Poverty in Gabon
For many citizens of the nation of Gabon, living on less than $2 a day is a harsh reality, with a third of the population living below the poverty line. However, this affliction of poverty in Gabon sharply contrasts the economic success of wealthier citizens, showcasing significant inequality within the country.

Economic Successes and Failures

Gabon had a GDP per capita of over $7,600 as of 2019, the fourth-highest on the continent. Oil is by far the top industry in Gabon; as a small African country on the Atlantic Ocean, 80% of its exports are based on oil production, along with 45% of its GDP.  However, some consider this dependence on the abundant supply of oil to be more of a curse than a blessing, as fluctuations in prices have the potential to significantly damage the Gabon economy. Additionally, oil dependence has also contributed to inequality, with only 20% of the population holding around 90% of the wealth in the nation. Gabon has done little to expand economic possibilities in spite of these effects, leaving approximately 400,000 people unable to find work and reinforcing the affliction of poverty.

Urbanization

Urbanization is incredibly high in Gabon, with more than half of the population living in two cities, Libreville and Port Gentil. In the overcrowded slums of Libreville, Gabon’s capital and largest city, many immigrant workers and local Gabonese live in absolute poverty. Thousands of people in Gabon’s urban areas do not have reliable sources of food or proper means of sanitation.

A positive for those living in the urban areas of Gabon is that clean drinking water is readily available: more than 97% of citizens living in cities have access. In rural areas, however, the percentage drops to less than 68%. Gabon’s government is working to make clean drinking water accessible throughout the country. In 2018, the African Development Bank granted Gabon a fund of $96.95 million to improve the water deficit in Libreville by expanding the drinking water infrastructure into the greater Libreville area and other municipalities.

Lack of Infrastructure

Lack of developed infrastructure in rural areas has been a crippling issue. Most of the country’s roads are unpaved and impassable during the rainy season. The postal system is a nightmare for businesses trying to move products and raw materials around Gabon. To combat issues like these, Bechtel, an American engineering company, agreed to a partnership with Gabon in 2010, to complete projects improving transportation, housing, education, medical facilities and water and waste management. After six years of work, the partners agreed to extend the partnership with an additional $25 billion. The project will build 17 schools capable of housing 15,000 children, provide 64,000 homes with clean energy and repair roads and railroads, among other improvements. This modernization effort could prove revolutionary for industries in Gabon as well as the country’s poor. At the very least, this overhaul is bringing jobs to a population in desperate need, as the project hired much of its workforce locally.

In recent years, there have been great strides toward repairing Gabon’s economic issues. Reducing poverty in Gabon by diversifying the economy and repairing infrastructure both seem to be successful initiatives. With plans in place to modernize the country, prosperity could be on the horizon for the less fortunate citizens of Gabon.

Matthew Beach
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Gabon
Gabon, a country of around 2 million people located in western Central Africa, shows how a universal healthcare system can succeed. The relatively recent improvement in healthcare in Gabon provides a roadmap for other countries. Furthermore, Gabon highlights which areas of healthcare could use improvement and how best to go about enhancing it.

The Good

Gabon’s national healthcare system, Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie et de Garantie Sociale (CNAMGS), emerged in 2008. In its infancy, the program provided healthcare coverage to students, the poor and the elderly. Since then, it has extended coverage to public-sector workers in 2011 and private-sector workers in 2013. As early as 2011, 417,118 of the 546,125 eligible poor residents of Gabon signed up for the program.

Many typically consider healthcare in Gabon above-average for West Africa in both access and effectiveness. For instance, Gabon has a high healthcare center density and a below-average adult mortality rate from non-communicable diseases.

Gabon employs a novel and effective system to help finance its expansive healthcare coverage: levies on mobile phone companies and on money transfers outside of the country. This system is an incredible success, according to Dr. Inoua Aboubacar, a World Health Organization public health specialist located in Gabon. Overall resources for CNAMGS quadrupled from 2008 to 2011, increasing from 12.5 billion CFA to over 47 billion CFA (nearly $8.5 million). Around 17.5 billion CFA came from these levies.

