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Africa economy on stronger note despite…

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Growth firmed up in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) at the start of 2017, overshooting analysts’ expectations. According to a preliminary estimate, regional GDP grew 2.1% annually in Q1, above Q4 2016’s 1.3% expansion. If confirmed, this will mark the fastest growth since Q4 2015 and suggests that green shoots are emerging in some battered economies that are beginning to recover from a dismal 2016.

Overall, however, regional growth is still meagre in a historical context as many economies are suffering from worsening economic imbalances. Behind Q1’s result was a fifth consecutive quarter of contraction in Nigeria’s economy, as the oil sector continued to hold back growth. Security concerns stemming from militant attacks in the key oil-producing Niger Delta region have devastated oil production and the effects have rippled through the economy.

However, the GDP contraction was the softest since Q4 2015 and the non-oil sector returned to growth in Q1. Growth in South Africa picked up marginally in Q1, but was feeble all-in-all and the economy entered into a technical recession on a quarterly basis. The external sector failed to contribute to growth despite a better global backdrop and government spending was muted due to fiscal constraints.

In fact, South Africa has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, as downbeat news continues to emerge from the second-largest economy in SSA. Business confidence fell to a multi-year low in the second quarter, after an abrupt cabinet reshuffle increased political uncertainty.

Moreover, the economy’s credit rating was recently downgraded by Moody’s and the important mining industry is threatening legal action over recent changes to legislation. The government recently unveiled a new mining charter, which lifts the black ownership requirement to 30% and is toughly opposed by mining companies in the country.

Against this backdrop, analysts see the South African economy decelerating slightly in Q2, but expect regional GDP to pick-up to a 2.5% expansion. Elsewhere in the region, growth accelerated in Cote d’Ivoire and in Mozambique. Activity strengthened in Mozambique thanks to a better performance by the mining sector; however, the country’s economic panorama is still bleak due to strained government finances and a high debt burden.

GDP figures for Q1 are still outstanding for the remaining economies in the region. Analysts trimmed their forecasts for SubSaharan Africa this month and now see regional GDP expanding 2.6% in 2017, down 0.1 percentage points from last month’s estimate. While the region is seen slowly picking up from a dreadful 2016, fiscal constraints, political uncertainty and weak investor sentiment will keep the pace of recovery subdued.

In 2018, growth is seen gaining pace as GDP is expected to increase 3.5%. The downgraded 2017 outlook is due to downward revisions for the majority of the region’s economies. Lower growth prospects were seen for seven economies including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia were the only countries to see their forecasts lifted, while three economies’ projections were left unchanged. Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia are expected to be the fastest-growing economies this year, both expanding 7.0%. On the flip side, the regional heavy-weights are the poorest performers with South Africa expected to grow a weak 0.9% in 2017, followed by Nigeria with a 1.2% expansion.

Focus on some African Countries

TANZANIA | Solid growth trajectory but…

Image: President John Magufuli – President of Tanzania The economy remains in good shape but is likely slowing somewhat as clouds are gathering over the banking sector. The current account deficit narrowed considerably in annual terms for the twelve months through April and public debt rose in the same period in order to finance the government budget.

The administration is loosening its purse strings in an effort to cushion the slowdown and fund infrastructure investment, which was one of the main drivers of growth last year.

In a bid to contrast the sharp rise in non-performing loans, the Central Bank announced new rules in early June aimed at strengthening commercial banks’ capital buffers and reducing the ratio of bad loans. Growth should remain solid this year, benefiting from the implementation of major infrastructure projects, a strengthening global economy and increased power supply.

Nevertheless, a further deterioration in the banking system and difficulties in financing the high fiscal deficit pose downside risks. Our panel expects GDP to expand 6.6% in 2017, down 0.4 percentage points from last month, and 6.8% in 2018.

Cote d’Ivoire| Fastest paces due to resilient dynamics in the services sector

In the aftermath of some months’ short-lived mutiny, which ended in mid-May when troops began receiving their agreed-upon bonuses, the government will now face the reality of an even wider fiscal deficit. Aggravated by the collapse in cocoa prices, the yawning budget shortfall projected for this year was partially addressed in June with two Eurobond issues at a combined value of USD 1.8 billion.

