Gabon is a historically stable country located in a volatile region of the world and has significant economic advantages: a small population (roughly 2 million), an abundance of natural resources, and a strategic location along the Gulf of Guinea. After taking office in 2009, President Ali Bongo Ondimba introduced reforms to diversify Gabon’s economy away from oil and from traditional investment partners and to position Gabon as an emerging economy. Gabon promotes foreign investment across a range of sectors, particularly in the oil and gas, infrastructure, timber, ecotourism, and mining sectors. Despite these efforts, Gabon’s economy remains dependent on revenue generated by the exportation of hydrocarbons. Gabon’s commercial ties with France remain very strong, but the government continues to seek to diversify its sources of investment by courting investors from the rest of the world. In 2018, the Gabonese government lifted exit visa requirements for U.S. citizens.
Although Gabon is taking steps towards making the country a more attractive destination for foreign investment, it remains a difficult place to do business, especially without in-country or francophone experience. Foreign firms are active in the country, particularly in the extractive industries, but the difficulty involved in establishing a new business and the time it takes to finalize deals are impediments to increased U.S. private sector investment. In order to attract new investment into the country, Gabon adopted a new hydrocarbon code and a new Mining code in July, 2019. These laws will provide a modernized basis for the legal, institutional, technical, economic, customs and tax regimes of the Gabonese hydrocarbons and mining sector.
Corruption and lack of transparency remain an impediment to investment. The Gabonese government inconsistently applies customs regulations. Economic conditions in Gabon weakened throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019. In addition to budget constraints due to low oil prices, the government lacks fiscal transparency. Many international companies, including U.S. firms, continue to have difficulties collecting timely payments from the Gabonese government, and some companies in the oil sector have closed down operations. To address fiscal imbalances, Gabon signed in June of 2017 a three-year Extended Fund Facility arrangement of $642 million with the IMF, which has now expired. While opportunities exist, the investment climate in Gabon will remain difficult as the government must have the political will to make prudent decisions. In 2019, higher oil prices, new investments in the oil sector and export processing zones, and the increasing manganese production helped support a modest recovery of economic growth of about 2,8 percent (according to the IMF estimates).
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Gabon’s 1998 investment code conforms to Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) investment regulations and provides the same rights to foreign companies operating in Gabon as to domestic firms. Businesses are protected from expropriation or nationalization without appropriate compensation, as determined by an independent third party. Certain sectors, such as mining, forestry, petroleum, agriculture, and tourism have special specific investment codes, which encourage investment through customs and tax incentives. Since June 2019 Gabon, through the Investment Promotion Agency, started work on a new investment code. The current Minister of Investment Promotion Carmen Nadaot has established a team to work on how to improve Gabon’s rank in the “Ease of Doing Business” report.
Gabon established the Investment Promotion Agency (ANPI-Gabon) with the assistance of the World Bank in April 2014. The ANPI-Gabon’s mission is to promote investments and exports, support small and medium-sized enterprises, manage public-private partnerships, and help companies to get established. The agency is designed to act as the gateway for investment into the country and reduce administrative procedures, costs, and waiting periods.
Gabonese authorities have made efforts to prioritize investment. On March 7, 2017, the High Council for Investment was established to promote investment and boost the economy. This body provides a platform for dialogue between the public and private sectors, and its main objectives are to improve the economy and create jobs.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are no limits on foreign ownership or control, except for discrete activities customarily reserved for the state, including military and paramilitary activities.
Foreign investors are largely treated in the same manner as their Gabonese counterparts regarding the purchase of real estate, negotiation of licenses, and entering into commercial agreements. There is no general requirement for local participation in investments (see local labor requirements below). Many businesses find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the subjective aspects of the business environment.
Gabon Oil Company, a state-owned enterprise created in 2011, has an automatic right to purchase up to a 15 percent share in any hydrocarbon contract at market price.
