Although Gabon holds multiparty elections, President Ali Bongo Ondimba maintains political dominance through a combination of patronage and repression, having succeeded his father, Omar, upon his death in 2009 after more than 40 years in power. President Bongo’s fitness to exercise power has been the subject of considerable doubt since he suffered a stroke in 2018. The executive branch effectively controls the judiciary. Other significant problems include discrimination against immigrants, marginalization of minority groups, and legal and de facto inequality for women.
- In March, President Bongo announced his intention to run for reelection in 2023.
- Between late March and early April, French authorities charged four of the late Omar Bongo’s with embezzlement, while another five were charged in July. French authorities suspect the Bongo family of securing real estate in that country using ill-gotten gains.
- In September, opposition leader Guy Nzouba-Ndama, who is considered a potential presidential candidate, was arrested at Gabon’s border with the Republic of the Congo after allegedly carrying 1.2 billion Central African francs ($1.9 million) in undeclared money. Gabonese authorities accused Nzouba-Ndama of money laundering later that month.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The president is elected by popular vote for seven-year terms. Presidential term limits were abolished in 2003.
The August 2016 presidential election pitted incumbent Ali Bongo Ondimba of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) against Jean Ping of the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC). The electoral commission declared Bongo the winner with 49.8 percent of the vote. In Haut-Ogooué Province, a Bongo family stronghold, the commission claimed a turnout rate of 99.9 percent, with 95 percent for Bongo, even though turnout in the rest of Gabon was 54 percent. Both Ping and observers from the European Union called for a recount.
Meanwhile, violent protests erupted, and security forces stormed Ping’s headquarters. Although the government claimed the death toll from the unrest was under 10 people, journalists and opposition leaders estimated that more than 50 had died; hundreds were arrested.
The Constitutional Court, headed by a longtime Bongo family ally, rebuffed an observation mission from the African Union during the recount. Following the recount, the president was credited with 50.7 percent of the vote, which Ping rejected.
Bongo suffered a stroke in 2018 and was not seen publicly for nearly a year. Since then, his capacity to serve has been repeatedly questioned.
The president nominates and can dismiss the prime minister at will. Then defense minister Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda was named prime minister in July 2020.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
Gabon’s Parliament consists of the 143-seat National Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms, and the 67-seat Senate. Some 52 senators are directly elected, while 15 are appointed by the president. The Senate was reformed by 2020 constitutional amendments as part of the PDG’s efforts to consolidate control should Bongo be further incapacitated. Bongo appointed his share of senators in February 2021, days after the PDG claimed 45 of the body’s elected seats.
National Assembly elections were originally due in 2016 but were repeatedly postponed. The incumbent lower house was finally dissolved in 2018, leaving the Senate as the only legislative body for most of that year. The PDG claimed 98 seats in the October 2018 National Assembly elections, which were boycotted by opposition parties due to the government’s failure to create an independent electoral commission. PDG allies won roughly 10 more seats, and no other party took more than 11. The elections were marked by credible allegations of fraud and repression.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
Gabon’s electoral laws and framework do not ensure credible elections. The electoral commission, the Interior Ministry, and the Constitutional Court all play important roles in managing elections, and all are loyal to Bongo.
In 2018, Parliament gave its final approval to constitutional amendments that were developed without meaningful input from opposition parties or civil society. Those amendments introduced a runoff system for presidential elections if no candidate secures a first-round majority. Lawmakers rejected the imposition of presidential term limits. Under the 2020 constitutional amendments, the Senate’s size was reduced and the president was allowed to appoint 15 of its members. The amendments were regarded as a means of consolidating PDG control.
The mandate of the members of the Gabonese Election Center (CGE), a body that organizes elections, was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Constitutional Court extending those mandates in June 2020. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and political parties later argued that the CGE was functioning illegally, however. In an October 2022 ruling, the Constitutional Court called for the body’s renewal.