Launched in 2010, the National Health Strategy now provides 100% covered maternal healthcare in Gabon. The program covers approximately 85% of healthcare costs in other areas as well. Out-of-pocket copays cover any additional costs. Nevertheless, maternal mortality rates remain worrisome, with 261 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2015.

Universal healthcare was achieved in Gabon in only 10 years, quicker than developed countries such as South Korea, where it took 12 years.

What Needs Improvement

Healthcare in Gabon, while successful in many ways, lacks the national spending that it deserves. Healthcare spending only accounts for 3.44% of the country’s total GDP, which is the lower than Gabon’s neighbors of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo and Chad. Although Gabon has the classification of an upper-middle-income country, it still spends less on healthcare than many comparable countries.

HIV/AIDS is a major problem in Gabon. An estimated 3.8% of adults live with the disease in Gabon, which makes it the 14th worst affected country in the world. However, the effects of the disease are diminishing. In 2017, the Gabon Ministry of Health launched a program to raise awareness and understanding of HIV through various campaigns and events in high schools.

Out-of-pocket spending for the people of Gabon is still higher than ideal. In the country, one can attribute 21.87% of healthcare expenditures to out-of-pocket spending, which is higher than in most economically similar countries in the region.

Healthcare in Gabon is a success by most standards, especially in comparison with other countries in Africa. It is far from perfect, though, and improvements must continue in the future. Still, Gabon’s quick and targeted approach should be a model for other countries seeking to improve healthcare programs of their own.

– Evan Kuo
Photo: Department of Defense

 

As of 2018, Gabon had the third-highest rate of tuberculosis among African countries, with a yearly occurrence of 428 cases per 100,000 people. Tuberculosis is so prevalent in Gabon, in part, because it often goes undiagnosed and is poorly treated. In addition, the rates of local transmission and drug resistance are high, leading to a tuberculosis crisis in Gabon.

Limited Laboratory Access

Effective diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in a laboratory setting is crucial to the prevention and treatment of the disease. Limited access to laboratory diagnosis is one of the main contributing factors to the tuberculosis crisis in Gabon. CERMEL, a not-for-profit center for research in Lambaréné, is the country’s foremost resource for tuberculosis research. In the past decade, CERMEL has held events regarding the treatment and diagnosis of tuberculosis, through which doctors share research and information. Though the center was established over 30 years ago, CERMEL has devoted considerable resources to tuberculosis only in recent years. Gabon has also received support from the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization. Before 2015, however, the country was receiving no outside financial support to deal with the tuberculosis crisis.

Tuberculosis and HIV Co-Infection

Another issue Gabon faces is the simultaneous prevalence of tuberculosis and HIV. In 2012 and 2013, the co-infection rate of these diseases was 42% in adults and 16% in children. The mortality rate for those infected by both TB and HIV was 25%.

Cultural and Social Obstacles to Professional Healthcare

Cultural and socioeconomic factors contribute to Gabon’s high infection rates and low treatment success rates. When it comes to TB, patients often do not follow “doctor’s orders.” This is largely due to patients’ belief that they can be healed by visiting a spiritual doctor, rather than by going to the hospital. Additionally, high transportation costs and improper diagnosis and treatment prevent patients from taking healthcare professionals’ advice seriously.

Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis

The prevalence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB, is yet another concern. Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Gabon has limited access to the second line of drugs used to treat tuberculosis in drug-resistant cases. The first MDR-TB treatment center was opened in Gabon in 2015, in Lambaréné, with the laboratory support of CERMEL. The German Ministry of Health provided funding for a trial study of second-line drug treatment for patients in Gabon, which showed positive effects — 63% of patients were cured. However, the drugs used in second-line treatment are harsh and often cause adverse effects, such as gastrointestinal problems.

