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Five things to know about Gabon

24 September 2016, 09:04

Libbreville - One of Africa's largest oil producers and one of its wealthier nations, Gabon has been gripped by violence and uncertainty since the August 27 elections that saw President Ali Bongo declared winner by a wafer-thin margin.

The election culminated late Saturday with the constitutional court's confirmation of Bongo's victory.

Here are five key facts about the former French colony:

'Central Africa's oil 'emirate'

In the 1970s, Gabon discovered abundant oil reserves offshore, allowing it to build a strong middle class and earning it the moniker "central Africa's little emirate".

Oil accounts for 60 percent of the country's revenues.

It became a full member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1975 but terminated its membership two decades later. But as world oil prices slid, forcing layoffs in the sector, Gabon rejoined the cartel in July this year.

It is also the world's second-largest producer of manganese, and its vast forests provide 12 percent of global timber exports, including coveted tropical hardwoods.

Income inequality

Gabon in 2015 was ranked 110 out of 188 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index -- among the top 10 African nations listed.

Per capita gross national income (GNI) in 2015 was estimated at $9,210 (8,130 euros) by the World Bank -- about four times greater than in most sub-Saharan African nations.

But because of extreme income inequality, about a third of Gabon's population of 1.8 million people still live below the poverty line.

Between 2010 and 2014, the economic growth rate was about six percent but it has fallen to 3.9 percent this year, according to a World Bank forecast, because of the slump in global oil prices.

Forests and chimps

Straddling the equator on Africa's Atlantic coast, forests cover about 80 percent of Gabon, hosting a wealth of wildlife.

In 2002, then president Omar Bongo created 13 new national parks that cover around 11 percent of Gabon's territory to protect its wildlife and forests from excessive logging.

Gabon has sought to cash in on eco-tourism by showing off its wild gorillas, chimpanzees, panthers, elephants and hippos.

At 267,667 square kilometres (103,346 square miles), Gabon is slightly larger than the UK, or two-thirds the size of Japan.

Stable rule, but at a price

The country has enjoyed relative political stability, mainly because former colonial power France helped Omar Bongo rule for 41 years, the third longest reign in modern Africa after Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Moamer Kadhafi of Libya.

After he died in June 2009, his son Ali won an election but opposition media claimed he had essentially been installed by France.

The population is roughly 80 percent Christian, while Muslims and animists account for the other 20 percent.

Africa Cup host

Gabon will next year host the finals of the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations (CAN), starting in January.

Record seven-time champions Egypt and first-time qualifiers Guinea-Bissau are among 10 countries which have so far booked places at the 2017 Africa CAN.

Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Zimbabwe have also secured places and Gabon are automatic participants as hosts of the 16-nation tournament.



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