Straddling the equator on the west coast of Central Africa is Gabon, officially the Gabonese Republic. This obscure and largely unexplored nation boasts pristine white-sand beaches, rushing rivers, rocky plateaus and canyons, cloud-tipped mountains, and a spectacular array of wildlife. Here are some interesting facts about Gabon.
Facts about Gabon
1. Gabon is the 76th largest country in the world.
Occupying a total area of 267,667 km² (103,347 sq mi), Gabon is roughly the same size as New Zealand or the US state of Colorado.
2. Gabon shares a land border with three countries.
Gabon is bordered by the Republic of the Congo (2,567 km/1,595 mi) on the east and south. Equatorial Guinea (345 km/214 mi) to the northwest, and Cameroon (349 km/217 mi)to the north.
3. Gabon has a total coastline length of 885 km (550 mi).
Along much of Gabon’s 885 km (550 mi) long coastline lie some of the most beautiful blue waters and virgin stretches of sand on the African continent.
4. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot in Gabon.
One of the lesser-known facts about Gabon is that the Portuguese were the first known Europeans to set foot in the country. In 1472, Portuguese explorers and traders founded permanent outposts, notably at the mouth of the Ogooué River, and their missionaries followed shortly.
They set up sugar plantations and purchased slaves from the local people bringing Gabon into the Atlantic Slave trade.
5. The name “Gabon” comes from Portuguese.
The Portuguese gave Gabon its name because the shape of the Río de Como estuary reminded them of a “gabao,” a Portuguese hooded cloak.
6. Gabon is a former French colony and was once part of French Equatorial Africa.
In 1885, the Berlin Congress of European powers recognized French rights over the right bank of the Congo, and in 1890, Gabon formally became a part of French Congo. It was separated into a district administrative region in 1903 and in 1910 was organized as a separate colony as part of French Equatorial Africa (along with the present-day Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Chad).
7. Gabon attained independence in 1960.
In the 1950s, the pan-African momentum for breaking free from the shackles of colonialism was rapidly catching on in Gabon. On 28 November 1958, Gabon became an autonomous territory within the French Community and on 17 August 1960, Gabon finally gained full independence from France.
8. Gabon is home to the world’s first and only natural nuclear reactor.
One of the most unique facts about Gabon is that it is home to the Oklo nuclear reactor, the world’s first and only natural nuclear reactor. Discovered in 1972, the uranium deposits in the two billion-year-old natural nuclear power plant operated for hundreds of thousands of years until most of the fissile uranium depleted.
9. Gabon is one of the most heavily forested countries in the world.
With approximately 80-85% of its total area covered by forests, Gabon is one of the most heavily forested countries in the world.
10. The capital and largest city of Gabon is Libreville.
Home to over a third of Gabon’s population, Libreville is the country’s commercial and cultural hub. It occupies a strategic position at the mouth of the Komo River, where it empties into the Gulf of Guinea on the northwest coast of the country.
11. Libreville was founded by freed slaves.
Libreville was officially established in 1849 by slaves that were freed off of a captured Brazilian slave ship, the L’Eliza; the city’s name means “free town” in French, iui89n imitation of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
12. The currency of Gabon is the Central African franc (CFA).
The currency of Gabon is the Central African franc (CFA), which is pegged to both the West African franc and the Euro. The CFA franc was introduced in the Central African Republic in 1945, replacing the French Equatorial African franc.
13. Gabon is home to a cornucopia of ethnic groups.
Gabon is a multi-ethnic nation comprising over 40 distinct ethnic groups. The vast majority of Gabonese are of Bantu origin and the four largest ethnic groups are the Fang, Punu-Échira, and Nzebi-Adouma. They constitute over 50% of the nation’s population.
Of the people living in Gabon today, the original forest-dwelling tribes known as Pygmies remain only in the remote north of the country.
14. A majority of the population of Gabon is Christian.
Approximately 70-80% of Gabon’s population is Christian. Muslims are a significant minority and represent 10-15% of the country’s population.