Expanding laboratory infrastructure will be invaluable in stopping the tuberculosis crisis in Gabon. As it stands, CERMEL is one of the only research laboratories in the country and newer data on TB is not available. CERMEL has helped get the ball rolling for research on the disease, but further laboratory spaces and doctors are necessary. Additionally, to quell the tuberculosis crisis in Gabon, healthcare professionals will have to engage the population in ways that account for prevailing cultural beliefs and socioeconomic realities.

Elise Ghitman
Photo: Flickr

ten facts about living conditions in Gabon

The West African country of Gabon is home to nearly 2 million people and shares a large part of its borders with The Republic of the Congo. While more politically stable than its neighbors, Gabon still struggles with extreme poverty and corruption. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Gabon.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Gabon

  1. Poverty: Even though Gabon boasts a per capita income four times the sub-Saharan average, as of 2015, 34 percent of the country still lived below the poverty line. Some estimates place unemployment at more than 40 percent. Of those who are employed, 64 percent are primarily employed in subsistence agriculture. By 2025, President Ali Bongo hopes to move Gabon into a “higher-tech, skilled economy,” which will potentially yield quality jobs beyond subsistence farming.
  2. Oil: Until oil was discovered offshore in the 1970s, Gabon primarily exported timber and manganese. As of 2012, Gabon had 2 billion barrels of accepted oil reserves, making it the fifth largest producer in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, oil makes up 80 percent of exports and 45 percent of the GDP. Despite the money generated from oil, the hydrocarbon sector, unfortunately, doesn’t generate sufficient jobs.
  3. Clean Water: More than 97 percent of urban populations have access to clean drinking water while only two-thirds of rural populations do. Relatedly, only 43 percent of urban dwellers and just below one-third of rural inhabitants have access to quality sanitation. In 2018, the African Development Bank granted Gabon a fund of $96.95 million to improve the water deficit in its capital Grand Libreville by expanding the drinking water infrastructure into Greater Libreville and other municipalities. The goal is to have sustainable universal access to drinking water and sanitation by 2025.
  4. HIV/AIDS: As of 2017, 56,000 people in Gabon were living with HIV/AIDS. That same year, 1,300 people died from causes related to HIV/AIDS. This, however, is a decline from 2003 when 3,000 people had died of HIV/AIDS-related causes. Since 2010, new incidences of HIV have dropped by 50 percent while the number of AIDS-related deaths has fallen by one-third.
  5. Leading Causes of Death: In 2007, HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death in Gabon. However, as of 2017, that number had fallen to fifth place, being overtaken by ischemic heart disease and lower respiratory tract infections as the top two causes of death. Although from 2007 to 2017, Malaria had risen to third place in deadliness. In 2017, there were more than 35,000 confirmed cases of malaria and 218 deaths.
  6. Corruption: Gabon has been relatively stable politically since gaining independence from France in 1960 and electing El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba in 1968. President Omar Bongo ruled for 41 years until 2009 when his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, won the presidential elections. But, within this relative stability, dissent and distrust had begun to surface. The elder Bongo’s re-election in 2002 was riddled with allegations of electoral fraud. In 2016, when the younger Bongo was reelected, the country erupted into riots which resulted in the burning of the parliament building. The opposition, as well as international election observers, flagged the election results as suspicious, but Gabon’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Ali Bongo Ondimba extending his mandate to rule until 2023. In January of 2019, while President Bongo was in Morocco on an extended stay, several soldiers attempted a coup. They were unsuccessful and ultimately arrested.
  7. Education: According to the Education Policy and Data Center’s 2018 National Education Profile, 90 percent of primary school-age children were attending school. Literacy rates for young adults ages 15-24 were at 89 percent for females and 87 for males. This shows impressive improvement from 1985 when literacy rates were much lower, 53 percent for women and 70 percent for men.
  8. Maternal Mortality: The average woman in Gabon has about 4 children. In 2015, 291 women died out of 100,000 live births. As of 2018, there was still only one physician for every 3,000 people; therefore, complications from pregnancy and delivery can often go undetected and untreated. While still distressing, this maternal mortality rate represents a marked improvement from 1996 when it was 403.
  9. Infrastructure: In the 2013 World Economic Forum Competitiveness Report, Gabon ranked 112 out of 148 countries for quality of infrastructure. While roads are often impassable in the rainy season, railroad infrastructure had performed substantially better, coming in at 72 out of 148. Gabon has “one of the highest urbanization rates in Africa. More than four in five people live in cities.” In fact, 59 percent of the population lives in the country’s two dominant hubs: Libreville, the political capital and Port Gentil, the heart of its oil industry.
  10. Life Expectancy: In the 1980s, women were only expected to live into their early 50s and men only into their late 40s. Improvements in healthcare among other factors have extended life expectancy for women into their 70s and for men into their mid-60s. Furthermore, the mortality rate for children under the age of five was cut in half since 1990 when 80 out of 1000 children died. In 2017, that rate was approximately 40.