Opposition parties unsuccessfully sought to trigger a reform of the electoral code, which they believe favors the government, in 2022.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
The PDG dominates the nominally multiparty system. Opposition parties remain fragmented, and the government has disrupted their activities by denying them permits for public gatherings, arresting participants in their largely peaceful protests, and incarcerating their leaders.
In 2019, a Libreville court handed Bertrand Zibi Abeghe, a former ally turned opposition leader arrested during the 2016 election, a six-year prison sentence; he was released in September 2022.
In 2021, the government proposed a new law that would require presidential candidates to have lived in Gabon for at least six months in each of the two years preceding an election. The law reportedly targets members of the Bongo family who might contest the 2023 election against the president.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0.000 4.004|
The PDG has monopolized the executive branch since the 1960s, and there is no realistic opportunity for the opposition to gain power through elections. Ping, who called for a civil disobedience campaign over the 2016 presidential election, boycotted the 2018 National Assembly elections along with other opposition leaders.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
The Bongo family and associates have acquired enormous wealth after decades in power, which has led to judicial investigations in France. The 2021 release of the Pandora Papers, an investigation that focused on corruption in the global financial system, revealed that the Bongo family used substantial resources to sustain patronage networks and fund vote-buying during elections. The leadership relies on security forces to intimidate the opposition.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
Ethnic minorities have little ability to gain political representation, given the PDG’s dominance. Key government and military posts are held by loyalists from major ethnic groups. Though Parliament decriminalized homosexuality in 2020, LGBT+ people are not openly represented politically.
Women are also underrepresented, holding only 14.7 percent of National Assembly seats as of December 2022. Ossouka Raponda, who remained in post at year’s end, is Gabon’s first female premier.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
Government policy is set by the president and senior aides, and Parliament is dominated by the PDG. In November 2018, a month after Bongo suffered a stroke, the Constitutional Court unilaterally altered the constitution to allow the vice president to assume some of the president’s functions if he is “temporarily unavailable.” In 2020, Parliament passed further constitutional amendments stipulating that the president of the Senate, the president of the National Assembly, and the defense minister would share interim executive powers should the president become incapacitated.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
Corruption and impunity remain major problems. Authorities have repeatedly used anticorruption efforts to target regime opponents. A special criminal court for cases involving the theft of public funds was established in 2018, but prosecutions remain selective.
Members of the Bongo family have been accused of corrupt behavior, which was also uncovered by the Pandora Papers. In 2020, NGOs filed a lawsuit in Libreville accusing Noureddin Bongo, the president’s son, of corruption and money laundering. The public prosecutor dismissed the complaint. Noureddin is directing his father’s 2023 reelection campaign.
French prosecutors suspect that Elf Aquitaine—a French energy firm that has since been absorbed into the present-day Total SA—had provided “undue commissions” to the Bongo family to access the country’s oil reserves; family members allegedly used those proceeds to acquire real estate in France. Between March and April 2022, four of Omar Bongo’s children were charged with embezzlement in France. Another five were charged in July.
In 2022, NGOs accused the government of embezzling donor-provided COVID-19 relief funds. In June, a group of civil society leaders said that the government was blocking the publication of an audit on coronavirus-related spending.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because French authorities charged multiple members of the Bongo family with embezzlement.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
The government operates with minimal transparency. The presidency’s budget is not subject to the same oversight as those for other institutions. High-level civil servants are required to disclose their assets, but the declarations are not made public. The government has not been transparent about President Bongo’s health.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
Press freedom is guaranteed by law but is restricted in practice. Reporters self-censor to avoid legal repercussions.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
Although religious freedom is constitutionally enshrined and generally respected, some heterodox religious groups reportedly have difficulty obtaining registration from the government.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||1.001 4.004|
Omar Bongo University, Gabon’s main center for tertiary education, is state-run, and academic freedom is tenuous. Professors self-censor to avoid conflicts with the authorities.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Ordinary individuals’ freedom to express criticism of the government is limited by restrictive laws and deterred by state surveillance. Individuals who criticize the government are routinely detained or attacked by security forces.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is limited. The government has repeatedly denied permits for meetings, used tear gas, and arrested demonstrators to disperse unauthorized gatherings. A 2017 law further limited the freedom to assemble by making organizers responsible for offenses committed during gatherings. In May 2022, authorities stopped protesters from rallying against the presence of French troops in the country.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
Relatively few NGOs operate in Gabon. Freedom of association is guaranteed by the constitution, but the process for formally registering NGOs is onerous and implemented inconsistently, leaving groups vulnerable to accusations that they are not in compliance with the law.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1.001 4.004|
Workers are legally permitted to join unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike, but the government has disrupted sit-ins and other labor activism in recent years, and has arrested participants.
