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Republic of Liberia

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Liberia, officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its northwest, Guinea to its north, Ivory Coast to its east, and the Atlantic Ocean to its south-southwest. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometers (43,000 sq mi) and has a population of around 4,700,000 people. The coastal country is characterized by humid, tropical climate with mean rainfall ranging from 2,000 mm farthest inland to over 5,000 mm at the coast. English is the official language and over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous ethnic groups who make up more than 95% of the population. The country’s capital and largest city is Monrovia.

Liberia, the “Land of the Free”, was founded, established, colonized, and controlled by citizens of the United States and ex-Caribbean slaves as a colony for former African American slaves and their free black descendants. It was the first African republic to proclaim its independence, and is Africa’s first and oldest modern republic. It is one of only two sovereign countries in the world that were started by citizens and ex-Caribbean slaves of a political power as a colony for former slaves of the same political power, the other being Sierra Leone, established by Great Britain. Settlement of former slaves was organized by the American Colonization Society (ACS). The mortality rate of these settlers was the highest in accurately recorded human history. Of the 4,571 emigrants who arrived in Liberia from 1820 to 1843, only 1,819 survived until 1843.

In 1847, the ACS encouraged Liberia to proclaim independence, as it no longer wanted to support it. On January 3, 1848, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy, free-born African American from Virginia who settled in Liberia, was elected as Liberia’s first president after the people proclaimed independence in 1947.

 

GOVERNANCE

The government of Liberia, modeled on the government of the United States, is a unitary constitutional republic and representative democracy as established by the Constitution. The government has three co-equal branches of government: the executive, headed by the president; the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Legislature of Liberia; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and several lower courts.

The president serves as head of government, head of state, and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Among the other duties of the president are to sign or veto legislative bills, grant pardons, and appoint Cabinet members, judges, and other public officials. Together with the vice president, the president is elected to a six-year term by majority vote in a two-round system and can serve up to two terms in office.

The current President of the Republic of Liberia is Mr. George Oppong Weah.

George Oppong Weah, President of Liberia

 

The Legislature is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House, led by a speaker, has 73 members apportioned among the 15 counties on the basis of the national census, with each county receiving a minimum of two members. Each House member represents an electoral district within a county as drawn by the National Elections Commission and is elected by a plurality of the popular vote of their district into a six-year term. The Senate is made up of two senators from each county for a total of 30 senators. Senators serve nine-year terms and are elected at-large by a plurality of the popular vote. The vice president serves as the President of the Senate, with a President pro tempore serving in their absence.

Liberia’s highest judicial authority is the Supreme Court, made up of five members and headed by the Chief Justice of Liberia. Members are nominated to the court by the president and are confirmed by the Senate, serving until the age of 70. The judiciary is further divided into circuit and specialty courts, magistrate courts and justices of the peace. The judicial system is a blend of common law, based on Anglo-American law, and customary law. An informal system of traditional courts still exists within the rural areas of the country, with trial by ordeal remaining common despite being officially outlawed.

 

ECONOMY

Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its economy is extremely underdeveloped, largely due to the First Liberian Civil War in 1989-96. The civil war destroyed much of country’s economy, especially the infrastructure in and around Monrovia.

It is a low-income country that relies heavily on foreign assistance and remittances from the diaspora. It is richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture. Its principal exports are iron ore, rubber, diamonds, and gold. Palm oil and cocoa are emerging as new export products. The government has attempted to revive raw timber extraction and is encouraging oil exploration.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, civil war and government mismanagement destroyed much of Liberia’s economy, especially infrastructure in and around the capital. Much of the conflict was fueled by control over Liberia’s natural resources. With the conclusion of fighting and the installation of a democratically elected government in 2006, businesses that had fled the country began to return. The country achieved high growth during the period 2010-13 due to favorable world prices for its commodities. However, during the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis, the economy declined and many foreign-owned businesses departed with their capital and expertise. The epidemic forced the government to divert scarce resources to combat the spread of the virus, reducing funds available for needed public investment. The cost of addressing the Ebola epidemic coincided with decreased economic activity reducing government revenue, although higher donor support significantly offset this loss. During the same period, global commodities prices for key exports fell and have yet to recover to pre-Ebola levels.

