This West African country with the Atlantic as its western border is also bounded by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and the Congo. Its area is slightly less than Colorado"s. Most of the country is covered by a dense tropical forest.
The earliest humans in Gabon were believed to be the Babinga, or Pygmies, dating back to 7000 B.C., who were later followed by Bantu groups from southern and eastern Africa. Now there are many tribal groups in the country, the largest being the Fang peoples, who constitute 25% of the population.
Gabon was first explored by the Portuguese navigator Diego Cam in the 15th century. In 1472, the Portuguese explorers encountered the mouth of the Como River and named it “Rio de Gabao,” river of Gabon, which later became the name of the country. The Dutch began arriving in 1593, and the French in 1630. In 1839, the French founded their first settlement on the left bank of the Gabon estuary and gradually occupied the hinterland during the second half of the 19th century. The land became a French territory in 1888, an autonomous republic within the French Union after World War II, and an independent republic on Aug. 17, 1960.
Albert-Bernard Bongo became Gabon"s second president after Leon M"ba in 1967. He changed his name to Omar in 1973, upon converting to Islam. Strikes and riots led to a transitional constitution in May 1990, legalizing political parties and calling for free elections. In Gabon"s first multiparty election in Dec. 1993, Bongo received just over 51% of the vote, while the opposition candidate alleged fraud and tried to establish a rival government.
In Dec. 1998, President Bongo, who had by then ruled the country for 31 years, was elected for an additional seven. Gabon lacks roads, schools, and adequate health care, yet income from the oil-rich country has lined the pockets of its ruler, who, according to the French weekly L"Autre Afrique, is said to own more real estate in Paris than any other foreign leader. Despite his reputation for corruption and