It is evident through these top 10 facts about living conditions in Gabon that there have been dramatic changes in the quality of life. Hopefully, Gabon will reach its drinking water and sanitation infrastructure goals for greater Libreville by 2025. It is through initiatives like this that Gabon will continue to improve the standard of living for those in the country.

Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Benefits From Foreign Aid to Gabon
As the United States faces potential cuts to its foreign aid budget, it is important to recognize that the relationship between the United States and any country receiving aid is not a one-way transaction. The benefits reaped by both countries outweigh any costs. The many ways the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Gabon is one such example. With a diplomatic friendship stretching back 58 years, the U.S. assists Gabon with funds that power humanitarian programs. These programs fight poverty, human trafficking and disease in Gabon. In return, the U.S. has gained a stable trading partner and international ally.   

The Partnership Between the U.S. and Gabon

When Gabon gained independence from France in 1960, U.S.-Gabon relations grew quickly. During the cold war era, Gabon was an ally of the West and has always sought to remain close with U.S. leaders, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Gabon’s large oil reserves have received investments from U.S. presidential administrations, starting with Nixon and going all the way to the Obama administration. Gabon’s oil industry has been key to the development of strong trade partnerships with the U.S.

As reported in 2018, the U.S. had been importing about 30,000 barrels of crude oil from Gabon daily.  However, it isn’t all about oil; Gabon is ranked 134 as the U.S.’ largest goods trading partner. In 2016, there was a total of $192 million in goods traded. The U.S. exported a total of $89 million in goods to Gabon, and in return, imported $199 million in Gabonese products, clearly showing that the trading benefits alone outweigh any foreign aid costs.

The main products being imported from Gabon include mineral fuels, wood products and rubber while the U.S. mainly exports poultry products, beef products, cotton and sweeteners. While there is a certain amount of trade occurring between both nations, the number of goods being exchanged could be improved substantially by an increase in the amount of aid that Gabon is receiving from America. As more trading occurs as a result of Gabon’s ongoing development, the more the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Gabon.    

The Rainforest

The two countries also cooperate to spearhead conservation efforts that seek to protect the country’s rainforest from deforestation and poaching. As a central African nation, Gabon part of the second largest rainforest in the world: the Congo Basin. The Congo Basin’s many natural resources provide food and shelter to more than 60 million of its inhabitants. Land in this area creates many viable, renewable products that have long reinforced a strong trading partnership with the U.S.

The United States Agency for International Development, (USAID), has employed an initiative called the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) in Gabon and six other nations in the Congo Basin: the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of the Congo.

The program seeks to bolster conservation efforts in these six countries as they battle poaching and deforestation while, at the same time, trying to improve responsible land management in the Congo Basin. CARPE works with communities and governments and nonprofits in these central African nations to speed up the transition from developing states to financially and politically secure democracies. It provides funding to ensure that the region’s rich, biodiverse habitat is preserved and that the transition from developing nation to developed nation is accompanied by low emissions and environmentally conscious economic strategies.  