In 2017, gold was a key driver of growth, as a new mining project began its first full year of production; iron ore exports are also increased as Arcelor Mittal opened new mines at Mount Gangra. The completion of the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Dam increased electricity production to support ongoing and future economic activity, although electricity tariffs remain high relative to other countries in the region and transmission infrastructure is limited. Presidential and legislative elections in October 2017 generated election-related spending pressures.

Revitalizing the economy in the future will depend on economic diversification, increasing investment and trade, higher global commodity prices, sustained foreign aid and remittances, development of infrastructure and institutions, combating corruption, and maintaining political stability and security.

 

AGRICULTURE

Agriculture is the primary livelihood source for more than 60 percent of Liberia’s population and provides sustenance for many households who engage in farming of rubber, rice, oil palm, cocoa, and sugarcane.  However, low agricultural productivity results in Liberia importing more than 80 percent of its staple food, making the country vulnerable to global food price volatility.  Poorly integrated, the sector lacks basic infrastructure such as machines, farming equipment/tools, farm-to-market roads, fertilizers and pesticides, and food storage capacity.  Cassava and rice are the primary staple food crops.  The main cash crops and foreign exchange earners are rubber, cocoa, and timber.  Rubber is the most important cash crop for households and one of the dominant generators of state revenues accounting for nearly 34.6 percent of the total export receipts in 2016.  An estimated 30,000 people are employed by commercial rubber farms and up to 60,000 smallholder households are involved in growing of rubber trees.  Firestone Rubber Plantation, covering almost 200 square miles, is the largest single natural rubber operation in the world and the biggest private sector employer in Liberia.

Another significant cash crop is oil palm, which has traditionally been produced for the domestic market.  Recently, there has been considerable interest from both smallholders and large investors in expanding export production.  However, uncertainty with regard to land tenure is a significant challenge for potential oil palm farmers and investors.  Stakeholders in the oil palm sector include smallholder farmer cooperatives, individual farmers, large multinational corporations and concessionaires, as well as individuals playing various intermediation roles and support services.  Another obstacle to investment in the sector is the lack of capital and professional expertise to increase farm productivity.

The country has favorable climate and fertile soil for cocoa production and there is increased investment in the rehabilitation of cooperative and smallholder farms in the country.  Although cocoa production is small scale, it is expected to increase as farmers continue to reclaim and rehabilitate their farms.  As with the agriculture sector in general, smallholder cocoa farmers and local cooperatives are challenged by inadequate farm-to-market roads, lack of familiarity with measurement and quality standards, lack of storage facilities, and limited access to updated price and market information.

Beside the cash crops, there are market opportunities and potential for agribusiness investment, which focuses on developing the value chain of the available food crops such as rice, cassava, vegetables, fruits, poultry and fish.  Liberia has suitable climate for horticulture such as production of peppers, okra, onions, tomatoes, bitter balls, etc., which are in high demand throughout the country all year round. Lowland cultivation and low-cost irrigation would give smallholders an opportunity to increase productivity and expand market share of these valuable crops.  Liberia has an Atlantic coastline spanning about 580 kilometers endowed with abundant marine fish stocks.  The coastline and abundant freshwater resources provide breeding grounds for varieties of marine species including crab, lobster, shrimp, tilapia, tuna, shark, croaker and barracuda.

 

INDUSTRY

The industrial sector contributes 5.4% to the country’s GDP and employ almost 8% of the working population. The major Liberian industry sectors include mining, oil and electricity.

Before the outbreak of the civil war, the country had an evolving rubber industry, which accounted for almost US$100 million in exports annually. The discovery of iron ore in the late 1950s gave another major boost to the country’s economic growth. In the 1960s and 1970s, Liberia was one of the major largest exporters of iron ore.

During the military regime and the civil war period, the Liberian economy was heavily exploited. The rubber and iron industries were the most exploited since they used to generate foreign currency. After the restoration of a democratic set up in 1997, the government took measures to reinstate the major industrial sectors. However, no significant results were achieved due to severe depletion in the availability of raw materials.

Some of the major Liberia industry sectors are:

 

Oil sector

The country has a modest oil sector. The upstream oil industry is insignificant due to no major oil and gas discoveries. For the downstream oil industry, all the raw material is imported from the neighboring oil producing nations. The Ministry of Land, Mines and Energy regulates the oil sector in the country.