The debt offering was oversubscribed by nearly four times, illustrating investors’ confidence in the country’s fundamentals over the long term. To combat low cocoa prices, national regulators began collaborating with their counterparts in Ghana in early June in order to manage prices on the international market.

Although the economy has been shaken by crises this year, it is still expected to grow at one of the fastest paces in the region in 2017 due to resilient dynamics in the services sector. That said, lower cocoa prices will take their toll on growth. Our panelists expect growth to fall to 7.0% in 2017, which is down 0.6 percentage points from last month’s forecast, and to edge up to 7.2% in 2018.

ANGOLA | Low oil prices hit public purse strings

The economy is still keeled over, following a rough 2016 which saw growth plummet due to low oil prices and a weak construction sector. Although the recently announced extension to the OPEC deal is in principle good news for the all-important hydrocarbon sector, the price of the country’s Cabinda oil has actually fallen over the last few weeks.

It now rests substantially below breakeven level, which spells bad news for a fiscal position which could be weakened further by expenditure overruns in the build up to August’s presidential elections.

In addition, despite increasing relative to Q4, the economic climate indicator for Q1 shows that business sentiment remains in the doldrums, with many firms citing woes such as subdued demand and limited access to credit and materials. The latter is likely due in part to foreign exchange restrictions curtailing imported inputs.

Growth will be meagre this year due to low business confidence and a non-oil sector still hampered by limited access to foreign exchange and high inflation. Looking further ahead, moderately higher oil production should cause growth to tick up slightly. Analysts expect GDP to expand 1.5% in 2017, unchanged from last month’s forecast. In 2018, they see the economy picking up the pace and growing 2.5%.

KENYA | Election set to take place against a backdrop of economic decline

Last month brought sobering news to Kenyan policymakers: IMF data revealed that Ethiopia overtook Kenya as the region’s largest economy and it risks being overtaken for second place by Tanzania very soon. The finding highlighted the effect several years of sub-par economic performance has had on the country’s standing as a regional power.

The news comes as the country grapples with drought-induced high inflation, which the government is seeking to allay by passing a supplementary budget foreseeing large food subsidies. It is currently being held up due to large supplementary spending items being attached to the bill. The tenuous situation comes as the country heads to the polls in early August to elect its new president and Parliament.

The political battle lines have been drawn, with opposition parties uniting behind a single candidate, mirroring a similar alliance struck between the governing party and its allies in September last year. GDP growth is expected to suffer somewhat this year due to the interest cap introduced late last year and the dire situation in the agricultural sector.

In addition, political uncertainty around the August presidential election could dampen business sentiment and delay investment decisions. Panellists now expect GDP growth to slow down to 5.2% in 2017, which is down 0.1 percentage points from last month’s forecast, before picking up slightly to 5.6% growth in 2018.

INFLATION | Price pressures fall in May Inflation fell for a third consecutive month in May, easing from April’s 13.9% to 13.3%, according to preliminary data compiled by analysts. Despite reduced price pressures, inflation is still elevated in many economies across the region and policymakers have little space to loosen monetary policy.

In May, both Angola and Nigeria’s Central Bank’s held their main monetary policy rates unchanged. Inflation will remain stubbornly high this year despite stabilization in exchange rates and tight monetary policies. The analysts surveyed this month expect regional inflation to average 12.4% in 2017, which is up 0.4 percentage points from last month’s forecast and above 2016’s 12.3%. Next year, inflationary pressures should begin to recede and inflation is projected to average 9.5% in 2018.

 

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Africa

GABONESE REPUBLIC

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Gabon officially the Gabonese Republic, is a country on the west coast of Central Africa. Located on the equator, Gabon is bordered by Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo on the east and south, and the Gulf of Guinea to the west. It has an area of nearly 270,000 square kilometers (100,000 sq. mi) and its population is estimated at 2 million people. Its capital and largest city is Libreville.

The country’s present name originates from “Gabão“, or Portuguese for “cloak”, which is roughly the shape of the estuary of the Komo River by Libreville. The French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza led his first mission to the Gabon-Congo area in 1875 and France officially occupied the area in 1885.  In 1910 Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa (Afrique-Equatoriale-française or AEF) which existed until 1958 as the federation of the four colonies of Gabon, Moyen-Congo (now the Republic of Congo), Oubangui-Chari (now the Central African Republic) and Chad. The territories of French Equatorial Africa became independent on August 17, 1960. The first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, was Léon M’ba, with Omar Bongo Ondimba as his vice president.

