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Gabon’s Rich History: From Ancient Kingdoms to Modern Governance

August 30, 2023

Photo Credit: WFB

Nestled in the heart of central Africa, Gabon boasts lush rainforests and abundant petroleum reserves, making it one of the region’s most prosperous and stable nations. A mosaic of around 40 ethnic groups calls this country home, with the largest being the Fang, spanning northern Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon. Gabon’s history weaves a tapestry of kingdoms dating back to the 1300s, including the renowned Loango and Orungu Kingdoms. Despite limited written records due to early Bantu languages lacking script, Gabon’s past stories were passed down orally, leading to some historical loss over time.

When Portuguese traders arrived in the mid-1400s, they christened the area Gabon. Indigenous trade routes then connected with European traders, facilitating the exchange of prized goods like ivory and timber. However, for a century starting in the 1760s, the focus shifted to the tragic transatlantic slave trade. Although many participated, the Fang stood as an exception. As the slave trade waned in the late 1800s, France’s colonization brought forth an era of resource exploitation.

Despite increasing anti-colonial sentiments in the early 1900s, significant rebellion remained elusive. The aftermath of World War II ushered in a new era, with Gabon gaining independence in 1960. The nation transitioned from parliamentary to presidential governance within a year, seeing Leon M’BA win the inaugural presidential election in 1961. A key figure in Gabon’s history, El Hadj Omar BONGO Ondimba, assumed office after M’BA’s passing in 1967, becoming one of history’s longest-serving heads of state.

In 1968, BONGO declared Gabon a single-party state and established the Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG), which continues to wield political influence today. The early 1990s saw the re-introduction of a multiparty system under a new constitution, as BONGO confronted mounting political opposition. He clinched re-election victories in 1995, 1998, 2002, and 2005, albeit amidst allegations of fraud and a fragmented opposition.

Following BONGO’s passing in 2009, his son, Ali BONGO Ondimba, emerged victorious in the subsequent election, maintaining the family’s political legacy. A closely contested election in 2016 led to Ali BONGO Ondimba’s re-election, further endorsed by Gabon’s Constitutional Court after a review of disputed results. Through these historical chapters, Gabon’s story evolves, capturing the nation’s journey from ancient kingdoms to modern governance.

Credit: WFB


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