Last Updated 28 October 2020

The Gabonese Republic is a presidential republic, with a population of around 1.5 million people. It gained independence from France in 1960, and has had only three presidents in the intervening years. However, a multi-party system under a democratic Constitution is now in place. Being petroleum-rich with a low population density has made Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As a result of the influence of colonial era missionaries in Gabon, it is estimated that around 80% of the population today is Christian (around two-thirds are Roman Catholic and one-third are Protestant). Traditional animist beliefs remain strong in Gabon, and beliefs in superstition and witchcraft exist alongside Christianity. Around 10% of the population is Muslim.1

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Constitution and government

Gabon defines itself as a secular state. The Constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association.2 However, in practice there is oppressive censorship and harassment of any criticism of the government.

All religious groups are subject to registration requirements. To register, they must present copies of founding documents and internal rules, a letter attesting to publication of these documents in the applicable local administrative bulletin, a formal letter of request for registration addressed to the minister of interior, a property lease, the police records of the group’s leaders, and the group’s bank statements. A registration fee or 10,000 CFA francs ($17) must also be paid.

Education and children’s rights

Public schools in Gabon do not provide religious instruction. Though under the constitution of Gabon, parents do have the option to choose to send their child to a private religious school. Muslim, Catholic and Protestant groups operate primary and secondary schools. Such schools are required to register with the Ministry of Education, who is responsible for ensuring that these schools maintain the same standards as public schools.3

Family, community and society

LGBTQ+ Rights

After passing revisions to its penal code in 2019 which criminalized same-sex relationships for the first time, Gabon decided to repeal this law less than a year later. On 23 June 2020, the National Assembly approved a bill to decriminalize same-sex sexual activity, making it one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa to adopt this stance.4 Nonetheless, members of the LGBTQ+ community in Gabon still face harassment and discrimination, as societal views on LGBTQ+ relationships remain conservative. LGBTQ+ activists have reported that they fear a homophobic backlash in the wake of the decriminalisation.5

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Media control

Press freedom is guaranteed by law but restricted in practice. State-controlled outlets dominate the media, and are routinely biased in favour of the governing party. There are some independent media and journalists, but they are sometimes threatened with legal and physical harassment.

The government-controlled National Communication Council frequently suspends news outlets following critical reporting. In January 2012, the broadcaster TV+ was suspended for three months for broadcasting a national address by opposition politician Mba Obame. TV+, which is closely associated with Mba Obame, has also been pushed off the air by repeated acts of sabotage. Also in 2012, the newspaper Echos Du Nord was suspended for two months, while the newspapers, Embozolo and La Une, were suspended for six months over articles criticizing the president.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the appointment of a new media regulator in 2018 (the High Authority for Communication (HAC)) has further eroded press freedoms in Gabon. The HAC imposes arbitrary sanctions, including suspending news sites and banning journalists, for publishing critical commentary on the government or the President. In 2019 alone, suspended sites included media outlets Gabon Review (for publishing ‘malicious rumours’ about the President’s health) and Gabon Media Time (for alleging a two-year old girl was turned away from Gabon’s cancer institute due to a shortage of beds), as well as newspapers Fraternité (for making ‘defamatory’ remarks in an article titled ‘Who Governs Gabon’) and L’Aube (for ‘insulting’ the HAC itself).6

Journalists have also been arrested and harassed for reporting on alleged criminal activity by politicians and government officials, including the alleged role of politicians in widespread ritual killings in Gabon.

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