A Short Political History of Gabon

Friday 28 January 2011

**Note: This is my understanding and may or may not be fully accurate.**

Gabon was originally inhabited by Pygmy people and then Bantu tribes as they moved into the area.  The first Europeans arrived in the 15th century although it wasn't until the late 1800's that France officially began to occupy the area.  In 1910, Gabon became part of French Equatorial Africa and it remained under French rule until 1960 when it finally gained it's independence.  Just this year, Gabon celebrated it's 50th year of independence.

Leon M'ba became Gabon's first president with Omar Bongo Ondimba as vice president.  It is widely known that the French government funneled a lot of money into his campaign in order to continue their logging exploits in the country.  When M'ba took power, it was not long until he abolished all other political parties and took a dictator role.  There were widespread riots and an attempt to overthrow the government but the French government intervened and sent the army restore M'ba to power.  M'ba remained president until his death in 1967 when vice president Omar Bongo succeeded him.

Omar Bongo dissolved the current political party and created his own one-party state.  He continued this until public perception forced him to bring multi-party politics to Gabon in 1990.  He was 'elected' as president several times and ruled Gabon from 1967 until he died in 2009.  Throughout his rule, there were several claims of fraudulent election results but he remained president for a whopping 42 years.  Omar Bongo was widely criticized for doing more for France than Gabon and many people questioned why the wealth from the massive oil revenue was not seen throughout the country when apparently, Bongo had hundreds of millions of dollars in his own bank account.  (Something not uncommon in many African countries.)

Upon his death, elections were held again with 18 candidates running.  Omar Bongo's son, Ali won the election with 42% of the vote.  Things brings us to the recent past.  After the elections, the opposition rejected the results and riots began in Port Gentil (the home of the party.)  You can still see some remnants of what most people refer to as 'the problems' in the Total area of town.  Total is the French oil company that has the largest stakes in Gabon.  Apparently, the opposition felt that Total had helped to rig the election in order to preserve their current oil contracts.  I don't think any expats were harmed and many of the companies brought their foreign employees to safe areas of town (barricaded by the army.)  The riots were soon under control and everything returned to the normal, peaceful existance here.

This week, another opposition leader declared himself president in Libreville and introduced the cabinet he had formed (apparently inspired by the events in Tunisia, Ivory Coast, and now Egypt.)  He claimed that it was time that Gabon had a president they actually wanted.  He has now sought refuge in the UN offices as a government official warned that he has committed treason and could be charged.  His supporters have taken to the streets in Libreville and have had some clashes with police.

We have seen nothing here in Port Gentil and we are keeping our fingers crossed that everything ends quickly and peacefully.  Joe's boss has reassured us that everything is fine and there is no need to panic however, should things arise, safety precautions will be taken.  (Last time, they moved all expats to the Ranch, our old hotel, where it was protected by the French army.)  However, we are preparing ourselves by stocking up on food in case something flares up and stores close.  Luckily, we live no where close to the Total compound which has previously been the target.

As it stands now, we have nothing to worry about and the situation is much, much milder than those in the other African countries right now.  We'll keep you posted if anything unfolds!

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