The prosperous Central Africa nation is now looking to its extensive rainforest to boost an oil-dependent economy and widespread poverty.
On the west coast of Central Africa lies Gabon, one of the region’s more stable countries.
The former French territory gained independence on Aug. 17, 1960, marking more than half a century of freedom today.
Since 1960, Gabon has had three presidents — Leon M’ba, Omar Bongo and, the current leader, Ali Ben Bongo — and undergone major governmental changes over the past several decades, including constitutional amendments that removed presidential term limits. Allegations of corruption and fixed elections made during Bongo’s election in 1993 and the subsequent election of his son, Ali, in 2009 have marred Gabon’s otherwise relatively diplomatic political history.
Booming oil exports and a small population have enabled many Gabonese to enjoy comparable wealth, but a majority of the nation’s inhabitants live in poverty.
The political climate has also been subject to global oil prices, as reflected in the 1990 demonstrations against President Bongo sparked by a drop in oil prices in the late 1980s.
Preserved, lush rainforests comprise a majority of the land and boasts an array of wildlife, including lowland gorillas and forest elephants. In an attempt to expand Gabon’s economy, a growing emphasis has been placed on eco-tourism.
Most recently, Gabon and its neighbor Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the continent’s biggest football tournament.
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(Photo: WILFRIED MBINAH/AFP/Getty Images)