The Gabonese Republic lies along the equator on the west coast of Africa with a border length of 2,551 kilometers (1,585 miles) and a coastline of 885 kilometers (550 miles). Gabon is bounded to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north by Equatorial Guinea (350 kilometers/218 miles) and Cameroon (298 kilometers/185 miles), and to the east and south by the Republic of the Congo (1,903 kilometers/1,183 miles). The drainage basin is comprised of the westward flowing Ogooue River, together with several smaller coastal rivers such as the Nyanga and the Como. Gabon covers an area of 267,667 square kilometers (103,346 square miles), of which land comprises 257,667 square kilometers (99,484 square miles) and water occupies 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles). Comparatively, the area occupied by Gabon is slightly smaller than the state of Colorado. It has a tropical climate, which is always hot and humid. The terrain is comprised of a narrow coastal plain, savannah grassland in the east and south, and a hilly interior. The major rural areas are found in Woleu Ntem in the north, where coffee and cocoa are the main cash crops , and around Lambaréné, located inland from the central coastal belt, where palm oil and coffee are important. The highest point is Mount Iboundji, which stands at a height of 1,575 meters (5,168 feet). The capital city of Libreville is located on the country's northwestern coast.
At the July 1993 census, the population of Gabon numbered 1,014,976 and in mid-1998 the United Nations (UN) estimated a total of 1,188,000, giving an average density of 4.4 inhabitants per square kilometer. The population estimate for 2000 was 1,208,436. The population growth rate was estimated at 1.08 percent in 2000, with a life expectancy at birth of 48.94 years for males and 51.26 years for females in the same year. The infant mortality rate was 96.3 deaths per 1,000 live births while the fertility rate was 3.73 births per woman. The birth rate (per 1,000 population) was 27.6 while the death rate was 16.83 in 2000. The slow population growth takes into account the effects of mortality due to AIDS. AIDS results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, and a lower population growth rate than would be expected under normal conditions. The distribution of population by age and sex is also affected, with those in the sexually active age groups and women being more vulnerable to the disease.
The population is more urbanized than most of Africa, with 53 percent living in the towns in 1988. It is mostly a young population with only 6 percent above 65 years of age and over 33 percent below 15 years. The country's principal ethnic groups are the Fang (30 percent) and the Eshira (25 percent), who reside primarily in the north, followed by the Bapounou and Bateke. French is the official language.
The exploitation of Gabon's forests (which cover some 85 percent of the land area) is a principal economic activity and the second leading source of exports, with 14 percent, behind petroleum. According to the U.S. State Department, commercial wood reserves cover 50 million acres and contain 400 million cubic meters of wood. Production levels reached 2.77 million cubic meters of lumber in 1997, declined in 1998 thanks to the Asian financial crisis, and rebounded again in 1999. The sector is the second largest employer, behind the government, and there is some potential for further growth. The major problem facing the industry is the fact that most forestry exports are in raw lumber. Value-added processing occurs abroad. Should foreign investment allow for more milling and processing of logs at home, the industrial sector would be boosted substantially.
Industry is the largest of the 3 major sectors in terms of GDP, but the smallest in terms of employment. This sector provides its employees with the highest average incomes.
Oil and its related industries has been the main source of Gabon's economic growth since the 1970s. In 1997, the petroleum industry was still the dominant sector of the economy, contributing 42.5 percent of GDP when all subsidiary industries are factored in. Petroleum and petroleum products accounted for an estimated 77 percent of total export earnings. Oil reserves are declining, however, and there have been no major new discoveries in recent years.
Mining holds great potential for further economic growth. Gabon is one of the largest producers and exporters of manganese in the world. Gabon holds 25 percent of the world's manganese reserves, and the main manganese mining operation, COMILOG, produces about 2.5 million metric tons a year of finished ore. Uranium has also been a major source of export income, though uranium reserves are nearly depleted. There is potential for the mining of phosphates, niobium, iron, gold, and diamonds; foreign investment is needed for these mineral deposits to prove profitable.
The manufacturing sector contributed an estimated 6 percent of GDP in 1997. The principal activities are the refining of petroleum and processing of other minerals, the preparation of timber, and other agro-industrial processes. The chemical industry is also significant. Electric energy is derived principally from hydroelectric installations. Imports of fuel and energy comprised an estimated 21 percent of the total value of imports.
The workforce in 1996 numbered 519,000, 56 percent of which are males. The unemployment rate in 1997 was estimated at 21 percent. There is a standard 40-hour working week. However, around 40 percent of the economically active population engages in agriculture, which is poorly regulated. Due to the small population, much of the labor is imported from the neighboring countries.
Gabon has no territories or colonies.
Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Gabon. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.
"Gabon." MBendi: Information for Africa. <http://www.mbendi.co.za/land/af/ga/p0005.htm> . Accessed September 2001.
Hodd, Michael. The Economies of Africa. Aldershot, England:Dartmouth, 1991.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html> . Accessed August 2001.
U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Gabon. <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/2001/africa/index.html> . Accessed September 2001.
World Bank. World Bank Africa Database 2000 . Washington, DC: World Bank, 2000.
Allan C.K. Mukungu
Communauté Financiére Africaine (CFA) franc. The CFA franc is tied to the French franc at an exchange rate of CFA Fr50 to Fr1. One CFA franc equals 100 centimes. There are coins of 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 CFA francs, and notes of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 CFA francs.
Crude oil and natural gas, timber and wood products, manganese, uranium.
Machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, petroleum products, construction materials.
US$7.9 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).
Exports: US$2.4 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.). Imports: US$1.2 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.).