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Gabon - Introduction

Gabon, lying astride the equator on the western coast of Africa, is one of the most stable countries on the continent. With a small population and significant oil and mineral reserves, it is also among the wealthiest – although income inequality is high, Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most sub-Saharan African countries. The country's official language is French. The capital, Libreville, is Gabon's largest city and economic center.

Gabon is largely a cash economy. Credit cards are accepted at only a few major hotels, and, because of the high rate of credit card fraud, visitors should exercise caution when using them.

Travel by road in Gabon can be hazardous, and visitors should drive with car windows up and doors locked. Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints within cities and on roads to the interior. Visitors should comply politely if stopped, but avoid encouraging requests for bribery. Use extreme caution when driving after dark. Two-lane roads are the norm throughout Gabon. Roads to outlying cities are usually unpaved. There are many dangers, including large potholes, absence of road signs, poor-to-non-existent streetlights, timber-laden trucks, and the presence of pedestrians and animals. Construction work is generally poorly indicated. Drivers may change lanes or stop unexpectedly. Lane markings are frequently ignored. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for travel beyond the paved road to Lambarene, especially during the rainy season.

Taxis in Gabon are considered safe. Travelers usually share a taxi, but, for a higher fee, taxi operators will allow passengers sole use of the taxi. Use a hotel taxi when possible. Before entering a taxi, check that the taxi has seatbelts and negotiate the rate for your trip. Bus service exists in Libreville, but buses are infrequent and routes are not generally convenient. Rail service remains available but infrequent, and travelers should expect lengthy delays.

The Gabonese have a relatively neutral opinion of the national security forces. For the most part, the army is kept within the barracks and emerges only in times of civil unrest. The police forces and the gendarmerie have the most interaction with civilians, usually at roadblocks and police checkpoints along main roads. The police and gendarmerie often use roadblocks as a means of extracting bribery payments from the population, particularly targeting West Africans. Drivers, both Gabonese and American, should carry appropriate identification at all times. On the whole, Gabonese civilians consider this level of corruption an acceptable annoyance.

Security forces also interact with civilians during riots, which tend to occur in conjunction with political protests. Political protests, such as those that sparked the riots in the early 1990s, are often led by unemployed youths who may not respect the national police or military. When police forces are brought in to disperse the protests, the youths may react with hostility and a riot may ensue. Young Gabonese who are angry at the government may view the police forces as the only tangible representative of the government and an easy mark for the expression of their anger. In general, riots are not planned or organized. However, once a riot has broken out, various participants with political agendas may try to influence or direct the riot.

Gabon is a dynamic fusion of African traditions and modern influences. Local traditions are very much alive in both rural and urban areas. Traditional ethnic, clan, and regional affiliations remain the most salient forms of social organization. However, the Gabonese are open to and accepting of global influences. Continued urbanization is giving rise to new forms of social organization. Many Gabonese, particularly the youth, are embracing modern, urban identities. Despite years of political and economic stability, Gabon is facing key challenges, most notably the growing divide between the rich and poor, popular resentment against the Bongo system (Bongoïsme), and the transition to new leadership under President Ali Ben Bongo.

Always distrustful of outsiders, the Gabonese are becoming increasingly xenophobic and resentful of foreigners. They particularly resent illegal immigrants and migrants from West Africa and Lebanon, who reside in large numbers in urban areas.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:11:01 ZULU