The standard practice is for the Gabonese Presidency to review foreign investment contracts after ministerial-level negotiations are completed. In certain cases, the Presidency has appeared to intervene to keep negotiations stalled at the ministerial level on track to a mutually satisfactory solution. The Presidency takes an active interest in meeting with investors. The lack of a standardized procedure for new entrants to negotiate deals with the government can lead to confusion and time-consuming negotiations. Moreover, the centralization of decision-making by a few senior officials who are exceedingly busy can delay the process. As a result, new entrants often find the process of finalizing deals time-consuming and difficult to navigate.
U.S. investors are not disadvantaged by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms. However, French companies continue to dominate major sectors in Gabon. Lack of French language skills can put American or non-Francophone firms at a disadvantage.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Gabon has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995. In June 2013, Gabon conducted an investment policy review with the WTO. The government has not conducted any investment policy reviews through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the past four years.
The government encourages investments in Gabon’s sectors that contribute the greatest share to GNP, including oil and gas, mining, and timber through customs and tax incentives. For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duties on imported working equipment. The Tourism Investment Code, enacted in 2000, provides tax incentives to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation. A special economic zone (SEZ) located at Nkok offers tax incentives to industrial investors; the government may increase the number of special economic zones in a move to attract investment.
ANPI-Gabon houses more than 20 public and private agencies, including the Chamber of Commerce, National Social Security Fund (CNSS), and National Health Insurance and Social Security (CNAMGS). ANPI-Gabon aims to attract domestic and international investors through improved methods of approving and licensing procedures and support for public-private dialogue. It has a single window registration process that allows domestic and foreign investors to register their business in 48 hours. There are no special mechanisms for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in Gabon.
One of ANPI-Gabon’s primary goals is to promote outward investments and exports. The Gabonese government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
Gabon has bilateral investment treaties (BITs) in force with the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, China, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea, Morocco, Romania, and Spain. Additionally, although not in force, Gabon has signed BITs with Egypt, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritius, Portugal, South Africa, and Turkey. Gabon has not signed a BIT or Bilateral Taxation Treaty with the United States.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Government policies and laws often do not establish clear rules of the game, and foreign firms can have difficulty navigating the bureaucracy. Despite reform efforts, hurdles and red tape remain, especially at the lower and mid-levels of the ministries. Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays occasionally raise questions for companies about fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts.
Rule-making and regulatory authority rests at the ministerial level. There are no nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations that manage informal regulatory processes. The government of Gabon has not exhibited any recent tendency to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives.
The government does not publish proposed laws and regulations in draft form for public comment. There are no centralized online locations where key regulatory actions, nor are their summaries published. Key regulatory actions are published in the government’s printed Official Journal. It is not uncommon for legislative proposals to be provided “off the record” to the press.
In 2015, Gabon implemented a recommendation from CEMAC to program its budget by objectives. Despite improvements, Gabon still does not have a fully transparent budget. No new regulatory systems have been announced in the last year, and no new reforms have been implemented in the last year. Regulations are developed by the relevant ministry concerned, and regulatory enforcement is controlled by individual ministries. There are no instances of regulations being reviewed on the basis of scientific or data-driven assessments.
International Regulatory Considerations
Gabon is a member of CEMAC, along with Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad. Gabon is also member of a larger economic community: The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Headquartered in Gabon, ECCAS has 11 members: Gabon, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Both CEMAC and ECCAS work to promote economic cooperation among members.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Gabon’s legal system is based on French Civil Law. Regular courts handle commercial disputes in compliance with the Organization for Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). Courts do not apply the law consistently, and delays are frequent in the judicial system. Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays call into question the country’s commitment to fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Judicial capacity is weak, and many government contacts underscore the need for specialized training in technical issues such as money laundering and environmental crimes. Foreign court and international arbitration decisions are accepted, but enforcement may be difficult.
Gabon has a written code of commercial law. Gabon is affiliated with OHADA and has been a WTO member since January 1, 1995.