 

Mining sector

Since the outbreak of the civil war, the mining sector has lost all its foreign investment. This has resulted in an underdeveloped mining sector in the country. Diamond and gold are the primary mining products for the country. The industry also produces other minerals such as tin, phosphates, zinc, copper, nickel, molybdenum, beach sand, bauxite, kyanite, uranium, chromite, and silica sands. The country’s mining sector is a victim to smuggling across the borders of Sierre Leone, Guinea and Cote de Ivoire.

 

Electricity

Liberia Electricity Corporation is responsible for generating and distributing power in the country. The corporation has two electric power generation plants in the capital city of Monrovia.

 

Manufacturing

Before the civil war manufacturing and construction accounted for around 20 percent of the GDP; that figure dropped to 10 percent by 2000. Manufacturing was dominated by iron-ore production and rubber processing, but domestic and industrial consumption goods were also produced.
Liberia’s manufacturing sector is a virgin territory with unlimited potential. Manufacturing in Liberia has a wealth of opportunities in plastic and rubber goods such as: car tires, shoes, pipes, toys, furniture, as well as bio-fuel, etc. With plentiful raw materials, limited competition, abundant and low cost labor, a strategic coastal location, ports, and its role in the regional and subregional economic groupings of ECOWAS and MRU make Liberia the perfect staging ground to produce goods for these markets as well.

 

SERVICES

The services sector consists mainly of wholesale and retail distribution, telecommunications, postal service, transport, hotels and restaurants, repairs, financial services, tourist services, and government administration, but all such services are quite limited. For the most part, these services support the other sectors of the economy. The main exception is the charges made for the use of Liberian registration by merchant ships owned by private shipping companies from other countries, the so-called “flag of convenience.”

Financial Sector

The government has made progress on stabilizing the financial sector, but overall the sector remains fragile.  As the policy discourse moves from short-term stabilization, which is largely complete, to medium-term initiatives designed to create and support a sustainable financial sector that can support economic growth, a number of outstanding policy issues, many of which are interlinked, require consideration by regulatory and legislative bodies. The financial sector constitutes 9 Commercial banks, 1 Deposit-taking Microfinance Institution, 1 Non –bank Financial Institution, 13 Microfinance Institutions, 10 Rural Community Finance Institutions (RCFI), About 256 Credit Unions – Monitored but not licensed. The financial sector is mostly dominated by the banks.

 

Banks

A partial view taken on September 27, 2017 shows the Central Bank of Liberia, Monrovia. / AFP PHOTO / CRISTINA ALDEHUELA

The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) is responsible for licensing, regulating and overseeing the financial sector in Liberia. There are nine commercial banks, eight of which are foreign banks.  Foreign banks or branches can establish operations in Liberia, and are subject to prudential measures or other regulations required by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). Liberian banks are poorly capitalized and remain in a semi-fragile state.

 

Construction

Construction offers many potential prospects for investment.  The capital city Monrovia has an estimated population of 1.2 million people, triple the population the city was originally planned for.  There is growing demand for property renovation, and construction of office buildings, shopping malls, business centers and low-to-middle income housing units.  The demand is even more acute in the mining and agricultural concession areas as well as the commercially active regions, along the north-central-south corridor (growth corridor).

Activity in the real estate sector is expected to pick up because of improving security. Initial demand will be driven mostly by Liberians abroad many of whom have experience with mortgages abroad. They are expected to seek easy, hassle-free ways to purchase second homes in Liberia.  This will lead to a large market in Liberia for quality homes that have all the required amenities.  These sorts of planned communities have been very popular in other countries in Africa.

Currently there is no single institutionalized large real estate developer operating in Liberia. The reconstruction of the countries battered infrastructure is creating opportunities for investors.  The National Housing Authority (NHA), a state-owned institution, is the only entity providing housing on a large scale.

 

Communication

Communications in Liberia is the press, radio, television, fixed and mobile telephones, and the Internet. There are six major newspapers in Liberia, and 45% of the population has a mobile phone service. Also, the radio stations in Liberia are abundant to the extent that there are over 70 radio stations in the entire country (Liberia). As for Montserrado County, there exist about 30 radio stations.

Even as it struggles with economic and political constraints, Liberia’s media environment is expanding. The number of registered newspapers and radio stations (many of them community stations) is on the rise despite limited market potential. And politically critical content and investigative pieces do get published or broadcast.

