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50th anniversary independence of Gabon

5O years after independence :
Political, economic and social change in Gabon

On August 17, 2010, the independent Gabonese Republic is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. 50 years after independence, accepted without any particular enthusiasm, Gabon whilst retaining its main founding characteristics has nevertheless, experienced real change (political as much as economic and social), of which this contribution will endeavor to outline the main points.

1. In political terms

It was on August 16, 1960 at 11.55pm that Léon Mba (Prime Minister) read the proclamation of independence. France’s official representative was the Minister, André Malraux.
The first months of the independent state were marked by an institutional debate (between partisans of a presidential system and those in favor of a parliamentary system). The intensity of this debate will be a precursor to future crises. Following this, a Constitution (triumph of the ‘parliamentarist’) was adopted on November 4, 1960, giving birth to the more than fleeting 2nd Republic.

Two days after its promulgation (November 14), the first political crisis occurred. It was the result of general elections in February 1961. From these elections came an Assembly that voted the Constitution of the 3rd Republic (presidential). This Constitution, obviously and with constant revision, governed the country until the unrest in the 1990s.

On February 20, 1963, Léon Mba undertook a reorganization of the government that resulted in ministers leaving the UDSG, marking the end of the de facto ‘National Union’ of 1961.

The Assembly once again turned into a hub of resistance and, a few months later, the Deputies refused to examine the country’s budget.

The unrest gradually spread to the general population justified by Leon Mba’s paternalistic and brutal governance.

On January 21, 1964, Leon Mba dissolved the National Assembly and announced elections on February 23.

On the night of February 17-18, 1964, a group of young Gabonese officers seized power from Léon Mba and forced him to resign. It was the ‘1964 coup d’etat’, whereby the military handed over power to Jean-Hilaire Aubame – who would keep it for only two days - the time for Léon Mba (sent off to the sticks) to return to Libreville thanks to the intervention of French paratroopers on February 20.

Following this, with Léon Mba’s health deteriorating, the Constitution was revised on February 17, 1967 with the creation of a post of vice-president, automatic successor to the president of the Republic in case of a final unexpected obstacle.

In March 1967, Léon Mba ran for the presidential elections with Albert Bongo as Fellow candidate. When, on November 28, 1967, Léon MBA died, succession took place in accordance with the Constitution. The new head of state, Albert Bongo was sworn in on December 2, 1967.

From this date a new page of Gabonese political history began : the “3rd ‘reformed’ Republic” marked by the creation and gradual rise to power of the PDG (Gabonese Democratic Party) from the ashes of the BDG.
It is the PDG, the only party, who had the sole control of the country until 1990.

On March 26, 1991, a new Constitution was adopted. It was the result of factors as much endogenous as exogenous, whose trigger was a crisis at the University in January 1990 before unrest spread throughout society and led to the National Conference (March 27, 1990) and elections in September 1990, which gave a narrow majority to the PDG (63 elected representatives) against 57 for a disunited opposition.

Gabon saw an acceleration of its history on June 8, 2009 with the disappearance of the one who had supreme public office for 42 years : H.E. President Omar Bongo Ondimba

On June 9, the constitutional Court, deferred to by the Government, verified the vacant post of the president of the Republic.

On June 10, Mrs. Rose Francine Rogombé, president of the Senate, was sworn in as president of the Republic for a constitutional duration of 45 days, which would be extended by 45.

On August 30 the voters went to the polls.
As soon as the results were announced (Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of the deceased president : 41.73 % ; André Mba Obame : 25.88% and Pierre Mamboundou : 25.22 %.), the losers contested Ali Bongo’s victory.
Disturbances occurred in some outlying neighbourhoods in the capital. However, it was at Port-Gentil that the riots took the turn of insurgency for more than one week.

At the end of the electoral dispute, the Constitutional Court confirmed the election of Ali Bongo Ondimba with 41.79% of votes before he was sworn in on September 16 and on the same day, nominated a Prime Minister who would form his government on 17th.
Since then, Gabon has begun a new phase in its history at the same time as rupture and continuity.

2. In economic and social terms

Among the least developed colonies in Africa, at the end of the 1960s, Gabon began a particular social economic change thanks to the exploitation of its natural wealth (wood, manganese, uranium and, above all, petrol).

The Investor State from the 1970s launched into numerous infrastructure projects (deep-water ports, airports, railways etc.) which until then did not exist.

An ambitious training policy based on the State bearing the cost of studies by paying student grants, created from scratch an almost non-existent élite at the moment of independence (the first Gabonese doctor graduated from university in 1962).

After the first university created in 1971 in Libreville, two others were established, and the number of schools and health establishments experienced remarkable progress.

All this investment led to Gabon being called a ‘tropical Emirate’. Following the oil crisis, however, and the unrigorous management of State resources, marked by private appropriation of public interests, the ‘model’ disintegrated from the 1980s onwards, throwing the country into a multifaceted crisis from which it is trying to escape today.

Guy Rossatanga-Rignault
Professor at the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, University of Libreville-UOB


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