Map of Gabon        
Gabon straddles the equator on the west coast of Africa. I was posted  in the north at Oyem and lived on the campus of a rural development school staffed by UNESCO employees (United Nations) along with Gabonese. I taught one pisciculture course (breeding of fish as a farm product) at the school and spent the majority of my time in the rural villages. In a 2005 news article concerning Oyem and the surrounding area, it was stated, the population is about 35,000.

Africa Department of State Information


 Officially Gabonese Republic, French Gabon, or République Gabonaise, country lying on the west coast of Africa, astride the Equator, with a total area estimated at 103,347 square miles (267,667 square kilometres). It is bordered by Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west; the island state of São Tomé and Príncipe is situated off the coast. Gabon's capital is Libreville. Gabon remains strongly attached to France, its former colonizer, and to the French language and culture.

Climate
Gabon has an equatorial climate, with year-round high temperatures and humidity. Rainfall varies from an annual average of 120 inches (3,050 millimetres) at Libreville to 150 inches on the northwest coast, with almost all of it falling between October and May. In the period from June to September there is little, if any, rainfall, but humidity remains high. Temperature shows little seasonal variation, the daily average being about 81° F (27° C).

 People
Ethnic and linguistic composition
All of Gabon's 40 or so ethnic groups, except the few thousand Pygmies, speak Bantu languages and, on that basis, can be classified into 10 larger groups. The Myene group (including the Mpongwe and Orungu), though only a small part of the population today, has played an important role in the history of the country as a result of its location along the northern coasts. The Fang, who belong to the larger Ewondo or Pahouin group also found in southern Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, account for one-third of the population; they live north of the Ogooué River. The largest groups south of the Ogooué are the Sira (including the Eshira and Punu), the Nzebi (Njabi), and the Mbete; these groups together form close to half the population. Less numerous peoples include the Benga and Seke (Sheke) in the far northwest, the Kota and Teke in the east, and the Vili along the far southern coast.
Many of the Bantu languages do not have written forms. During the 19th century Christian missionaries transliterated several of them in the Latin alphabet and prepared Bible translations and catechisms for their followers. But the French policy of limiting the use of indigenous languages solely to religious instruction inhibited the growth of other types of literature. Because of the extensive efforts to teach French, at least one-third of the Gabonese can speak the language, and more than one-quarter can read it.

Religion
A large majority of Gabon's population is Christian, with about three times as many Roman Catholics as Protestants. Though Gabonese serve as Roman Catholic bishops, they rely heavily upon foreign clergy, particularly the French Holy Ghost Fathers. The largest Protestant body, the Evangelical Church of Gabon, has Gabonese pastors in its parishes throughout the north. There also exist a small but growing Christian Alliance Church in the southwest and the tiny Evangelical Pentecostal Church (Assembly of God) in the estuary and far northern regions. A syncretic religion called Bwiti (based on an earlier secret society of the same name) came into existence in the early 20th century and later played a role in promoting solidarity among the Fang. The majority of the few thousand Muslims are immigrants from other African countries.

 Economy
Gabon's economy has more links with European and American markets than with those in neighbouring states (with the exception of Cameroon) or elsewhere in Africa. The economy shares some of the characteristics of those of other tropical African states: strong links with the former colonial ruler, a large degree of foreign investment and control, dependence on foreign technicians, and the decline of agriculture. Gabon differs from these states in its reliance on thousands of wage earners from other African countries to supplement its own sparse supply of workers in retailing, artisanship, and domestic transport.

Resources
Gabon possesses important resources in woods and minerals and much hydroelectric potential. But its poor transportation infrastructure and lack of financing, as well as unfavourable world market conditions, hinder the development of some of these resources.

Government
Under the frequently revised constitution of 1961, Gabon is a republic under the executive direction of a president elected by direct universal suffrage for a period of seven years and a Council of Ministers appointed by the president. Provision is also made for a prime minister (appointed by the president) and a National Assembly (elected by direct suffrage) to assume legislative responsibilities and for an independent Supreme Court. After the French intervention of 1964, power became concentrated in the presidency. In 1968 the president's party, the Gabon Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Gabonais; PDG), was declared the only one legally permitted. But in May 1990 transitional constitutional arrangements reestablished a multiparty system. A committee was appointed to formulate a new constitution.
The judicial system consists of a series of customary law courts at the lowest level, above which are a criminal court, a court of appeals, and the Supreme Court (all located in Libreville). The High Court, which is composed of members elected from the National Assembly, has the power to try the president and members of government. An audit office (cour des comptes) was created in 1977 to oversee the government's finances.
Administratively, Gabon is divided into nine provinces, which are further divided into préfectures and sous-préfectures (subprefectures). The provincial governors, the prefects, and the subprefects are all appointed by the president.