The judicial system is not independent from the executive branch. Gabon’s judicial bodies are subject to political influence, creating uncertainty concerning fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Gabon’s 1998 investment code, which gives foreign companies operating in Gabon the same rights as domestic firms, allows foreign investors to choose freely from a wide selection of legal business structures, such as a private limited liability company or public limited liability company. The distinctions arise primarily from the minimum capital requirements and the conditions under which shares may be re-sold. Foreign investment in Gabon is subject to local law that is in many instances unsettled or unclear, and in certain cases, Gabonese law may require local majority ownership of businesses. The state reserves the right to invest in the equity capital of ventures established in certain sectors (e.g., petroleum and mining). There are no known systemic practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment, participation, or control.
ANPI-Gabon’s website contains some information on investing in Gabon: https://www.investingabon.ga
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Gabonese Law No. 5/89 of July 6, 1989 on Competition covers all aspects of competition and anti-trust (http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/details.jsp?id=8814). The relevant ministry for a given dispute reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.
Expropriation and Compensation
Foreign firms established in Gabon operate on an equal legal basis with national companies. Businesses are protected from expropriation or nationalization without appropriate compensation, as determined by an independent third party. The Gabonese government has not exhibited a tendency to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives, nor have there been any indications or reports of incidences of indirect expropriation, such as through confiscatory tax regimes.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Gabon is a member state of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). The 1965 Code of Civil Procedure provides for various means of enforcement of judgments (both foreign and domestic), depending on the nature of the decree or decision.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Gabon does not have a BIT with the United States. Post is aware of one investment dispute involving a U.S. company.
In 2018, there was one case of a foreign arbitral award issued against the government. In March 2018, the Société d’Energie et d’Eau du Gabon (SEEG), a subsidiary of the Veolia Group, filed a request for conciliation against Gabon at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Veolia and the Gabonese government signed an agreement to settle the case in February 2019. Gabon agreed to buy Veolia’s 51 percent stake in SEEG and Veolia agreed to withdraw its arbitrage case once the agreement is finalized.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
No alternative dispute resolution options exist within Gabon. Investment disputes are generally negotiated directly with the governmental entity involved. There is no domestic arbitration body within the country. Local courts recognize foreign arbitral awards, but enforcement may be difficult.
Post is not aware of any cases of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) being involved in investment disputes in the court system.
Gabon has a bankruptcy law, but it is not well developed. In the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 (http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/134861574860295761/pdf/Doing-Business-2020-Comparing-Business-Regulation-in-190-Economies-Economy-Profile-of-Gabon.pdf), Gabon ranks 130 out of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.
Gabon’s bankruptcy law is based on OHADA regulations. According to Section 3: Art 234-239 of OHADA’s Uniform Insolvency Act, creditors and equity shareholders, collectively or individually, may designate trustees to lodge complaints or claims to the commercial court. These laws criminalize bankruptcy, and the OHADA regulations grant Gabon the discretion to apply its own remedies.
4. Industrial Policies
Some of Gabon’s main industries (oil and gas, mining, and timber) enjoy investment preferences through customs and tax incentives. For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duties on imported working equipment. The government has implemented a new tourism code passed in February 2019 that provides tax exemptions to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba outlawed the export of unprocessed wood in 2009 to boost Gabon’s value-added wood products and increase domestic consumption. The government and Singaporean-based firm Olam partnered to set up the SEZ at Nkok to process timber, and later expanded the mandate of the SEZ to open it to a broader range of businesses. The SEZ provides a single-window business service to participants and provides new investors with beneficial fiscal incentives, including tax-free operation for 25 years, no customs duties on imported machinery and parts, and 100 percent repatriation of funds.
Gabon’s agriculture code of 2008 gives tax and customs incentives to agricultural operators, with a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. Land used for agriculture and farm exploitation is exonerated from fiscal tax. All imported fertilizers and food for ranch exploitation are additionally exempt from customs duties.