Looking Ahead

Looking to the future, it is clear that the relationship between the U.S. and Gabon is beneficial for both countries. The ways that the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Gabon will only be strengthened as Gabon continues to develop, bolstered by USAID through programs such as CARPE. The 58-year relationship between the two countries serves as an example of the mutually beneficial results of foreign aid. 

Jason Crosby
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Girls' Education in Gabon
The top 10 facts about girls’ education in Gabon presented in the text below are interesting to consider because of the intersection they suggest between the country’s strengths and weaknesses. Women in Gabon suffer at the hands of domestic abuse and a deficiency of certain instrumental rights. At the same time, literacy rates in the country are relatively high compared to other countries in the region.

The 10 Facts about Girls’ Education in Gabon

  1. Compulsory education in Gabon lasts for 10 years. Students begin at age 6 and finish at age 15. This can be considered as a relatively short period, particularly when compared with a typical education in a country like the United States where students usually begin their education at age 6 and finish at age 18.
  2. In 2012, about 82 percent of people over age 15 in Gabon were considered literate. Out of this number, 85 percent were male and 80 percent were female. This is one indicator of gender inequity in education in Gabon.
  3. Compared to other countries in the region, Gabon has a relatively high overall education enrollment rate. In 2005, this rate was at the 92.4 percent. This may, in part, have to do with the fact that education is compulsory through certain ages.
  4. There is overcrowding in primary level schools and a high drop out rate in secondary schools. This suggests that when the compulsory years are finished, students neglect the idea of continuing their education.
  5. Gender equality in schools increases with age and education level. Still, only 54 percent of female students in Gabon continue into the latter parts of secondary education.
  6. UNICEF is making efforts to help keep girls in school. The Ministry of Family has set up in-school daycare to help ensure that young mothers are able to attend school. Many women in the country marry and start families young so solutions like these are essential to ensure woman’s continuing education.
  7. Poverty is most rampant in villages in Gabon. Because of this, villages also lack proper education systems. This often means that children have to attend schools far away from their homes. Families in rural areas often discourage their children from pursuing education, particularly females who are expected to help in the household.
  8. Education itself is free in Gabon but students are subject to fees that amount to about $50. Poor families cannot afford these fees and their children are, as a consequence, unable to receive an education. This education barrier affects both girls and boys in the country.
  9. In 2011, a study revealed that 77 percent of children in Gabon were victims of violence. Children are not likely to want to continue education past compulsory stages if it is associated with trauma and abuse.
  10. Constitution of Gabon affirms gender equality and the country has ratified documents affirming women’s rights but problems still persist. Women are frequently victims of domestic abuse and are often forced to marry at very young ages. These young marriages often prevent them from continuing to pursue their education.

These top 10 facts about girls’ education in Gabon indicate that though the system is providing decent literacy rates, education in Gabon is far from perfect. Women still face lower literacy rates than men and early marriages prevent them from having sufficient educational opportunities.

Efforts like those of UNICEF mentioned above will help to ameliorate such problems but the most promising prospects for the future will have to come from the country itself.

– Julia Bloechl
Photo: Flickr

Investment Helps Spur Improved Infrastructure in Gabon
Infrastructure has become an issue of increasing salience for the country of Gabon. Diminishing growth rates and persistent poverty have become common; oil shocks have put the economy into tumultuous waters. To address this, the West African nation, with a population roughly the size of Nebraska, has recently prioritized addressing inadequate infrastructure in Gabon. It is doing so in partnership with Bechtel, a company known for its landmark development projects across the globe.

The Role of Infrastructure in Gabon

Economists agree that infrastructure is a crucial component of economic growth, especially in developing countries. Along with increased productivity, improved infrastructure also disproportionately helps the poor. This is achieved through improved access to markets and facilitating human capital accumulation and economies of scale.