Education
The educational system continues to be modeled closely after that of France. French remains the sole medium of instruction; Bantu languages are studied as electives at the secondary and higher levels. While education is officially mandatory from the ages of 6 to 16, the bulk of children do not attend long enough to achieve literacy or numeracy. The Omar Bongo University, founded in 1970, has two- and three-year programs in most fields and some advanced studies. The University of Science and Technology of Masuku, near Franceville, opened in 1986. Many Gabonese study abroad, particularly in France, at the university and graduate levels.

History
Early colonization
Little is known about the history of the Gabon region prior to the arrival of the first Portuguese navigators in the Gabon Estuary in 1472, for the Bantu-speaking peoples inhabiting the region lacked writing. At that time portions of southern Gabon were loosely linked to the state of Loango, which in turn formed a province of the vast Kongo kingdom. From the offshore islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, where the Portuguese established sugar plantations, they developed trade with the mainland. From the late 1500s, Dutch, French, Spanish, and English competitors also exchanged cloth, iron goods, firearms, and alcoholic beverages for hardwoods, ivory, and a few slaves.
The slave trade achieved extensive development only between the 1760s and 1840s, as a result of heightened demand from Brazil and Cuba. Interior peoples sent undesirables from their own societies and captives from warfare down the waterways to the coast where they were collected in barracoons (temporary enclosures) to await the arrival of European ships. The Orungu clans at Cape Lopez organized a kingdom whose power rested on control of the slave trade through the mouths of the Ogooué River. The Mpongwe clans of the estuary, who were already important traders, also profited from the slave trade, as did the Vili of Loango, whose activities extended throughout southern Gabon. Only the Fang, who were migrating southward from Cameroon into the forests north of the Ogooué, ordinarily refused to hold slaves or engage in warfare to obtain them. The coastward migrations of the numerous and often warlike Fang nevertheless contributed to the further decimation and dispersion of many interior peoples, particularly during the 19th century.

French control
By 1800 the British were becoming the leading traders in manufactures throughout the Gulf of Guinea. After 1815 the French sought to compete more actively in the commercial sphere and to join Britain in combating the slave trade. To these ends, Captain Édouard Bouët-Willaumez negotiated treaties with the heads of two Mpongwe clans, King Denis (Antchouwe Kowe Rapontchombo) on the southern bank of the estuary in 1839 and King Louis (Anguile Dowe) on the northern bank in 1841. They agreed to end the slave trade and to accept French sovereignty over their lands. The arrival of American Protestant missionaries on the northern bank in May 1842 to open a school in the lands of King Glass (R'Ogouarowe)—the centre of British, American, and German commercial activity—spurred the French to establish Fort d'Aumale within the territory of King Louis in 1843. In 1844 France brought in Roman Catholic missionaries to promote French cultural influence among the Mpongwe and neighbouring peoples. French agents obtained a treaty from King Glass recognizing French sovereignty. In 1849 Bouët-Willaumez organized a small settlement of mainly Vili freed slaves called Libreville (“free town”), which with the fort formed the nucleus of the capital.
During the 1850s and '60s the French gradually extended their control along the adjacent coast and sent explorers into the interior. The expeditions of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza between 1875 and 1885 established French authority on the upper Ogooué, where Franceville was founded in 1880, and on the Loango coast. An enlarged Gabon was attached to the French Congo in 1886 under Brazza as governor.
In 1910 Gabon became one of the four colonies within the federation of French Equatorial Africa. The French delimited the frontier with the Germans in Cameroon in 1885 and with the Spanish in Río Muni, or Spanish Guinea (later Equatorial Guinea), in 1900. French occupation of the Gabon interior brought little opposition; but interference with trade and such exactions as a head tax, a labour tax for public projects, and forced labour provoked considerable resistance, as did the French policy from 1898 to 1914 of seeking to develop the economy through monopolistic concessionary companies, which devastated settlement, agricultural production, and trade.
The period between the two world wars saw the creation of a pro-French but anticolonialist elite, mainly from the graduates of the boys' schools of the Brothers of Saint-Gabriel at Libreville and Lambaréné. From their ranks came most of the politicians who held office during the Fourth French Republic (1946–58) when Gabon became an overseas territory with its own assembly and representation in the French Parliament. In this era France considerably expanded public investment in the economy, in health care, and in education. In 1958 Gabon became an autonomous republic within the French Community and, after concluding cooperation agreements with France, achieved independence on Aug. 17, 1960.

Copyright © 1994-2002 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.












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