 

Transportation

Transport in Liberia consist of railways, highways, seaports and airports.

Road Networks: Majority of roads in Liberia are unpaved and unable to provide all-year access to either county or district headquarters. Roads are often impassable during the rainy season. Consequently, vehicle tariffs, operating costs and transportation fares tend to be high. When traveling outside Monrovia, four-wheel drive vehicles are advised. Liberia has a tropical climate with rainy season beginning in May through October and dry season from November through April.

Aviation: Roberts International Airport (RIA) is a single runway airport located near a town called Harbel, about 40 miles (64 km) outside Monrovia. There are few car rental agencies or bus or taxi services in Monrovia which offer on-site airport services upon request, and these have to be pre-arranged. Visitors should avoid yellow taxis by pre-arranging transportation through a hotel or business contact. James Spriggs Payne Airport is a smaller single runway airport located in Monrovia.

Sea Ports: The country has four ports including Freeport of Monrovia, Buchanan Port, Greenville Port and Harper Port.  The Freeport of Monrovia accounts for nearly all of Liberia’s maritime trade.

 

TOURISM

Image: Kpatawee Waterfall, Liberia

Liberia’s tourism sector possesses unique and competitive assets that remain largely untapped. The country is endowed with a rich culture and a wide variety of natural beauty ranging from plains to spectacular white-sand beaches to rainforest. Liberia enjoys three main touristic features: costal and marine sites, natural sites/features and cultural and historical sites.

The potential for Liberia’s tourism sector is massive. Liberia’s natural attractions include two natural forest reserves, wetlands and mangroves, and biological and landscape diversity. Liberia is endowed with approximately 42% of the Upper Guinea Forest of West Africa, rich in endemic flora and fauna. There are two upper Guinea biodiversity hotspots: East Nimba Natural Reserve and the Sapo National Park. Both are home to rare birds, and high diversity of mammals such as elephants, monkeys, antelopes and Liberia’s national symbol, the Pigmy Hippopotamus. All sorts of touristic services can be tapped around these natural sites, such as ecotourism activities, e.g. birds watching, and rural tourism activities, e.g. village tours.

The infrastructure deficit is one of the critical factors that discourage entrepreneurs from investing in this sector.  Despite its infrastructural deficit, prospects are abundant for the sector to contribute to the economy. There are good opportunities in the hospitality sector. Currently, the demand for hotel rooms outstrips supply as a result of the activities of donor agencies, international NGOs, the UN and increasing business visitors. As the security situation improves, tourism is also expected to pick up.

 

CULTURE

The culture of Monrovia has two distinct roots, the Southern US heritage of the freed Americo-Liberian slaves and the ancient African descendants of the indigenous people and migratory tribes. Most former Americans belonged to the Masonic Order of Liberia, outlawed since 1980, but originally playing a huge part in the nation’s politics. Settlers brought the skills of embroidery and quilting with them, with both now firmly embedded in the national culture. The haunting slave music and songs of the American South with ancient African rhythms and harmonies blended well with indigenous musical traditions of the region.

Image: Liberia Culture Ambassador Drummers

The diverse tribal ethnicities making up the population of Liberia today have all added to the richness of cultural life in the country. Christian music is popular, with hymns sung a-capella in the iconic African style. Spirituality and the region’s ancient rituals are reflected in the unusually intricate carving style, and modern Liberian artists are finding fame outside the country. Dance is a valued heritage, with the Liberian National Culture Group giving performances both in the country and overseas based on traditional themes. The gradual integration of all Liberia’s ethnic groups has given rise to a renewed interest in its tribal culture as a reminder of the diverse roots of the new country.

 

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

Liberians celebrate festivals and observe holidays in remembrance of a notable individual or event in the nation’s history. The capital city annually hosts the Monrovia Children’s Day, a festival which, as its name suggests, is held for the nation’s children. Numerous activities geared towards the young generation including live performances, games, and contests take place during the festival which sees thousands of children from all over Liberia come together. An important national holiday in the country is Independence Day which is observed each year on July 26th. Liberia also observes religious holidays including Christmas, Easter, and Eid al Fitr. The country has a close relationship with the United States as it was established during the repatriation of slaves in the 19th Century. A testament of the close relationship shared between the two countries is the observation of “Thanksgiving Day in Liberia.” The observation of the holiday is provided for by law and is observed on November 4th each year.

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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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