Put simply, better roads, railways and ports make transporting goods easier and cheaper. Furthermore, better telecommunication infrastructure, like telephone lines and internet access, enables more participation in economic activity. Education and healthcare also become more accessible, which allows people to improve their productivity.

For infrastructure in Gabon, where less than half of airports have paved runways and only 11 percent of roads are paved, there is plenty of room for investment to catalyze improved economic output.

The State of Gabon’s Economy

Despite boasting per capita GDP rates larger than most of its underdeveloped neighbors, Gabon has found itself confronted with significant development challenges. Its economy is overly reliant on a triad of natural resources; oil, manganese, and timber exports comprise the majority of the nation’s income. Petroleum revenues alone are responsible for 45 percent of the nation’s GDP. Such a dependence on exports, particularly natural resources, typically stifles a nation’s primary sector.

Development difficulty has also been exacerbated by an often unstable business environment fostered by the government. Gabon performs poorly – 167th out of 190 – on the World Bank’s Doing Business report, which measures a nation’s ease of doing business.

Previously, corruption had effectively thrown sand in the gears of the economy. It dissuaded foreign investors and compelled them to funnel capital elsewhere. Many potential investors find the nation’s regulatory apparatus too onerous. Furthermore, oil money often does not trickle down to benefit the citizens.

However, budget shortfalls attributable to poor fiscal planning and mercurial oil prices, as well as declining growth rates have facilitated a renewed emphasis on infrastructure investments and encouraged more government transparency.

Bechtel’s Commitment to Infrastructure

Unfazed by many of the obstacles to infrastructure in Gabon, Bechtel began an ambitious “master plan” for the nation’s infrastructure in 2010. The San Francisco-based construction and civil engineering firm agreed to a $25b public-private partnership. Its aim is to “balanc[e] economic progress with social and environmental policies… includ[ing] new schools and fiber-optic communications” as well as to increase industrial capacity within the nation.

Reaping the Rewards

Bechtel’s ambition to help modernize infrastructure in Gabon has shown tangible benefits for the nation and its people. Thus far, the partnership has successfully built five thousand public housing units, the nation’s first community wastewater treatment plant, and designed a new port, marina and conference center in the capital city of Libreville.

Gabon has made significant strides in other areas, too. When Bechtel began their work, less than 6 percent of Gabonese had internet access; by July 2016, the rate was 48.1 percent.

Although public debt and pervasive poverty remain problems, investment in infrastructure has offered a blueprint for building a better environment for Gabon and improved economic prospects for its people.

– Brendan Wade

Photo: Flickr


Not often acquiring media headlines or the prime destination for humanitarian relief within its region, Gabon has quietly become one of the most stable countries in West Africa. Albeit much of the economic improvement can be attributed towards increasing oil prices and structural reforms, over 30 percent of the population remains below the poverty line. The success of humanitarian aid to Gabon has been erratic, with recent concerns regarding political stability causing skepticism from the international community.

Most recently, international organizations such as the Red Cross have significantly increased its assistance in wake of the violence following the presidential elections in 2016. Mistrust is a major cause for concern as government corruption allegations hinder any positive aid distribution.

Open Markets

According to the Heritage Foundation, trade is a necessity for a country that is abundant in rich natural resources, particularly in oil. The value of exports and imports taken together “equals 74 percent of GDP.” Additionally, there are investment restrictions that drastically impede any progress needed to be made.

Due to heavy tariffs and nontariff barriers, many of the Gabonese population still reside in poverty. Gabon has been part of a rigorous economic program sponsored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who issued an 18-month stand-by credit for $119 million.

International Aid

Outside the World Bank, many other countries have continued to foster development projects to reduce the country’s dependency on oil, as well as revert a stagnant economy. Other forms of investment devoted to strengthening Gabon’s economy have enhanced the robust public infrastructure, modernized technology, promoted investment and competitiveness and improved access to electricity and water in rural areas.

