Gabon - Domestic policy

Bongo is faced with a number of immediate domestic challenges. In particular, the collapse in prices for crude oil has resulted in plummeting revenues for Gabon. Further, there are fears that Gabon's oil reserves are running low, though the exploration of newly acquired offshore fields may offset these concerns. Also, the persisting Asian economic crisis has resulted in a substantially decreased demand for tropical hardwoods and oils, further reducing state revenues and income to the populace. The state run lumber industry has been forced to lay off some 25% of its employees. This situation is particularly dangerous since most lumber workers live in the predominantly Fang northern region—a section of the country that has long been a center of opposition to Bongo's government. Efforts were made to raise employment and bolster the lumber industry with the construction of a CFA$29 billion factory in the Middle Ogoue province. In 2002 Bongo announced his decision to set aside 10% of the country to protect its ecosystems as part of the Congo Basin Initiative.

Perhaps foreseeing hard times ahead, Bongo ran for reelection in 1998 on a "realistic" platform, and in September 2002 reshuffled military and paramilitary forces giving promotions to loyalists from his ethnic group. He has also muzzled allegations of corruption in the media by closing three newspapers in 2002. With no obvious successor in the wings, Bongo is expected to run for another term in 2005.

Bongo has stated his commitment to diversifying the country's economy to reduce its dependence on oil and timber, and in the late 1990s he tilted towards supply-side economics. In 1998, he privatized the Energy and Water Authority but has approached the selling of inefficient government companies timidly. Under pressure from the IMF, Bongo has scheduled agribusiness parastatals and public service providers such as Air Gabon, Gabon Telecom, and the ports for privatization, though bureaucracy and entrenched patronage will impede the process.

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