Apr. 14, 2014 by Darius
[A month ago I introduced the Darius Index, which aims to measure the discrepancy between a country’s wealth – as measured by GDP per capita – and what that country does with the money – as measured by the UN’s Human Development Index. See https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/thinking-aloud-the-darius-index/]
This week I’ll examine the #5 country on the list: Gabon.
Gabon’s economic situation will seem awfully familiar. It has a small population and a lot of oil. That gives it a high GDP per capita. The government is rife with corruption (#106 out of 177 on Transparency International’s corruption index). That means the money that comes in is unlikely to be spent on the people.
What sets Gabon apart from, say, Equatorial Guinea, is its relationship with its former colonizer, France. Gabon won independence in 1960, but it never really embarked on a separate path from before independence. Instead, a succession of Gabonese leaders pursued incredibly close ties with France. In 1971, oil was discovered in large amounts off Gabon. The president of Gabon at the time, Omar Bongo, ensured that French oil giant ELF was allowed free reign to extract Gabon’s oil – in return for millions of dollars paid to his personal accounts.
Bongo summed up Gabon’s relationship with France: “Gabon without France is like a car with no driver. France without Gabon is like a car with no fuel.” Largely thanks to ELF, Bongo stayed in power 41 years until his death in 2010. He was succeeded by his son, who remains in power today.
Unfortunately, Gabon’s future is not bright. Oil production has been declining since the 1990s, and some predict that Gabon’s oil will be entirely exhausted within a few decades. The country is still utterly unprepared for the day oil runs out. Instead of using Gabon’s bonanza to actually improve the country (see, for example, Botswana), Gabon’s leaders lined their pockets. No sign of change on the horizon.