Since its independence from France in 1960, the sovereign state of Gabon has had three presidents. In the early 1990s, Gabon introduced a multi-party system and a new democratic constitution that allowed for a more transparent electoral process and reformed many governmental institutions.

Abundant petroleum and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the 7th highest HDI and the fourth highest GDP per capita (PPP) (after Mauritius, Equatorial Guinea and Seychelles) in the region. GDP grew by more than 6% per year from 2010 to 2012. However, because of inequality in income distribution, a significant proportion of the population remains poor.

 

GOVERNANCE

Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government under the 1961 constitution (revised in 1975, rewritten in 1991, and revised in 2003). The president is elected by universal suffrage for a seven-year term; a 2003 constitutional amendment removed presidential term limits and facilitated a presidency for life. The current president of Gabonese Republic is Ali BONGO Ondimba.

President Ali Bongo Ondimba: President of Gabonese Republic

Under the constitution of February 1961, which was in force for three decades, the Gabonese republic had an executive branch more powerful than the legislative and judicial branches. During the 1970s the constitution was amended to give the Gabonese Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Gabonais; PDG), the only legal party after 1968, roles in the executive and legislative processes.

In May 1990, following a national conference that was called in response to the upheaval of the previous four months, the constitution was amended to end the institutional role of the PDG and to restore a multiparty system. Parliamentary elections were held in September–October 1990, after which a new National Assembly adopted the constitution of March 1991; the constitution has since been amended.

Under the constitution the president, who is head of state, serves a seven-year term. The National Assembly has legislative powers, but the president has the authority to dissolve the National Assembly and postpone legislation. The president nominates the prime minister, who as head of the government selects the members of the Council of Ministers in consultation with the president. The president also has the power to remove the prime minister and council members from office.

Gabon has a bicameral legislature with a National Assembly and Senate. The National Assembly has 120 deputies who are popularly elected for a 5-year term. The Senate is composed of 102 members who are elected by municipal councils and regional assemblies and serve for 6 years. The Senate was created in the 1990–1991 constitutional revision, although it was not brought into being until after the 1997 local elections. The President of the Senate is next in succession to the President.

The constitution provided for an upper legislative house (Senate) for the first time in the history of the republic, and the first elections to the Senate (indirect by local councils) were held in early 1997. A constitutional amendment passed by a PDG-dominated Assembly in April 1997 designated that the president of the Senate would succeed the president of the republic in case of the latter’s death or incapacity. The position of vice president of the republic was also created by amendment; the vice president, who cannot succeed the president, is appointed by and assists the president.

The 1991 constitution also provides strong guarantees for both individual and public liberties not found in the document of 1961. A Charter of Parties adopted at the same time as the constitution defines the role of Gabon’s political parties in a multiparty democracy.

Administratively, Gabon is divided into nine provinces, which are further divided into préfectures and sous-préfectures (subprefectures). Provincial governors, prefects, and subprefects are all appointed by the president.

The highest courts in Gabon’s judiciary system are the country’s former Supreme Court chambers: a judicial court, an administrative court, and a court of accounts, each with absolute authority over its area of expertise. Courts of appeal are found in Franceville and Libreville, and smaller tribunal courts exist throughout the country. There is also a constitutional court, which is the highest court with regards to constitutional matters. The judicial system includes customary law courts, presided over by traditional chiefs who mediate local disputes.

 

ECONOMY

Gabon’s economy is dominated by oil. Oil revenues constitute roughly 46% of the government’s budget, 43% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and 81% of exports. Gabon’s economy has more links with European and American markets than with those in neighboring states (with the exception of Cameroon) or elsewhere in Africa.

The economy shares some characteristics with those of other sub-Saharan 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.

Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most sub-Saharan African nations, but because of high income inequality, a large proportion of the population remains poor.

The economy is highly dependent on extraction, but primary materials are abundant. Before the discovery of oil, logging was the pillar of the Gabonese economy. Today, logging and manganese mining are the next-most-important income generators. Recent explorations suggest the presence of the world’s largest unexploited iron ore deposit. For many who live in rural areas without access to employment opportunity in extractive industries, remittances from family members in urban areas or subsistence activities provide income.

