Neil On Africa: Gabon, home of a 'free city' and gorillas

Neil On Africa: Gabon, home of a 'free city' and gorillas

CAPE TOWN – With 85 percent of its land being covered by rainforests, the Central African country of Gabon is nestled on the Gulf of Guinea. 

It's home to 80 percent of Africa's gorilla population, 50 percent of all remaining forest elephants in Africa as well as thousands of species of birds, reptiles, mammals and plants that you can't find elsewhere. 

Its capital city, Libreville, also known as the “free city”, was the landing place for a ship of freed slaves in the 1800s. In 1849 it was declared the city for the freed slaves.

Bordered by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, there is not much known about Gabon prior to European contact in the late 15th century and this gives the country an air of mystery. Gabon is known for its beautiful and untouched beaches, which add to this fact. 

Gabon has a population of 2.1 million, with 86 percent of Gabonese living in urban areas, it has one of the lowest population densities in Africa. It has an unemployment rate of 19.5 percent, a risk rating of B and is classified as an upper-middle-income country.

Gabon’s economic growth for the past five years has been driven by its heavy production of oil and manganese. 

The oil sector accounted for 80 percent of exports, 45 percent of gross domestic product and 60 percent of fiscal revenue on average for the past five years (World Bank 2019). It’s also one of the largest exporters of raw wood in Africa and one of the world's top 10 producers. 

Gabon’s cash crops are palm oil, cocoa, coffee and sugar. It is a major exporter of timber. It imports machinery, boats, electrical machinery and poultry (ITC, 2017). 

In 2018, Gabon’s gross domestic product growth (GDP) reached an estimated 2 percent, up from 0.5 percent in 2017 with a figure of $17.02 billion (R252bn – IMF). 

Industry sector accounted for 45.47 percent, followed by service sector 42.65 percent, manufacturing 17.62 percent and agriculture 5.27 percent. Gabon's GDP per capita income is more than four times that of most sub-Saharan African countries. 

To diversify its economy, the government has promoted the local processing of timber, palm oil and manganese, which has resulted in the growth of the manufacturing sector.

Public debt decreased to 58.4 percent GDP in 2018 from 62.7 percent GDP in 2017. However, its high proportion of external debt is denominated in foreign currencies, which remains a source of concern.

On the Neil Economic Scale, the price of a can of Coke in Gabon is 400 XAF (Central African Franc) (R9.96) and the price of a litre of petrol is 693 XAF (R17.29). Inflation is 2.8 percent.

For more than 50 years, Gabon had not experienced a coup attempt, until January 7, when the military tried to overthrow President Ali Bongo Ondimba. 

Ondimba came into power in 2009, after the death of his father Omar Bongo, who held the presidency for 41 years. The coup was unsuccessful.

Gabon is facing serious challenges: low reserves, low economic activity, infrastructure impediments, a small and vulnerable banking sector and insufficient protection of vulnerable groups.

However, in the context of the three-year extended arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility signed with the International Monetary Fund in 2017, the government's priorities for 2019 remain fiscal consolidation and structural reforms (Société Générale, 2019).

Neil de Beer is the president and chief executive of the IFA and Nedebe Group. [email protected] and