OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Gabon’s natural resources are contributing to the country’s economic development. Photo: Touristlink.com

Around three years ago – in a country where statistics would have you believe that there are as many elephants as there are people - scientists unearthed fossils dating back 2.1 billion years. From the moment the fossils were discovered, the oldest to be found to date, the area which forms the Republic of Gabon is considered to have changed the history of life on Earth as we know it.

However, it is not, as some might imagine, this discovery which has seen Gabon become one of the fastest growing nations on the continent. Since the early 1970s the small Central African country has been an important oil producer, a sector which currently accounts for 50% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and is home to the densest and most unspoiled jungle in Africa - according to experts - covering about 85% of the nation's territory and estimated to measure 267,670 square kilometers, 550 of which fall within the boundaries of Loango National Park and Nature Reserve.

During his recent visit to Cuba, Gabonese President Ali Bongo expressed his country’s interest in expanding bilateral cooperation ties and investing in the island, with which his country shares more than just size.

The two nations are united by a colonial past, both having been the object of plunder and subjugation by historic Western powers. According to historians, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive on Gabon’s coasts in 1472, followed by the French, Dutch, and British throughout most of the 19th century.

Just as Spain pillaged what little gold Cuba had, these European powers took ivory, precious woods, and enslaved Africans from Gabon.

In 1848, the French established a settlement of free salves from their other colonies in what is now the nation’s capital, Libreville.

Thinking of Gabon at that time conjures up images of the Hollywood film Tarzan, except for one difference: the film is based on a love story in the Congo, and not on the socio-cultural reality of nations under the yoke of French domination.

Back to the present, the country continues to be a passive receptor of French, and in broader terms Western, cultural influences, according to Gabonese exiles interviewed by El País. However, the nation has also managed to chart its own independent course with encouraging results to date.

Nonetheless, remnants of the European culture are still present in the everyday lives of citizens since the country peacefully gained its independence from France in 1960. However, the mark left by the French alone cannot be categorized as negative thing, as processes of transculturation have occurred within the course of nation building worldwide.

That said, in recent times Gabon has been undergoing a gradual process to reclaim its national identity, customs and traditions, in order to strengthen a sense of belonging among citizens. As such, the country is taking steps to prioritize and protect its national resources, by banning elephant hunting, to cite just one example. Beyond the fact that the size of its elephant population makes Gabon an ecological rarity and subject of research for scientists, the African country is making significant efforts toward decolonizing its society. But how is this being reflected in the economy? According to data from the World Bank, Gabon is Africa’s fifth largest oil producer, a sector which, over the last five years, has accounted for 80% of exports, 45% of GDP, and 60% budgetary revenues.

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During their stay on the island, the Gabonese delegation, led by President Ali Bongo, visited the Labiofam facility, Carlos J. Finlay Institute, and Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center.

It was in this context that a new Medical Collaboration Agreement was signed, which will see a further 12 Cuban healthcare specialists sent to work alongside the 33 already offering services in the country.

Also signed was a Letter of Intention to implement Labiofam’s longstanding Malaria Control and Prevention Program, valued at over 10 million USD. Such agreements are part of efforts by Bongo's government to diversity the country’s economy and strengthen social policies.

In order to do so, the government organized a large-scale national consultation process known as “Assises Sociales” in 2014 to define Gabon’s human investment strategy (SIHG). According to a World Bank report, “The new social policy has three objectives: i) to assist the most vulnerable populations (including the elderly, orphans, disabled), through integrated social programs; (ii) create income-generating activities for Gabon’s poorest and (iii) reduce inequalities in access to basic public services.”

It must also be noted that although Gabon places 110th among 188 countries on the UN’s Human Development index, and only 37.2% of children complete primary school, the country does have one of the highest enrollment rates for this educational level in Africa, standing at 96.4%.

There will always be challenges, but the key is to rise above difficulties like Gabon has done, as was demonstrated by Ali Bongo’s visit to Cuba, which also served to strengthen economic and social ties between the two countries, while the President himself recognized the prestige of Cuba’s healthcare system and quality of the wide range of biotechnological products produced on the island.

                                                    

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During his recent visit to Cuba, Gabonese President Ali Bongo expressed his country’s interest in expanding bilateral cooperation ties and investing in the island, with which his country shares more than just size.

The two nations are united by a colonial past, both having been the object of plunder and subjugation by historic Western powers. According to historians, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive on Gabon’s coasts in 1472, followed by the French, Dutch, and British throughout most of the 19th century.

Just as Spain pillaged what little gold Cuba had, these European powers took ivory, precious woods, and enslaved Africans from Gabon.

In 1848, the French established a settlement of free salves from their other colonies in what is now the nation’s capital, Libreville.

Thinking of Gabon at that time conjures up images of the Hollywood film Tarzan, except for one difference: the film is based on a love story in the Congo, and not on the socio-cultural reality of nations under the yoke of French domination.

Back to the present, the country continues to be a passive receptor of French, and in broader terms Western, cultural influences, according to Gabonese exiles interviewed by El País. However, the nation has also managed to chart its own independent course with encouraging results to date.

Nonetheless, remnants of the European culture are still present in the everyday lives of citizens since the country peacefully gained its independence from France in 1960. However, the mark left by the French alone cannot be categorized as negative thing, as processes of transculturation have occurred within the course of nation building worldwide.

That said, in recent times Gabon has been undergoing a gradual process to reclaim its national identity, customs and traditions, in order to strengthen a sense of belonging among citizens. As such, the country is taking steps to prioritize and protect its national resources, by banning elephant hunting, to cite just one example. Beyond the fact that the size of its elephant population makes Gabon an ecological rarity and subject of research for scientists, the African country is making significant efforts toward decolonizing its society.
But how is this being reflected in the economy? According to data from the World Bank, Gabon is Africa’s fifth largest oil producer, a sector which, over the last five years, has accounted for 80% of exports, 45% of GDP, and 60% budgetary revenues.


***

During their stay on the island, the Gabonese delegation, led by President Ali Bongo, visited the Labiofam facility, Carlos J. Finlay Institute, and Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center.

It was in this context that a new Medical Collaboration Agreement was signed, which will see a further 12 Cuban healthcare specialists sent to work alongside the 33 already offering services in the country.

Also signed was a Letter of Intention to implement Labiofam’s longstanding Malaria Control and Prevention Program, valued at over 10 million USD. Such agreements are part of efforts by Bongo's government to diversity the country’s economy and strengthen social policies.

In order to do so, the government organized a large-scale national consultation process known as “Assises Sociales” in 2014 to define Gabon’s human investment strategy (SIHG).
According to a World Bank report, “The new social policy has three objectives: i) to assist the most vulnerable populations (including the elderly, orphans,disabled), through integrated social programs; (ii) create income-generating activities for Gabon’s poorest and (iii) reduce inequalities in access to basic public services.”

It must also be noted that although Gabon places 110th among 188 countries on the UN’s Human Development index, and only 37.2% of children complete primary school, the country does have one of the highest enrollment rates for this educational level in Africa, standing at 96.4%.

There will always be challenges, but the key is to rise above difficulties like Gabon has done, as was demonstrated by Ali Bongo’s visit to Cuba, which also served to strengthen economic and social ties between the two countries, while the President himself recognized the prestige of Cuba’s healthcare system and quality of the wide range of biotechnological products produced on the island.