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CENTRAL AFRICA





Gabon

Sekondi Accra

One must wonder as to the level of statesmanship and worldview of President Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba to his country in particular and to the African continent in general because ever since he has taken over the country from his father, Omar Bongo, the streets of Libreville are still inuduated with potholes and yet he can afford mutlimillion dollar purchases of apartment homes in Paris, France. On the political front, there is the relatively nascent Union Nationale party which failed miserably in the mid-2010 legislative by-elections, which should give pause to thought before the 2011 parliamentary election.

However, the government seems to be taking a more constructive approach in that Prime Minister Paul Biyoghe Mba's has stated that the most developed tool in the campaign to make Gabon a more developed country "is patience". However, some public officials are brutally candid about the condition of the country the government inherited. Patience is fine when you are residing in a mutimillion dollar apartment in France but how much patience should people exercise if they are living in deteriorating social conditions in Central Africa? At the beginning of the school year in September 2010, education minister Seraphin Moudounga stated that Gabon's education system is "moribund." He went on to further state that in order to lend schools new life, they could no longer expel studnets because of failing grades. Perhaps the current president wishes to keep the masses ignorant, least they could challenge his administration. Now to his credit, Minister Mba's team has produced plans for ""un Gabon emergent" an (emerging Gabon) based on developing green technology and the service sector.

Febrile opponents such as Andre Mba Obame and Pierre Mamboundou are less of a concern to the government than are civil servants. Public health workers have been on strike since January 2009 and a teacher strike since that year has disrupted classes. Furthermore, in 2010 there was only measured progress on negotiations with hospital staff and another stike by teachers' unions. Acute electricity outages along water shortages in Libreville and Port-Gentil are the result of ignorant planning at the Societe d'Energie et d'Eau du Gabon and the increasing government debt.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts growth rates of 4.5% and 5% in 2010 and 2011. The government is funding an exspansive infrastruture program, but the IMF has voiced scepticism that it will accomplish the desired results. In 2010, the government devoted more than 42% of more than the $4.7 trillion dollars (2.1 CFA francs) to investment projects before it secured the proper planning and management capacity to earn good values on its investment dollars. In August 2010, it announced that it had attracted $4.5 billion in investment from Indian and Singaporean companies to construct an export zone, paved roads and palm-oil plantations.

Government finances were in disarray as of January 2009 and in May it had to borrow over 175 billion in CFA francs from local banks to pay for the incurred debt to local contractors building public works projects. Late payments have severly delayed construction projects that are necessary for Gabon to cohost the 2012 African Cup of Nations football tournament with Equatorial Guinea.

Gabon would like to lessen its dependency on its hydrocarbon sector because production has been decreasing with only 240,000 barrels per day (bpd) produced in 2009. The following year the government announced that it was preparing a new oil-licensing round for 42 exploration blocks which has since been postponed several times and most likely resume this year (2011). Libreville hopes to attract Asian investment dollars by establishing a national oil company with assistance from foreign oil companies (Britain, Canada, United States). However, the government has been slow to implement its ban on gas flaring but has been more successful in implementing a ban on unprocessed-log exports announced in late 2009. Gabon also hopes to increase revenues by using its forests in the market for carbon credits.

The asset of greatest interest to international miners is the Belinga iron field, located in the remote northeast some 300 miles from Libreville. Iron ore is the primary ingredient of steel, and Belinga is thought to hold over 500 million tons of high grade ore-making it one of the world's largest untapped deposits of iron. With many long-established iron mines in other countries showing signs of irreversible decline, the major mining firms are eager to exploit Belinga's rich deposits. Once operations are fully up and running, Belinga could yield as much as 30 million tons of iron ore annually, propelling Gabon into the top ranks of major producers.

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The U.S. Embassy is located on the Blvd. de la Mer, B.P. 4000, Libreville, Gabon (tel: 241-762-003/004; fax: 241-745-507).
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