Further investment in the agricultural or tourism sectors is complicated by poor infrastructure. The small processing and service sectors that do exist are largely dominated by a few prominent local investors.

Despite an abundance of natural wealth, poor fiscal management and over-reliance on oil has stifled the economy. Power cuts and water shortages are frequent. Gabon is reliant on imports and the government heavily subsidizes commodities, including food, but will be hard pressed to tamp down public frustration with unemployment and corruption.

 

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing

Although agriculture (mainly subsistence farming) occupies about one-third of the workforce, it plays a small part in the economy of the country as a whole. Moreover, its appeal as a way of life has declined. Better educational and employment opportunities in the towns and cities have emptied the countryside of young people.

Despite government efforts during the 1970s to promote development that would stem the rural exodus and raise foodstuffs for urban markets, by 1980 Gabon was producing only enough food to satisfy 10 to 15 percent of its needs. During the 1980s the government turned to expensive capital-intensive projects for market gardening to supply Libreville and Franceville. Efforts to revive cocoa and coffee production brought only modest results, but new projects for sugar refining at Franceville and palm-oil processing at Lambaréné have been successful.

The prevalence of the tsetse fly defeated attempts to raise beef and dairy cattle until 1980, when tsetse-resistant cattle arrived from other parts of Africa. Sheep, goats, and pigs are also raised; chicken raising exists on a smaller scale. Commercial fishing, though it has considerable potential, is little developed.

For many years Gabon’s forests, covering more than three-fourths of its territory, were the country’s principal natural resource, but, by the early 1970s, newly discovered and exploited mineral wealth surpassed timber and other forest products in significance. The principal forest districts have been at Kango, Booué, Fougamou, Ndjolé, Mitzic, and Mouila, while the forest resources near the coast and along the rivers have been largely depleted. Exploitation of interior areas began in the late 1970s, following the construction of the first section of the Transgabon (Transgabonais) Railroad.

Other agricultural products include cocoa, coffee, sugar, palm oil, rubber; cattle; okoume (a tropical softwood); fish.

 

INDUSTRY

Gabon’s industry is centered on petroleum, manganese mining, and timber processing. Most industrial establishments are located near Libreville and Port Gentil. Virtually all industrial enterprises were established with government subsidies in the oil boom years of the 1970s. Timber-related concerns include five veneer plants and a large 50-year-old plywood factory in Port Gentil, along with two other small plywood factories.

Other industries include textile plants, cement factories, chemical plants, breweries, shipyards, and cigarette factories. Gabonese manufacturing is highly dependent on foreign inputs, and import costs rose significantly in 1994 when the CFA franc was devalued. Increased costs and oversized capacity have made the manufacturing sector less competitive and it mainly supplies the domestic market. The government has taken steps to privatize parastatal enterprises.

Due to the fact that the Gabonese economy is dependent upon oil (crude oil accounts for 80% of the country’s exports, 43% of GDP, and 65% of state revenue), it is subject to worldwide price fluctuations. Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest crude oil producer and exporter, although there are concerns that proven reserves are declining and production has declined as well. Thus the country has taken steps to diversify the economy, and to engage in further petroleum exploration.

The Sogara oil refinery at Port Gentil is the sole refinery in Gabon. The country produced 302,000 barrels of oil per day in 2001, which was a decrease of 9% from 1999 production levels. Gabon’s proven oil reserves were estimated at 2.5 billion barrels in 2002, and its proven natural gas reserves were estimated at 1.2 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).

 

Mining

While oil has been the driving engine behind Gabon’s economy since independence, the country’s other underground resources have in many ways been equally prominent. The mining sector has traditionally been a major currency earner for Gabon. The country is the world’s fourth-largest producer of manganese, with reserves of 150m tonnes and production of 1.8m tonnes in 2015. Gabon is thought to have more than 2bn tonnes of iron ore, over 40 tonnes of proven gold reserves, and a range of other base and rare-earth minerals, including lead, zinc, copper, diamonds, niobium and titanium, according to the state-owned Société Equatoriale des Mines (SEM).

The mining sector’s contribution to GDP is estimated by SEM to have remained flat at 4% in 2015. However, the potential of the sector is illustrated by government plans to boost GDP contribution to 25% over the next 15 years.