As a member of CEMAC, Gabon’s trade with other member countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea) is subject to low or no customs duties.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Inaugurated in 2011, the special economic zone “SEZ” at Nkok is a public-private partnership between the government of Gabon and Arise, a recently formed company that plans to operate multiple similar industrial facilitation zones in the region based on expected success in Gabon Singapore-based Olam completed the infrastructure phase for the Nkok SEZ, and multiple companies are actively operating there. All SEZs offer tax and customs incentives to attract foreign investors. In 2017, the Gabon Special Economic Zone (GSEZ) inaugurated the New Owendo International Port. With a surface area of 18 hectares, the terminal has annual capacity of three million tons. Gabon has plans to expand the number of SEZ facilities.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Employment and Investor Requirements
Firms are required to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Labor before hiring foreigners. Foreign workers must obtain permits before working in Gabon, and the availability of a permit for a job depends on the availability of Gabonese nationals to fill the job in question. The government may set quotas for the number of foreign workers. When hiring workers, firms must give priority to Gabonese nationals. If no Gabonese worker with the appropriate qualifications can be found, a firm is expected to hire a Gabonese to work along with the foreigner and, within a reasonable time, the Gabonese worker should replace that foreigner. In late 2010, the Gabonese government agreed to National Organization of Petroleum Workers demands to limit foreign workers in the oil sector to 10 percent of a company’s workforce and to require that Gabonese occupy all executive posts. Foreign firms maintain there is a lack of qualified Gabonese workers, requiring companies to often request authorization to hire foreigners. Non-Gabonese Africans find it increasingly difficult to obtain employment authorization; non-African expatriates have less difficulty. Chinese industry in Gabon historically imports its labor force and management. However, these rules do not apply in Gabon’s SEZ at Nkok, a free trade zone, where investors can bring foreign workers.
Goods, Technology, and Data Treatment
There is no known policy requiring foreign investors to use domestic content. There is no specific performance requirement imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investment. There are no performance requirements for investors, nor are there any requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. There are no measurements that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the economy/country’s territory. No mechanisms exist to enforce rules on local data storage.
There is no performance requirement imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investment. There is no requirement for investors to buy local products, to export a certain percentage of output, or to invest in a specific geographical area. There is no blanket requirement that nationals own shares in foreign investments in Gabon or that the share of foreign equity be reduced over time, or that technology be transferred on certain terms. Nonetheless, many investors find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the business environment.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Secured interest in property is recognized, and the recording system is relatively reliable.
There are no specific regulations for foreign and/or non-resident investors regarding land lease or acquisition. Laws in Gabon for private and commercial property do not provide any restrictions on nationality for the possession and ownership of property in Gabon.
Almost 85 percent of Gabon’s area (and possibly 95 percent or more) is legally owned by the state. Only 14,000 private land titles appear to have been registered in Gabon according to a 2012 report; most refer to tiny urban parcels. Urban areas constitute no more than one percent of total land area. The government created the National Agency for Urban Planning, Surveys and the Land Registry in 2011.
If property legally purchased is unoccupied by the owner, property ownership can revert to others.
Intellectual Property Rights
As a member of CEMAC and ECCAS, Gabon adheres to the laws of the African Intellectual Property Office (OAPI). Based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, OAPI aims to ensure the publication and protection of patent rights, encourage creativity and transfer of technology, and create favorable conditions for research. As a member of OAPI, Gabon acceded to a number of international agreements on patents and intellectual property (IP), including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention and the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). As a member of the WTO, Gabon is also a signatory of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. U.S. companies have not raised IP rights (IPR) concerns with the Embassy.
During the past year, no IP related laws or regulations were enacted concerning IPR protection. Gabon does not report on seizures of counterfeit goods. Gabon is not in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report. Gabon is not listed in USTR’s Notorious Markets List.
For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the WIPO country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.
The Gabonese government encourages and supports foreign portfolio investment, but Gabon’s capital markets are poorly developed. Gabon has been home to the Central Africa Regional Stock Exchange, which began operation in August 2008. However, the Bank of Central African States consolidated the Libreville Stock Exchange into a single CEMAC zone stock exchange based in Douala, Cameroon in July 2019.
