Gabon

 

History of Gabon

Gabon Flag
Flag

The earliest humans in Gabon were believed to be the Babinga, or Pygmies, dating back to 7000 B.C., who were later followed by Bantu groups from southern and eastern Africa. Now there are many tribal groups in the country, the largest being the Fang peoples, who constitute 25% of the population.

Gabon was first explored by the Portuguese navigator Diego Cam in the 15th century. In 1472, the Portuguese explorers encountered the mouth of the Como River and named it “Rio de Gabao,” river of Gabon, which later became the name of the country. The Dutch began arriving in 1593, and the French in 1630. In 1839, the French founded their first settlement on the left bank of the Gabon estuary and gradually occupied the hinterland during the second half of the 19th century. The land became a French territory in 1888, an autonomous republic within the French Union after World War II, and an independent republic on Aug. 17, 1960.

Since independence, Gabon has been one of the more stable African countries. The former president of Gabon, El Hadj Omar BONGO Ondimba - one of the longest-serving heads of state in the world - has dominated the contry's political scene for almost four decades. President BONGO introduced a nominal multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s. However, allegations of electoral fraud during local elections in 2002-03 and the presidential elections in 2005 have exposed the weaknesses of formal political structures in Gabon. Gabon's political opposition remains weak, divided, and financially dependent on the current regime. Despite political conditions, a small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous and stable African countries. Despite being made up of more than 40 ethnic groups, Gabon has escaped the strife afflicting other West African states.

Government

Gabon Map Gabon Map - Click for larger view

Politics of Gabon takes place in a framework of a republic whereby the President of Gabon is head of state and in effect, also the head of government, since he appoints the prime minister and his cabinet. The government is divided into three branches: the Executive (headed by the prime minister (although previously grabbed by the president), the legislative that is formed by the two chambers of parliament. The judicial branch, like other two branches, is technically independent and equal to other three branches, although in practice, since its judges are appointed by the president, it is beholden to the same president. Since independence the party system is dominated by the conservative Gabonese Democratic Party.

In March 1991 a new constitution was adopted. Among its provisions are a Western-style bill of rights, the creation of the National Council of Democracy that also oversees the guarantee of those rights and a governmental advisory board which deals with economic and social issues. Multi-party legislative elections were held in 1990-91 even though opposition parties had not been declared formally legal.

Religion

Major religions practiced in Gabon include Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, and traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Many people practice elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Approximately 7% of the population, including noncitizens, practice at least some elements of Christianity; 12% practice Islam (mainly Sunni); 10 percent practice traditional indigenous religious beliefs exclusively; and 5 percent practice no religion or are atheists. Former president El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba was member of the Muslim minority.

The BabongoHi are a forest people of Gabon on the west coast of equatorial Africa. They are originators of the Bwiti religion, based on consumption of the intoxicating hallucinogenic iboga plant. For comparison of its spiritual and cultural roles, see ayahuasca aka yage, also botanical alkaloid based, and cannabis in the Rastafari movement. Other peoples in Gabon have combined traditional Bwiti practices with animism and Christian concepts to produce a very different modern form of Bwiti.

The Bwiti rituals form part of the initiation into the Babongo people. Babongo people's lives are highly ritualized through dance, music and ceremony associated with natural forces and jungle animals. Foreign missionaries are active in the country. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The US government received no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice during 2007.

Language

The official language of Gabon is French, while 32% of the people speak Fang as a mother tongue. French is the medium of instruction. Before World War II very few Gabonese learned French, nearly all of them working in either business or government administration. After the war, France worked for universal primary education in Gabon, and by the 1960-61 census, 47% of the Gabonese over the age of 14 spoke some French, while 13% were literate in the language. By the 1990s, the literacy rate had risen to about 60%.

It is estimated that 80% of the country's population can speak the language and one-third of residents of Libreville, the capital city, are native French speakers.[1] More than 10,000 French people live in Gabon, and France predominates the country's foreign cultural and commercial influences. Outside the capital, French is less commonly spoken, though it is used by those who have completed a secondary or university education.

Weather and Climate

Gabon is a country in west central Africa and can be best visited from June through September when it's the dry season and the best time to see animals. The second best time to visit is from late-January through December. The rainy seasons are from October through December and late February through May, though we suggest that you take along a collapsible umbrella no matter what time of year you visit. The average temperatures are between 23 - 29 degrees Celsius (84 - 73 degrees Fahrenheit) which makes Gabon hot and humid year round.

Entry Requirements

All visitors to Gabon must obtain a visa from one of the Gabonese diplomatic missions. Only citizens of Morocco and South Africa can visit Gabon by obtaining a visa on arrival. Holders of an entry authorization issued by Immigration prior to arrival can obtain a visa on arrival. Holders of diplomatic, official or service passports issued to nationals of Benin, Brazil, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, France, Guinea, Mali, South Africa do not require a visa for Gabon.

Public Holidays

Public Holidays Gabon 2015
New Year's Day 1 January 2015
Renovation Day 12 March 2015
Easter Monday 6 April 2015
Women's Day 17 April 2015
Labour Day 1 May 2015
Martyrs' Day 6 May 2015
Labour Day 1 May 2015
Whit Monday 25 May 2015
Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) 18 July 2015
Assumption 15 August 2015
Independence Days 16 August 2015 - 17 August 2015
Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) 23 September 2015
All Saints' Day 1 November 2015
Christmas Day 25 December 2015
   

Travel Advisory

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Gabon. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to crime in some parts of the country.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions. Decide your destination in advance and have a planned route of travel.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.