However, it is believed that most of these followers incorporate traditional indigenous elements into their faith practices. These traditional customs and beliefs in superstition and witchcraft still strongly influence most people’s lives, regardless of their principal faith.
15. French is the official language of Gabon.
Being a former French colony, it’s quite natural that the French language has carried over into Gabonese society and is widely used in education and administration. Although not the mother tongue of the majority of Gabon’s population, French serves as a lingua franca among the various ethnic groups.
Besides French, Bantu languages such as Fang, Myene, Batéké, Bapounou, and Bandjabi are spoken elsewhere in the country.
16. Gabon’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and the country is the fourth-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Ever since oil was discovered offshore in the early 1970s, it has dominated Gabon’s economy and now accounts for 50% of the GDP and 80% of exports. Although oil production is on the decline in the country, Gabon is an OPEC member and is still sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-largest oil producer behind Nigeria, Angola, and the Republic of the Congo.
17. Gabon boasts the fifth-highest HDI in Sub-Saharan Africa and the country has one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa.
Copious petroleum reserves and profits from the sale of timber, manganese, iron ore, gold, and diamonds have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country boasts the fifth-highest HDI (Human Development Index) in the region (after Mauritius, Seychelles, Botswana, and South Africa).
With a relatively low population of a little under 2.5 million, Gabon has one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa. Most of the country’s oil revenue goes to the private pockets of the few ruling elites. Because of inequality in income distribution, a significant proportion of the population remains poor.
18. Gabon has been governed by the same family since 1967.
Astonishingly, the Bongo family has held power in Gabon for well over 50 years. In 1967, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba succeeded Léon M’ba as the President of Gabon. Though Bongo was deemed as a democratically-elected leader, in actuality, for much of his tenure he made Gabon a one-party country.
Omar Bongo held onto power for nearly 42 years and became one of the world’s longest-ruling non-royal leaders. He was so successful at the art of holding on to power that after he died in 2009, it took nearly two days for Gabonese officials to confirm his death (even though news about his death had leaked from Paris more than 24 hours earlier).
After Omar Bongo’s death, his son Ali Bongo Ondimba took over as Gabon’s president. Over 50 years in power, the Bongo’s are one of Africa’s wealthiest ruling dynasties. They’ve been accused of considering everything inside its borders to be his personal property and elevated corruption to a method of government. Like other notorious dictators, the Bongo’s curtailed dissent, opposition, and the press.
19. Gabon has won only one Olympic medal.
Gabon won its first and only Olympic medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics when Anthony Obame took silver in Taekwondo (men’s +80 kg weight class).
20. Football is the most popular sport in Gabon.
Like in most of Africa, football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Gabon. Unfortunately, the country’s men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
21. There is only one UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gabon.
The one and only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gabon is the ecosystem and relict cultural landscape of Lopé-Okanda.
22. Mask making and ritual face painting are important parts of Gabonese culture.
It’s worth knowing that Gabonese people use masks to mark important life events and they are part of funerals and agrarian rites. use them to promote fertility, provide spiritual protection and express cultural identity.
Traditional masks in Gabon are made using natural materials such as wood, raffia, and feathers that are found throughout Gabon. Fang masks, in particular, are prized throughout the world.
23. Albert Schweitzer won the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in Gabon.
In 1924, the Alsatian-German humanitarian, philosopher, physician Albert Schweitzer founded the Albert Schweitzer Hospital to treat leprosy in the town of Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon). The hospital is still operational today.
24. The black panther is the national animal and symbol of Gabon.
The intrepid, powerful, and intelligent big cat is the national symbol of Gabon and symbolizes the nation’s commitment to environmental protection. The black panther even features on Gabon’s coat of arms.
25. The national dish of Gabon is Poulet Nyembwe.
Poulet Nyembwe is a delectable stew of chicken, tomatoes, garlic, onions, chili pepper, okra, and palm butter.
26. Capital punishment is outlawed in Gabon.
Gabon abolished the death penalty in 2010.
27. Gabon doesn’t observe daylight-saving time.
Daylight saving has never been observed in Gabon.