There are no existing policies that facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.
On June 25, 1996, Gabon formally notified the IMF that they accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the IMF Articles of Agreement. Article VIII, Sections 2 and 3 provides that members shall not impose or engage in certain measures, namely restrictions on making payments and transfers for current international transactions, discriminatory currency arrangements, or multiple currency practices, without the approval of the Fund.
Foreign investors are authorized to get credit on the local market and have access to all the variety of credits instruments offered by the local banks, without any restrictions.
Money and Banking System
The banking sector is composed of seven commercial banks and is open to foreign institutions. It is highly concentrated, with three of the largest banks accounting for 77 percent of all loans and deposits. The lack of diversified economy has constrained bank growth in the country, given that the financing of the oil sector is largely undertaken by foreign international banks. Access to banking services outside major cities is limited.
The IMF December 2019 report indicated the banking system’s capital adequacy ratio increased to 15.1 percent at end-March 2019, well above the CEMAC regulatory requirement of 10.5 percent. Banks remained relatively liquid and profitable. However, the significant decline in oil revenues and the associated cash constraints, and weak PFM practices have contributed to a rapid increase in domestic arrears. Gabon estimated the net deposit money of banks in the third quarter of 2018 at 435 billion CFA (USD 725 million).
Gabon shares a common Central Bank (Bank of Central African States) and a common currency, the Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA) Franc, with the other countries of CEMAC. The CFA is pegged to the euro.
Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country. There is one U.S. bank (Citigroup) present in Gabon. There are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account.
Gabon’s financial system is shallow and financial intermediation levels remain low compared to other developing countries. The government plays an important role in the financial sector. It controls two of the nine banks and has a stake in most of the others. Domestic credit is limited and expensive in Gabon. The microfinance sector is only just starting to emerge in the country with few regulated microfinance institutions (MFIs) registered, covering only a limited segment of the population. However, a substantial number of informal, unregulated MFIs are believed to operate in the country. Banks, even though highly liquid, are extremely prudent in providing credit. The majority of the population lacks access to any type of financial services, as even traditional informal mechanisms, prevalent in other African economies, are scarce. In efforts to increase access to finance, Gabon has recently supported the establishment of a development and growth fund to support small and medium enterprises, as well as the creation of a specialized agency to promote private investment.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Foreign Exchange Policies
The Bank of Central African States’ policy on foreign exchange requirements is in flux. Major international companies have cited the foreign exchange regime, including currency localization requirements, as among the greatest risks to their investments. Please contact the Embassy for additional information.
Gabon’s currency is CFA, which is convertible, subject to CEMAC restrictions, and tied to the Euro (EUR 1 equals CFA 656). As of March 2020, 1 U.S. dollar is roughly equivalent to CFA 575 to 600.
There government recently changed investment remittance policies to tighten access to foreign exchange for investment remittances. There is no time limitation on capital inflows or outflows.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Gabon created a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) in 2008. Initially called the Fund for Future Generations (Fonds des Génerations Futures) and later the Sovereign Funds of the Gabonese Republic (Fonds Souverain de la République Gabonaise), the current iteration of Gabon’s SWF is referred to as Gabon’s Strategic Investment Funds (Fonds Gabonaise d’Investissements Stratégiques, or FGIS). As of September 2013, the most recent FGIS report, the FGIS had a reported S2.4 billion in assets and was actively making investments. The FGIS has the goals of allowing future generations to share income derived from the exploitation of Gabon’s natural resources, diversifying risk by investing surplus revenue, contributing to economic development, and encouraging investment in strategic sectors of Gabon’s economy. Officially, 10 percent of Gabon’s annual oil revenues are dedicated to the sovereign wealth fund. Details regarding the FGIS’ assets and investments are not publicly available. Gabon’s sovereign wealth fund does not follow Santiago principles, nor does Gabon participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Government-appointed civil servants manage Gabonese state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which work primarily in energy, extractive industries, and public utilities. SOEs generally follow OECD guidelines on corporate governance. Corporate governance of SOEs usually consists of a board of directors under the authority of the related ministry. Each ministry chooses the members of the board. The ministry does not allocate board seats specifically to government officials and may choose members from the general public. The SOEs often consult with their ministry before undertaking any important business decisions. The corresponding ministry in each sector prepares and submits the budget of each SOE each year. Independent auditors examine the activities of SOEs each year, conducting the audit according to international standards. Auditors do not publish their reports, but rather, submit them to the relevant ministry. There is no published list of SOEs.