 

Manufacturing

Light industry expanded and diversified after the opening in 1967 of a petroleum refinery at Port-Gentil. The refinery and its support operations (a shipyard and metalworking facilities) overshadow other manufacturing enterprises, which include lumber processing centres, cement and cigarette factories, a sugar refinery, breweries, palm oil and flour mills, and light electronics and textile-printing factories.

A number of these enterprises were among the many state corporations (some of which allowed private investors to hold shares) created by the government to give Gabon control of its industrial and commercial sectors. Most of these businesses proved a drain on the treasury, because the practice of employing relatives and supporters of politicians often led to mismanagement.

 

SERVICES

Services engaged 24 percent (2005) of the economically active population and provided an estimated 50.4% percent of GDP in 2017.

 

Financial Sector

Gabon’s financial system is shallow and financial intermediation levels remain low compared to other developing countries. The state plays an important role in the financial sector. It controls two of the nine banks and has a stake in most of the others.

 

Banking

The Bank of the Central African States (BEAC), headquartered in Cameroon, regulates the banking system in Gabon. The International Gabonese and French Bank (BGFI) are the principal bank in Gabon and the largest financial group in the CEMAC zone.

Banks dominate the financial sector, with only a few non-bank financial institutions operating in the country. Banks, even though highly liquid are extremely prudent in providing credit. The majority of the population lack access to any type of financial services, as even traditional informal mechanisms, prevalent in other African economies, are scarce.

Membership in the French economic community gives Gabon considerable stability. The CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc, issued by the Bank of Central African States (Banque des États de l’Afrique Centrale), is tied to the euro, giving trading partners confidence in Gabonese currency.

 

Transportation

The lack of good transportation facilities has long hindered Gabon’s development. The Ogooué River is navigable from the Atlantic to Ndjolé, 150 miles (240 km) upstream. The Ogooué and such rivers as the Abanga and the Nyanga can be used to float logs downstream from the interior. The main ports are located at Port-Gentil, Owendo, and Mayumba.

The difficulty of building and maintaining all-weather roads led to an expansion of air transport after World War II. Gabon acquired a network of airfields served by light planes, as well as international airports located at Libreville, Port-Gentil, and Franceville. But air transport could not move such bulk goods as timber and minerals.

In the 1970s petroleum revenues were used to construct the Transgabon (Transgabonais) Railroad to move such products and to prepare for the time when Gabon’s petroleum reserves would be depleted. With loans and aid from France, West Germany, and international organizations, work began in 1974. The first section, from Owendo to Ndjolé, opened in 1979; the second section, to Booué, in 1983; and the third, to Franceville, at the end of 1986.

 

Telecommunication

The telecom market was liberalized in 1999 when the government awarded three mobile telephony licenses and two Internet Service Provider (ISP) licenses, and established an independent regulatory authority. Gabon Telecom was privatized in 2007 when Maroc Telecom bought a 51% stake in the operator. In June 2016 Maroc Telecom merged Gabon Telecom with Moov Gabon, thereby reducing the number of mobile network operators from four to three.

The 2009 entry of USAN (operated by Bintel under the brand name Azur) into a competitive market with high penetration triggered a price war that saw falling revenue and profits, forcing the operators to streamline their businesses and to look for new income streams. Following more than a year of delays, a license to offer 3G mobile broadband services was awarded in late 2011. Both Airtel Gabon and Libertis have launched LTE services.

 

In contrast with the mobile market, Gabon’s fixed-line and internet sectors have remained underdeveloped due to a lack of competition and high prices. The country has sufficient international bandwidth on the SAT-3/WASC/SAFE submarine cable but this facility is monopolized by Gabon Telecom. The recent arrival of the ACE submarine cable, combined with progressing work on the CAB cable, has increased backhaul capacity supporting mobile data traffic.

 

Tourism

Gabon’s tourism industry is still in its initial stages despite of various attractions which include; beaches, ocean and inland fishing facilities, the falls on the Ogooué River and the Crystal Mountains. Tourists come to see the famous hospital founded by Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Lambaréné.

Gabon’s 13 national parks range from regions along its coastline, where hippopotamuses play on untouched beaches, to forest clearings home to “naive” gorillas.

