Red China says, "Gabon is oasis of peace and stability in central Africa"
- and.....China signs $3 billion iron-ore deal with Gabon.
One or more US corporations had plans to mine Gabon's iron ore back in
the 60's. With Omar Bongo's strong push, Gabon built a railroad to help
make the project feasible. Now, the Chinese pick up the booty.....
LIBREVILLE, 18 September (IRIN) - Patiently scraping the scales off
fish at the Pont Nomba market in Gabon's capital, 19-year-old high-
school graduate Etienne Biyoghe said he once dreamt of an office
career. But as unemployment has soared in oil-rich Gabon, now he
feels lucky just to have enough money to put some food on the table
at the end of the day.
"I do not feel ashamed," Biyoghe said. In a good month, the arduous
work can net him US $300, well above the US $85 minimum wage -
unchanged since 1970. It is set to go up to US $155 next month.
An estimated 40 percent of people are unemployed in Gabon, a tiny
West African country rich in oil, gold, manganese and ore. The United
Nations says that between 60 and 70 percent of the population live
below the poverty line, scraping by on less than US $1 per day.
The rampant poverty is set against a per capita GDP more than three-
times higher than the sub-Saharan average, a paradox that is not lost
on politicians opposed to the country's president, Omar Bongo, West
Africa's longest-serving head of state.
"The populations of the oil producing African countries are those who
suffer from the most deteriorated living conditions," said
parliamentarian Laurent Nzamba.
Oil production has been declining in recent years in Gabon to average
about 265,000 barrels per day. Oil still accounts for an estimated 50
percent of national revenue, and analysts say forecasted continuing
high oil prices should cushion the country from short-term shocks.
Still, some are sceptical that Gabon's economic indicators will go
anywhere except backward as long as the 70-year-old president is in
"Our leaders live in style, parading with cars and big villas while
the country is left utterly helpless," said Vincent Ndomba, who works
at the Treasury.
David Cowan, senior economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit in
London, agrees. "Gabon has a long history of doing all the things
that shouldn't be done," he said.
Cowan said Gabon's government frittered away the country's oil wealth
on grandiose projects. "Instead of spending on primary healthcare, it
spent on hospitals and universities, without thinking about the long-
Analysts have urged Gabon to start diversifying the economy to
compensate for the decline in oil output, suggesting it expand mining
production and improve the forestry, construction, telecommunication
and fishing sectors as potential additional sources of revenue.
But Gabonese are not optimistic. At the fish market, Salomon Kontche
said he would advise his children to forget about college and head
straight for stable manual jobs.
"With the economic crisis, our situation is precarious," Kontche
said. "It's better to find an activity that provides us with a
certain amount of autonomy."
- Maybe a little from left field, but some 40 years ago or so, there were
those of us who were concerned that in Gabon there were developing two
classes. The poverty class in the village (and cities as well) and those
who by virtue of education were able to secure management type or
teaching jobs an moved into urban areas that offered more of the finer
things of life electricity, etc. We were concerned that although there
were plenty of "common laborers" and what we viewed to be an abundant
supply of the educatee "evoluee'" there was no middle class or tradesman
group either in place or developing. We knew of a few europeans who
filled in those positions and did quite nicely.
We spent a limited amount of time trying to re-open a facility at
N'gomo, an abandoned mission on the river below Lambrene. Prior to 1930
it had been a rather large school with trades training and even the
operation of a kiln to make brick and a sawmill. We spent a few nights
in a house that had been abandoned for about 30 years and because of its
fine construction was still sound.
Alas, about all we accomplished in our work and discussions with some of
the powers that were in the government was to along with Henri Bucher of
the Paris Mission Society, to dig out some books from the turn of the
century (german script printing no less) and ship them off to Libreville
where the powers that were were concerned about constructing a climate
controled facility to protect those old books.
Our attempt never got off the ground. However, it appears to us that
today, that missing middle trades class is perhaps still missing in Gabon.
>LIBREVILLE, 18 September (IRIN) - Patiently scraping the scales off
>fish at the Pont Nomba market in Gabon's capital, 19-year-old high-
>school graduate Etienne Biyoghe said he once dreamt of an office
>career. But as unemployment has soared in oil-rich Gabon, now he
>feels lucky just to have enough money to put some food on the table
- Libreville - China is investing massively across Africa, especially
in oil and construction, and especially in countries like Sudan,
where it backs the government's resistance to the deployment of
United Nations peacekeepers in Darfur. These investments have been
greeted with enthusiasm by many but in the west African state of
Gabon, the activities of a Chinese oil company have created uproar
among donors, conservationists and even within the government itself.
In 2002 Gabon designated a quarter of its territory as nature reserve
Na move designed to protect 67 000km2 of mainly pristine rainforest
that is home to a wealth of plants and animals. Four years on the
government of President Omar Bongo, who has ruled the country for
nearly 40 years, has run into its first major conflict of interests
involving one of these nature reserves.
State-run Sinopec, the largest refiner in energy-hungry China, has
been prospecting for oil in the Loango national park in southern
Gabon and has employed methods that critics say respect neither the
law nor the environment.
The company, which has declined all comment on the affair, was
ordered by Libreville this month to halt all prospecting activities
in the park. But the embarrassing case continued to cause upheaval in
a country torn between the pressure to develop and the pressure to
preserve its natural heritage.