There are no specific laws or rules that offer preferential treatment to SOEs. However, although private enterprises may compete with public enterprises under open market access conditions, SOEs often have a competitive advantage in the industries in which they operate.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is a general awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers. There are no formal rules or regulations pertaining to RBC in Gabon. There was no high-profile private sector impact on human rights in recent years.
With a push from labor unions, Gabon fairly enforces labor rights laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. However, Gabon has not effectively enforced consumer protection laws/regulations. While Gabon is widely praised as a leader in environmental protection and has been chosen as a positive example in Africa, there are still significant issues of pollution in-country where prosecution is weak and penalties insufficient. The President is environmentally minded, and Gabon is known for its beautiful nature parks and beaches.
Gabon has not put in place corporate finance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders. There are no domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies that source minerals.
Gabonese authorities state that they are committed to Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) principles. Gabon was a candidate for the EITI beginning in 2007. By December 2012, Gabon was required to have completed an EITI validation that demonstrated compliance with the EITI rules. Due to the non-respect of deadlines and the non-performance of Gabon’s National EITI Committee, the International Council of the EITI voted on February 27, 2013, to exclude Gabon from the application process. Under the current IMF program, Gabon was expected to apply to EITI by September 30, 2019. However, Gabon did not meet this target.
Gabon has established a legal framework to fight corruption, yet enforcement remains limited and official impunity is a problem. Corruption is rarely, if ever, prosecuted in Gabon. Transparency International lists Gabon rank is 123 of 180 countries (2019 Transparency International report). The Gabonese Penal Code criminalizes abuse of office, embezzlement, passive and active bribery, trading in influence, extortion, offering or accepting gifts, and other undue advantages in the public sector. Private sector corruption is criminalized whenever a given company is related to a public entity. Punishments for public officials found guilty of soliciting or accepting bribes include prison sentences ranging from two to 10 years, and a fine of CFA five million (USD 8,572).
The government established the Commission to Combat Illicit Enrichment (CNLCEI) in 2004. In summer 2018, the CNLCEI’s five-year mandate was not renewed. The CNLCEI regulations do not extend to family members of civil servants or to political parties.
The Gabonese government launched an anti-corruption campaign in January 2017 called Operation Mamba. The first conviction occurred in April 2018 but was overturned on appeal in April 2019. Few details of the investigations have been made public. In 2019, the anti-corruption campaign Operation Scorpion generated eight arrests of senior Gabonese administration officials, accused of “siphoning off public funds and money laundering” through the end of October 2019. On December 13, 2019, the former presidential Chief of Staff Brice Laccruche was arrested and sent to prison. Pro-government newspaper L’Union reported in November 2019 that more than 85 billion CFA ($142 million) has “evaporated” over the past two years from the funds of the Gabon Oil Company (GOC). Under Gabonese law, embezzlement of public funds is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100 million CFA ($170,000).
There are no known laws or regulations to counter conflict of interest in awarding contracts or government procurement. There is no information about action on the part of the government to encourage or require private companies to establish codes of conduct that prohibit bribery of public officials. Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials.
Gabon is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is a member of The Task Force on Money Laundering in Central Africa (Groupe d’action contre le blanchiment d’argent en Afrique Centrale, or GABAC).
No international or regional watchdog organizations operate in Gabon. Local civil society lacks the capacity to play a significant role in highlighting cases of corruption.