The landscape in Gabon has many assets for tourism; Gabon has fauna and flora that are among the most diversified in the world. Animal species are extremely varied: chimpanzees, gorillas, crocodiles, elephants, hippopotamuses, humpback whales, dolphins and turtles.

There is also a wide variety of plant life present in Gabon. For example, more than 400 different species of tree have been counted.

The main reason for developing tourism is to encourage people to discover the wealth of Gabon’s natural resources and at the same time strive to protect the environment and ecosystem

Developing the tourism sector in Gabon has become a growing priority for authorities as they aim to diversify the country’s economy. Investments have primarily targeted upgrading infrastructure and developing high-end ecotourism under the country’s Green Gabon strategy for sustainable development. As the state partners with the private sector to develop products that capitalize on the country’s natural attributes, the sector is poised for expansion and a rising contribution to GDP.

The Ministry of Tourism is the authority responsible for overseeing tourism in Gabon. Some tourist centres include Ivindo National Park, Loango National Park, Museum of Art and Culture etc.

CULTURE

The culture is highly influenced, not only by its ethnic background and proximity to other West African nations, but also by French control. Dance, song, myths, and poetry are important elements of Gabonese life. Art is a strong pillar of the community and can be seen in the traditional creations of masks, sculptures and musical instruments.

The Gabonese are very spiritual people. In fact, their traditions are mostly centered on worship and the afterlife. Art for the sake of art was a foreign concept to African culture until the arrival of the Westerners. Before colonization, the Gabonese considered music, instruments, masks, sculptures, and tribal dances as rites and acts of worship.

Traditional instruments like the balafon, harp, mouth bow, drums, rattles, and bells are believed to call on different spirits and each corresponds to a certain rite. The mouth bow, or mougongo, is for Bwiti Misoko, the harp is for Bwiti Dissoumba, while the balafon is mostly used by the Fangs to perform religious rituals.

Masks and sculptures were mainly used for therapeutic procedures, consulting, as well as initiation rites. Each of the Gabonese ethnic groups has its own specific traditions involving masks, sculptures, music, songs, and dances, or a combination of these elements.

Culture in Gabon is also expressed through paintings, sculptures and even fashion, all of which are widely available for purchase in craft markets throughout the country. The African Craft Market in Libreville has some exceptional M’bigou stone statuettes. Gabonese masks are very popular collectors’ items, especially n’goltang or Fang masks, and Kota figures. In addition to being used in traditional rites, these masks are also used in ceremonies for weddings, funerals and births. They are often made with precious materials and rare local woods.

Original dresses made by Gabon designers are well recognized in the world of African fashion. Some great examples are Beitch Faro’s The Queen of Scales dress, and Angéle Epouta’s internationally reputed designs, which have graced the runways of both Gabon and Paris.

A majority of Gabonese people adhere to Christian beliefs (Protestantism and Roman Catholicism), but other indigenous religions are also practiced along with Islam. Many people combine Christianity with some form of traditional beliefs.

The Babongo, the forest people of Gabon who dominate the west coast, are the originators of the indigenous Bwiti religion, based on the use of the iboga plant, an intoxicating hallucinogenic. Followers live highly ritualized lives after an initiation ceremony, filled with dancing, music and gatherings associated with natural forces and jungle animals.

Up to 40 indigenous languages are spoken in Gabon, but French, being the official language, is used by all and taught in schools, in addition to the mother tongue, Fang. A majority of Gabon’s indigenous languages come from Bantu origins, and are estimated to have arrived more than 2,000 years ago. These are mostly only spoken, although transcriptions for some of the languages have been developed using the Latin alphabet. The three largest are Mbere, Sira and Fang.

 

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

Football (soccer) is the national sport in Gabon, though much of the play is limited to the coast because of the dense rainforest in the interior. Gabon founded a football federation in 1962, and it became affiliated with the International Federation of Association Football the following year.

Basketball is also popular in Gabon, and the country is a member of the International Basketball Federation. A number of Gabonese participate in boxing, and squash is developing a following, especially in Libreville. The country’s scenic landscape also attracts hikers and cyclists.

In 1965 Gabon formed an Olympic committee, which was recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1968. Gabonese athletes first competed in the Olympics at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. The country’s first Olympic medal was earned at the 2012 Summer Games in London by Anthony Obame, who won the silver medal in the tae kwon do competition.

 

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