Politics, Africa

Resource-rich Gabon fails to share wealth with public

Over third of population lives under poverty threshold, while ousted President Ali Bongo and ruling elite have been enjoying colossal wealth for decades

Umit Donmez  | 04.09.2023 - Update : 05.09.2023
Resource-rich Gabon fails to share wealth with public


Despite being resource-rich, the Central African nation of Gabon has a large poor population.

The country has a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of €7,960 ($8,600) and a population of 2.4 million.

It has rich reserves of oil, manganese, and wood.

Over a third of its population, however, lives under the poverty threshold (€5.1 per day).

Ousted President Ali Bongo and the ruling elite have assets worth hundreds of millions of euros in France and other countries.

900,000 live in poverty

Gabon's GDP growth rate was 3% in 2022, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). But 39.2% of the population – which equals 900,000 people – live under the poverty threshold. The country has an unemployment rate of 30%.

Many young people search for better opportunities abroad, and those who were hoping to return to Gabon after studying abroad were disappointed by the government's decision to suspend recruiting civil servants until August 2021, except for the Defense, Education and Health Ministries.

Aproximately, half of Gabon's population did not have access to clean water in 2022, according to the AfDB. 90% of those living in the cities had access to electricity, while 70% of those in rural areas were deprived of it.

Health services are also insufficient, due to lack of healthcare staff and equipment in hospitals. Schools lack teachers and the infrastructure is weak.

The opposition party New Power, led by Privat Ngomo, denounced the impacts of "Francafrique" (an expression referring to France's influence in its former African colonies and its relations with them), and France's predatory policy targeting wealth in this region since the 60s.

If Gabon could enjoy its resources and liberate itself from the Franc CFA currency, it would become a "mini Switzerland in the tropics," he said.

Bongo clique's fortune

A group of military officers led by Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema seized power in the Central African country on Aug. 30, annulling the election results and placing President Ali Bongo under house arrest.

Nguema, who is also Bongo's cousin, was appointed chief of transition on the same day.

The coup came after the Gabonese Election Center announced official results that showed Bongo winning a third term with 64.27% of the vote.

Ali Bongo has been in power for almost a decade. His father, Omar Bongo, assumed the presidency in 1967 and it ended with his death in 2009 in Spain.

Although the "Bongo dynasty" that ruled the country for 55 years seems to have ended with this coup, the wealth it accumulated over those years drew more and more attention.

The French judiciary estimated the Bongo family's wealth at €85 million, while journalist Fabrice Arfi from online daily Mediapart accessed familial documents after Omar Bongo's death in 2009, and claimed that the real value was around €460 million.

The Bongos possess at least 40 properties in France's poshest spots in Paris and the southern city of Nice, as well as luxury vehicles.

An American senate investigation sub-committee stated in 1999 that Omar Bongo held $130 million in his account in Citibank.

In a probe launched in 2007, nine members of the Bongo family were investigated over ill-gotten gains and real estate in particular. They are also accused of misuse of public funds, and active and passive corruption since 2022.

The Paris Appeal Court estimated that this was corrupt money from oil company Elf Aquitaine, which later became TotalEnergies.

French bank BNP Paribas was also investigated in 2021 for "corruption laundering and misuse of public funds."

The bank was accused of not alerting the authorities by stating its suspicions in 2002-2009 about the "atypical functioning" of an account belonging to a French interior design company. The company was in charge of renovating the Bongo family's furniture for several million euros, French daily Le Monde said.

*Writing by Nur Asena Erturk in Ankara

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