Straddling the Equator, Gabon presents a paradox. It is rich in natural resources: Hydrocarbons, forestry products and minerals, with significant potential for hydro-electric power. Offshore it has rich, abundant fisheries. It is also blessed with a rich biodiversity in both terrestrial and marine ecospheres and it comes as no surprise that Gabon has been described as “Africa’s Last Eden” [viz. Note 1] . However, Gabon is unique amongst its neighbours in having a small population of less than 2 million inhabitants and oil revenues have given it the highest per-capita GDP's in Sub-Saharan Africa (US$ 8,750); the country has everything, but the wealth is not evenly distributed. Gabon is youthful, vibrant and generally peaceful, which positions it favourably amongst its peers. The country has had only three presidents since independence and functions as an electoral democracy; economically, it retains strongly ties to France through the CFA Franc (FCFA) with fixed convertibility to the Euro (1 Euro = 655.957 FCFA). Gabon's small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make it one of the most intrinsically stable countries in Africa.
Onshore oil indications were first found near Libreville in 1931 and since the 1960's Gabon has been a major exporter of crude oil, at one time reportedly providing 70% of France's hydrocarbon needs. An early member of OPEC, it left in 1995; re-joining recently in July 2016. Today's export markets include S. E. Asia and Australia. In 1997, a peak production of 370,000 bopd was attained following the giant, onshore discovery at Rabi-Kounga in Pre-Salt formations. Although national production has been in decline since the early 2000's, it is still the 3rd largest producer in sub-Saharan Africa. Current exports are about 175,000 bopd, but are projected by some analysts to collapse beyond 2022 to less than 100,000 bopd. Gabon is dependent on oil exports for 80% of its foreign currency earnings; it urgently needs new discoveries to rejuvenate a flagging economy and to prepare itself for transition to low-carbon energy supply in the post-Covid19 landscape.
Gabon announced a 12th Offshore Bid Round in November, 2018 [viz. Note 2] and published a new Petroleum Code with more attractive terms in July 2019; however, the 12th Bid Round has been postponed several times and with the exception of the recent Covid19 crisis, these problems are primarily due to legislative delays and changes in government personnel.
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