Gabon Country Report
While most visits to Gabon (1.77 million inhabitants) are trouble-free, political tensions remain high in the country following the controversial August 2016 presidential election. Due to possible unrest, visitors to the country should thoroughly plan their trip and consider the following security threats prior to arrival in the country.
Political instability and heightened political tensions pose potential personal security threats for travelers to the country. Violent clashes erupted between protesters and security forces and looting was widespread following the outcome of the August 2016 elections, which saw incumbent President Ali Ben Bongo sworn in for a second seven-year term. Opposition supports claimed that the results of the election - which Bongo won with 49.8 percent of votes - were fraudulent. The violence resulted in significant disruptions in Libreville, where protesters erected barricades from burning tires and vehicles. Some international flights to and from the country were suspended, parts of the parliament building set on fire, over 1000 people arrested, and internet and SMS communications cut completely in the following days. While unrest and violence to such an extent has not been witnessed since, there continue to be sporadic outbreaks of protests in the country that risk turning violent. An increasingly severe crackdown on political dissent has resulted in the arrests of several opposition activists in recent months. Amid rising socioeconomic tensions, legislative elections have been delayed until April 2018.
Bongo, who took over as president from his father Omar Bongo - who ruled the country for 41 years - on his death in 2009, had vowed to tackle issues of youth unemployment and lack of economic diversity. However, his failure to adequately address various socioeconomic issues and shake a long-running international investigation into allegations of corruption and embezzlement involving the family's assets have dominated his presidency and exacerbate enduring frustrations with his rule.
Sociopolitical instability has been exacerbated by ongoing grievances over high levels of poverty experienced by much of the country's population. Though oil revenue has spurred high rates of economic growth in recent years, unemployment remains very high among the active population (26 percent) - particularly among the youth population (35.7 percent) - and wide wealth gaps are present in the country. Furthermore, the country's human development index (HDI) score has been declining since 2014, and 30 percent of the population remains economically impoverished. Access to basic services (e.g. running water, electricity) is limited in 60 percent of departments.
The effects of low oil prices coupled with limited economic diversification have fomented increasing discontent among the population. Strikes are common; a major mobilization of oil sector workers in late April 2015 disrupted the oil supply for several days. Port Gentil is particularly affected by strikes.
In addition, unions and students regularly organize demonstrations against the lack of payment of salaries and scholarships. Despite a mandate focused on economic development, the population remains largely dissatisfied by the measures taken by Bongo, who suffers from low approval ratings. Many political groups regularly organize anti-government marches and demonstrations.
While violent crime infrequently targets expatriates, petty crime does pose a potential risk for visitors, who are often targeted due to their presumed wealth. The crime rate has increased considerably over the past ten years, particularly in Libreville and Port Gentil, where muggings and burglaries have been on the rise both during the day and at night.
In Libreville, travelers are advised to avoid certain high-risk areas after nightfall (the neighborhoods of Petit Louis, London, Lalala, Oloumi, Nkembo, Rio, and Mont-Bouët, as well as the bus terminal). Restaurants or hotels frequented by foreigners are sometimes targeted; it is advised to choose establishments with their own security guards. All beaches in the capital - except the Pointe Denis and Cap Esterias areas and private beaches at hotels or restaurants - should be avoided at night. Furthermore, cases of carjacking have been reported in the capital, it is advised to drive with the doors locked and windows up.
In Port Gentil, it is recommended to be alert on beaches between the Pointe Chapuy and Cap Lopez, particularly at the border with the three rivers.
Avoid going out in cities at night and never hail a taxi on the street; instead, order a taxi by phone.
Maintain a low profile and keep all valuable objects (e.g. cameras, jewelry) concealed. If confronted by a potential mugger, do not offer resistance.
The risk of financial scams is increasing in the country. It is advised to remain vigilant when withdrawing money and to only use ATMs inside banks.
