Gabon History and Politics

First residents

The first inhabitants of what is now the state of Gabon were pygmy peoples. They lived as hunters and gatherers. Around the year 1000 Bantu peoples immigrated to the region and gradually displaced the pygmies. Today these only make up 1.5 percent of the population. It was not until the 19th century that the catch came from the north. Today they are one of the largest ethnic groups in Gabon.

There was no establishment of larger states here. However, the Kingdom of Loango extended from what is now the Republic of the Congo to areas of Gabon.

Gabon: the coat

In 1472 the first Europeans came to the Gabon area. It was Portuguese seafarers who felt their way further and further along Africa’s west coast, looking for a sea route to India.

When they came to Gabon, they discovered that the mouth of the Komo River near what is now Libreville looked like a certain seafarer’s coat. This is how they named the country Gabon after the word gabão: that is what the Portuguese word for coat means.

Lopes Gonçalves was among those sailors. He was the first European to cross the equator. The Cape Lopez is named after him.

Europeans on Gabon’s coast

Not only Portuguese, but also Dutch, British, Spanish and French came to the coast of Gabon in the following centuries. They were traders who did a good deal in slaves, ivory and ebony. For more articles on Gabon and Africa, please visit politicsezine.

In the 19th century, France increased its influence and finally established a protectorate in 1839. Treaties were signed with the rulers in the country in which France offered her “protection”, especially against the slave trade. Libreville was founded in 1849 as a city for freed slaves.

Gabon as a French colony

The French naval officer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza explored the course of the Ogooué River in 1886 and 1887 and for the first time penetrated far inland. In 1880 he founded Franceville. In 1886 Gabon officially became a French colony. In 1900 the border in the north was drawn with the Spanish areas of Equatorial Guinea and the German areas in Cameroon.

At first the colony was called “French Congo” together with what is now the Republic of the Congo. From 1910 it was combined with the present-day countries of Chad and the Central African Republic to form the colony “French Equatorial Africa”. As a commodity, rubber was now particularly popular. Rubber is extracted from the milky sap of the rubber tree. After the First World War, wood became the main export well. The locals were forced to work until the end of the Second World War.

From independence until today

Slowly the demands for independence increased. Parties were formed. In 1958 France dissolved French Equatorial Guinea. Gabon became an independent republic on August 17, 1960. Léon M’ba became the country’s first president. With the help of France he was able to avert a coup in 1964. He was re-elected in 1967 but died that same year.

He was succeeded by Omar Bongo. He established a dictatorship. Only his unity party was allowed to vote. In 1990, under pressure from the population, he had to allow other parties to participate. Nevertheless, Omar Bongo remained in power for 41 years, making him one of the longest ruling heads of state.

In 2009 Omar Bongo died. After a two-month transition period, his son Ali Bongo was elected as the new president. The Bongo family is very rich while the majority of the population lives in poverty. The president is accused of corruption and enrichment of oil revenues.

Ali Bongo was re-elected in 2016 but was accused of fraudulent election. In most of the provinces his challenger Jena Pung won the election, whereupon the counting in one last province took a noticeably long time and in the end the turnout there was unusually high – and Bongo won there. Protests in the country were of no use. In January there was an attempted coup when Bongo was receiving medical treatment in Morocco, but this failed because there was insufficient support.

Gabon History

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