In February 2022, civil-service union leader Jean-Rémy Yama was blocked from leaving the country and was detained by the Gabonese intelligence service. In early March, Yama was handed politically motivated corruption charges. Yama, who was forced out of the civil service in late March, remained in detention at year’s end.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||0.000 4.004|
The courts are subordinate to the president. The judiciary is accountable to the Justice Ministry, through which the president has the power to appoint and dismiss judges. Gabon’s highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court, is composed of three members appointed by the president, two by the National Assembly, one by the Senate, and three by the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM), which itself is headed by the president and justice minister.
The 2018 constitution created a new special court, the Court of Justice of the Republic, which alone has the authority to place a check on top executive and judicial officials. It consists of seven members appointed by the CSM and six members of Parliament. The Constitutional Court is headed by a longtime Bongo ally.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention are not upheld by police, and detainees are often denied access to lawyers. Lengthy pretrial detention is common. Arbitrary arrests linked to opposition activism have increased since the 2016 election crisis. Several detained opposition figures have been denied due process, and prisoners have occasionally died in custody. Civil society leaders are routinely denied access to political prisoners.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
Prisons are overcrowded, with limited access to proper medical care. Torture is outlawed by the constitution, but detainees and inmates face physical abuse.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
The country’s large population of African immigrants is subject to harassment and extortion, including by police. Members of some minority groups experience workplace discrimination and live in extreme poverty.
Women have equal legal rights on some issues but face significant de facto discrimination in employment and other economic matters. Sexual harassment in the workplace, which is not prohibited by law, is common.
While homosexuality was decriminalized in 2020, same-sex marriage remains illegal and LGBT+ individuals still face widespread social stigma, discrimination, and the threat of physical violence.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
There are no laws restricting internal travel, but police often monitor travelers at checkpoints and demand bribes. Married women seeking to obtain a passport or travel abroad must have permission from their husbands. The government has imposed travel bans on opposition leaders in recent years.
In February 2022, union leader Jean-Rémy Yama was blocked from leaving Gabon before being accused of corruption. In September, opposition leader Guy Nzouba-Ndama was arrested at Gabon’s border with the Republic of the Congo after gendarmes allegedly found 1.2 billion Central African francs ($1.9 million) in undeclared money in his luggage. Gabonese authorities accused Nzouba-Ndama of money laundering later that month.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
Bureaucratic and judicial delays can pose difficulties for businesses. Enforcement of contracts and property rights is weak, and the process for property registration is lengthy. Bongo and his associates play a dominant role in the economy, impairing fair competition and favoring those with connections to the leadership.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Personalized forms of violence are believed to be widespread, and perpetrators generally enjoy impunity. Rape and domestic abuse are rarely reported to authorities or prosecuted. Spousal rape is not specifically prohibited. Abortion is a punishable crime under most circumstances. The minimum age for marriage is 15 for women and 18 for men. The civil code states that a wife must obey her husband as the head of household.
In 2021, Parliament amended the civil code to enhance legal equality for married women, including by recognizing gender-based violence as legitimate grounds for divorce.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Wage standards and laws against forced labor are poorly enforced, particularly in the informal sector and with respect to foreign workers. Both adults and children are exploited in a number of different occupations, and foreign women are trafficked to Gabon for prostitution or domestic servitude.
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Global Freedom Score20 100 not free