Even though the country is not directly threatened by regional terrorist risks, Gabonese authorities fear a future expansion of regional terrorist activities into the country through its porous borders. New security measures were announced by authorities in mid-July 2015, including identity checks of every person wearing a full veil in the street or in public and private vehicles.
Except for Libreville and Port Gentil, where roads are paved but poorly maintained, road infrastructure throughout the country is limited and in poor condition. During the rainy season (October to December and February to April), driving conditions are often hazardous, rendering driving impossible on some roads. In general, roads have little or no lighting. There is also a risk from dangerous driving habits (speeding, uncertain driving, untimely overruns, etc.).
Outside major cities, all travel should be conducted during the day with an all-terrain vehicle (4x4) stocked with adequate supplies of water, food, and fuel. It is also advised to ensure that the vehicle contains mechanical spare parts (wheels, cables, etc.) and has effective means of telecommunication.
In the event of a traffic accident, it is recommended to immediately travel to the nearest police station due to the risk of potentially hostile reactions from local drivers and the public.
It is important to stop at any roadblocks erected by the security forces, both in cities and in rural areas, and be prepared to present necessary documentation (e.g. passport, visa, car registration details, etc.).
Public transportation (e.g. minibuses) should be avoided due to drivers' risky behaviors and the vehicles poor maintenance. Never hail taxis on the street.
Several local airlines serve various cities of the country. However, some are on the list of airlines banned from operating in the European Union (the so-called blacklist).
During the rainy season (October to December and February to April), torrential rainfall can cause significant material damages, including in Libreville.
There are severe penalties for the use and possession of drugs.
While not illegal, homosexuality and same-sex sexual activity is not widely accepted, and LGBT individuals may face discrimination or harassment.
Since April 2010, Gabonese authorities require an electronic passport to enter the territory. Any person holding a passport issued between May 2000 and October 2003 and is unreadable by the machine may be refused the entry to Gabon. Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is also required for entry into Gabon.
Prior to departure, foreign nationals should purchase a health insurance covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being mandatory in case of a significant or urgent health issue.
Tap water is not safe to drink. Diarrheal diseases are frequent in the country. It is recommended to only drink filtered bottled water, to make sure food is properly cooked, and to wash hands several times a day.
Poor health conditions in the country pose another potential threat to foreigners. Gabon is affected by mosquito-borne diseases. Yellow fever is endemic to the country, particularly in rural areas and Ogooué-Invindo province. A certificate of immunization is required for all travelers over one year of age to enter the country. Malaria affects the whole country with a higher risk of contracting the disease during, and immediately following, the rainy seasons (October to December and February to April). Dengue fever and chikungunya virus are present throughout the country.
The risk of trypanosomiasis also exists in remote rural areas as well as along the coast (Komo Estuary near Libreville; the mouth of the Ogooué River near Port Gentil).
Parasitic diseases are regularly reported, particularly onchocerciasis (in Fougamou, Lastoursville, Lebamba, Makokou, Mimongo, and Ndjolé) and schistosomiasis, throughout the country, including the capital. To avoid any risk of parasitic infection, it is advised to avoid contact with bodies of fresh water (e.g. ponds) and to avoid walking barefoot outdoors.
Moreover, it is necessary to take precautions against HIV/AIDS, which is prevalent throughout the country (9 percent of the adult population is HIV positive).
Gabon's climate is equatorial, hot, and very humid. The country experiences a rainy season from October until December and then a second, more intense rainy season from February until April. The long dry seasons last from May until September and the short dry season from December until January. Temperatures are high all year long (usually between 23°C and 26°C), going as low as 18°C (July) and as high as 35°C (April). The country also receives between 2 and 4 meters of rainfall annually.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +241 Police-Emergency: 117
Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz
Gabon: Taxi strikeover fuel prices possible Feb. 7
TIMEFRAME: from 2/6/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/9/2018, 11:59 PM (Africa/Libreville).
Gabon: Increase in thefts from vehicles in Libreville
TIMEFRAME: from 12/14/2017, 12:00 AM until 1/2/2018, 11:59 PM (Africa/Libreville).