According to Oxfordbusiness, in recent years, Gabon has managed to develop a stable working relationship with many areas ranging from Europe to North Africa, Asia and North America. France has long been their primary trading partner, with over 120 countries operating inside the country.

According to the French embassy in Libreville the “stock of French investment in the country reached €1.3Bn in 2013. Additionally, the European Union has been an integral source of development in the country; allocating €49, of which “was to be devoted to education and professional training, as well as improving governance in several sectors of the economy.”

The United States has also been influential by importing $1.1.bn in goods from Gabon, in the form of mainly raw materials, and also “exporting $237m worth of goods” to the country. Latest figures also show China’s investment in the country has created a growing working relationship between the two countries.

Their humanitarian aid to Gabon comes in the forms of financial projects and a loan of €6m, of which was included in “recent cooperation agreements between the two countries.” Additional countries such as Morocco and Turkey have also become important sources of contribution to Gabon’s well-being.

Final Thoughts

One index which has closely monitored Gabon’s exponential growth in recent years is the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index Africa (HANCI-Africa). The objective of the HANCI-Africa is to enable civil society by putting pressure on its governments to adhere to the local population.

Essentially, the central component of this index is to separate both nutrition commitment and hunger to make government’s aware of how to better prioritize malnutrition to properly curate their agenda. The government has also taken steps to revive the economy by domestically investing in palm oil production as part of a project to veer away from its dependency on oil.

But this prospect backfired, with Gabon’s budget being “reduced by over 5 percent in 2017 – and income per capita declining in 2015 for the first time in 15 years.”

As a result, residents have lost thousands of jobs, and the government’s response has been to invest in the agricultural and mining sectors. Additionally, the influx of humanitarian aid to Gabon took a toll because of countries’ concerns on whether the money is distributed effectively.

If the growth continues to stagnate, then one can only wonder how long it will be before Gabon may need to rely even more on substantive humanitarian aid in order to lift the country out of poverty.

– Alexandre Dumouza

Photo: Flickr

women's empowerment in GabonHome to about 1.7 million people, the small West African country of Gabon is wealthy from oil exports and boasts impressive environmental diversity. An authoritarian government and family dynasty led by President Ali Bongo keeps wealth in its hands and contributes to high levels of inequality. Under the Bongo dictatorship, many legal and cultural obstacles remain that challenge and limit women’s empowerment in Gabon.

According to the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report for Gabon released in 2017, Gabon provides limited legal rights for women, and when laws do exist, they are poorly enforced. Marital rape remains legal, and women are often too ashamed or afraid to report a rape to the local police. Women’s empowerment in Gabon is promoted by several NGOs that work with the government to respond to incidents of domestic violence and harassment. Some positives include a very low rate of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is prohibited in Gabon.

While FGM has not taken root in the country, other traditions like polygamy are still practiced and act as a barrier to women’s empowerment in Gabon. Current laws limit the number of wives a man can have to four, and despite full legal rights on paper, many women still suffer discrimination based on customary laws relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance.

According to Amnesty International, the promise of gender equality in Gabon’s constitution is not borne out by the country’s laws and legal practices. The legal code continues to discriminate against women in child custody and crucial elements like the minimum age of marriage for women and girls, significant barriers to women’s empowerment in Gabon. Female domestic workers also suffer high levels of sexual harassment and have fewer avenues to legal help than other women suffering abuse in Gabon.

The World Bank is investing in a project to foster women’s business development and women’s empowerment in Gabon. The Investment Promotion and Competitiveness Project seeks to boost female employment, as the current female unemployment rate is at 27 percent — 11 percent higher than the male rate. The project will create a one-stop shop to register businesses with a central web-based database, empowering female entrepreneurs to receive training, access financial services and open small and medium-sized businesses. Projects like these are a key part of alleviating poverty for women in Gabon and helping them achieve empowerment.

– Giacomo Tognini

Photo: Flickr