Companies contend with a high risk of corruption when dealing with the Gabonese extractive industries. Gabon has vast oil, manganese, and timber resources; however, contracting and licensing processes lack transparency.
Resources to Report Corruption
National Financial Investigations Agency
Tel: +241 0176 1773 Agence Nationale d’Investigation Financière Immeuble Arambo, Boulevard Triomphal
Libreville, Gabon firstname.lastname@example.org
10. Political and Security Environment
Violence related to politics is relatively rare in Gabon. Elections, however, can lead to heightened tensions or erupt in violence. The 2018 legislative and local elections took place without major incident. Violence broke out on August 31, 2016, after the National Electoral Commission announced incumbent president Ali Bongo Ondimba defeated opponent Jean Ping in the August 27 presidential election by a margin of less than 2 percent of the vote. Protestors took to the streets, attempting to burn the National Assembly building. There were numerous arrests. Nongovernmental organizations stated the government’s use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators resulted in approximately 20 deaths and over 1000 arrests; the opposition claimed at least 50 persons were killed.
Gabon’s reduced oil production, in addition to political tensions after the 2016 elections, fostered frustration and disappointment within the country. In 2018, public and private sector strikes continued over unpaid salaries, benefits, and worsening work conditions. The coalition of oil, mining, and energy sector unions announced a five-day strike across the country from January 23 January 27, 2020 because of the decision of the Gabonese government to review the Gabonese labor code. The government met with striking unions representatives and was able to negotiate an agreement to end the strike after four days.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Gabon’s population is approximately 2 million, and third country nationals (TCNs) represent one-third of the population. Many young Gabonese are unable to acquire vocational skills and are thus excluded from the labor market. A report in October 2018 indicated 60% of Gabonese under 30 are unemployed. This is due to the low quality of the basic education system, insufficient output of technical and vocational training, and a lack of resources and effectiveness in the education sector.
Foreign firms report a shortage of highly skilled Gabonese labor. Chinese industry, in particular, imports the majority of its workers from China. Authorization from the Ministry of Labor is required in order to hire foreigners. Reforms adopted in 2010 in the education and research system represent a step towards developing in-service training and encouraging public-private partnerships. For example, the Petroleum and Gas Institute, located in Port-Gentil and supported by the Gabonese government and oil industry, has been training engineers specialized in oil-related technical areas since 2014.
Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and firing. There is no unemployment insurance or other social safety net program for workers laid off for economic reasons.
Gabon’s Special Economic Zone is not subject to the same foreign labor restrictions as the rest of the country.
Collective bargaining is common in Gabon. Gabon’s French-inspired labor code recognizes the right of workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively, and prohibits anti- union discrimination, but the right to strike is limited or restricted. Strikes may be called only after eight days’ advance notification and only after arbitration fails. Public sector employees are not allowed to strike if public safety could be jeopardized. The law does not define essential services sectors in which workers are prohibited from striking. The Gabonese government strictly enforces the labor code’s mandatory retirement age of 65. Gabon started developing proposals for a new labor code in January 2020. Despite the January strike, reforms are likely to be announced before the end of 2020 in part of the government’s plans to kick-start the economy after oil price stagnation.
Public and private sector strikes are frequent and disruptive. From February-June 2018 Gabon court clerks were on strike, limiting the functions of the justice system. The civil servants in the financial authorities initiated strikes several times in the past few years; these strikes slow customs processing and work done in the tax, custom, treasury, and hydrocarbons sectors.
Gabon has ratified most of the International Labor Organization (ILO) laws and conventions. There are no gaps in compliance in law or practice with international labor standards that may pose a reputational risk to investors.
Gabon has no specific trade agreements with the United States that require the execution of U.S. labor laws.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is open to providing services to U.S. investors in Gabon and has done so in the past. Gabon is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which guarantees foreign investment protection in cases of war, strife, disasters, or expropriation. MIGA is a branch of the World Bank Group. Regular changes in government in Gabon can cause delays in completing investment insurance agreements.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source
USG or international statistical source
USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)