libreville and Port-Gentil are the most important seaports, and are home to the country’s international airports (in addition to Franceville).
The most important trading partners for imports (mainly machinery, food and consumer goods) are France, the USA and Great Britain, for exports the USA, France and China. The currency is the African CFA franc.