The problem began before the summer, when teams from a US
environmental organisation, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS),
accused Sinopec of abusing its oil exploration licence in Loango.
Far from protecting an area lauded in travel magazines as "Africa's
last paradise", Sinopec was accused of dynamiting and polluting the
park, tearing up the forest to create roads and generally destroying
the habitat on which Loango's plants and animals survive.
In addition, WCS accused the Chinese company of acting completely
illegally because the environmental impact study it was obliged to
conduct in Loango had not been approved by the Gabonese environment
"This study is completely phony," said one observer, who asked not to
be named, "and Sinopec's activities in Loango are therefore illegal."
In early September a government delegation visited the park and
confirmed that Sinopec was guilty of several of the abuses logged by
the WCS in its report on the company, a copy of which was obtained by
AFP. The affair has aroused fury and concern among Gabonese
"What is happening in Loango calls into question all the commitments
that Gabon has made to protect the environment," said Nicaise
Moulombi, head of group Croissance Saine Environment (Healthy Growth -
"It proves that our authorities prefer the immediate gains obtained
from oil to the long-term gains obtained from conservation," added
Marc Ona Essangui from Brainforest, another non-governmental
The scandal has also sparked anger among Gabon's international
donors - who include the European Union, France, the United States
and the World Bank, which has earmarked $10-million for Gabon's
In a letter addressed to Gabon's forestry minister, Emile Doumba, the
donors recently complained that Sinopec's activities "pose a threat
to the biology and tourist potential of Gabon's parks and to the
credibility of the government and recommend that oil exploration
there be halted". The scandal has even caused tensions within the
government itself. "What Sinopec is doing is unacceptable," Doumba
said. "If we find a huge reserve under a park we're not going to
ignore it, that's for sure," he continued. "But I think it is better
to favour the long term and the development of ecotourism, which has
considerable potential in Gabon."
After lengthy discussions, the national parks council has finally
ordered Sinopec to halt its exploration activities and WCS reported
that it had begun this week to pull its workers out of Loango.
While they are celebrating this conservation victory,
environmentalists fear this conflict will be only the first of many
to come. An immense iron ore mining project is about to get underway
in Belinga, northern Gabon, and it is also being run by a Chinese
"If Sinopec can get away with this in Loango, we risk seeing a whole
string of abuses in Belinga," one conservationist told AFP.
"We don't intend to stop Gabon exploiting its underground resources
but it has to show a good example by enforcing its own laws." - Sapa-
- afrol News, 13 October - Steadily dropping since its peak in 1997,
Gabon's oil production is finally experiencing a slight growth, new
statistics reveal. In the same period, Gabon has been reduced from
the third to the sixth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to statistics released by the US government agency Energy
Information Administration (EIA), Gabon's decrease in oil production
has now stopped. During the first nine months of 2006, Gabon produced
237,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) of crude oil, EIA informs. This is a
small increase from 2005.
Contrasted with Gabon's 1997 peak of 371,000 bbl/d, 2006 oil
production however has declined by 36 percent. "In part, the decline
in production is due to maturing fields and a lack of new fields
coming online, something that Gabon is working to change over the
next few years," the US agency explains. Despite these efforts, EIA
however foresees further "looming oil export declines."
The main reason for Gabon's decreased oil production is found on its
largest producing oil field, Shell's offshore Rabi-Kounga, which now
only produces around 55,000 bbl/d. This is down from its 1997 peak of
217,000 bbl/d. In an effort to extend the productive life of the
field, Shell in 2003 however began re-injecting associated natural
gas into the field.
Apart from Rabi-Kounga, Gabon in fact has been successful in
increasing its oil production during the last years. Given the
current high world market prices, Libreville authorities have managed
to recruit several smaller firms to bring new oil fields online in
Vaalco, Addax Petroleum, and Sasol are involved in the Etame offshore
field, with a current of approximately 18,000 bbl/d. In July this
year, Addax Petroleum purchased the interests of Pan-Ocean Energy in
Gabon for US$ 1.4 billion. The acquisition now makes Addax the
largest producer in Gabon, with total production of more than 100,000
Further investments are also on track. Only last month, FirstAfrica
Oil completed initial drilling in the offshore East Orovinyare
oilfield. The company hopes to have production from the field online
by the third quarter of 2007. Initial production is expected at over
7,000 bbl/d. Several onshore fields are also currently being
explored, developed or expanded.
Gabon was hit hard by the declining oil production, with its highly
ineffective administration being used to almost unlimited revenues.
Despite its small population of about 1.4 million, limited social
spending and a very slow progress in developing infrastructure, the
Libreville government had accumulated a debt of around US$ 3.8
billion - debt payments now amounting to 40 percent of the annual
Faced with a financial crisis, Libreville during the last two years
has reformed its economy, increased transparency, embraced good
governance and achieved new oil investments. In 2005, Gabon finally
experienced sustainable growth figures, with GDP increasing by 2.7
percent - around the same as population growth. Also inflation was
reduced to close to nothing, following decades of hiking prices in
the oil-driven economy.
In 2005, Gabon registered per-capita GDP of approximately US$ 5,000,
which is significantly higher than the sub-Saharan African average of
US$ 1,500. However, analysts estimate that 6070 percent of Gabonese
live below the poverty line despite forty years of large oil exports.