History of Gabon

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There is little written history of Gabon prior to European contact, but various Bantu peoples are known to have immigrated to the area beginning in the 14th century. Portuguese traders who arrived in the 15th century named the country after the Portuguese word gabão, a coat with sleeve and hood resembling the shape of the Komo River estuary. The coast subsequently became a center of the slave trade with Dutch, English, and French traders arriving in the 16th century. France assumed the status of protector by signing treaties with Gabonese coastal chiefs in 1839 and 1841. In 1849, the French captured a slave ship and released the passengers at the mouth of the Komo; The slaves named their settlement Libreville, French for "free town". In 1910 Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959.

At the time of Gabon's independence, two principal political parties existed: the Bloc Democratique Gabonais (BDG), led by Léon M'Ba, and the Union Democratique et Sociale Gabonaise (UDSG), led by Jean-Hilaire Aubame. In the first post-independence election, held under a parliamentary system, neither party was able to win a majority; the leaders subsequently agreed against a two-party system and ran with a single list of candidates. In the February 1961 election, held under the new presidential system, M'Ba became President and Aubame became Foreign Minister. The single-party solution disintegrated in 1963, and there was a single-day bloodless coup in 1964. In March 1967, Leon M'Ba and Omar Bongo were elected President and Vice President. M'Ba died later that year. Bongo again declared Gabon a one-party state by dissolving the BDG and establishing the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). Sweeping political reforms in 1990 led to a new constitution, and the PDG garnered a large majority in the country's first multi-party elections in 30 years. Despite discontent from opposition parties, Bongo has remained president ever since.


Early history

From the 14th century until the present time Bantu groups immigrated into Gabon from several directions to escape enemies or to find new land. Little is known of tribal life before European contact but tribal art suggests a rich cultural heritage.

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