Gabon is a historically stable country in a volatile region and has significant economic advantages: a small population (roughly 2 million), an abundance of natural resources, and a strategic location in the Gulf of Guinea. After taking office in 2009, President Ali Bongo Ondimba introduced reforms to diversify Gabon’s economy away from oil and traditional investment partners, and to position Gabon as an emerging economy. Gabon promotes foreign investment across a range of sectors, particularly in oil and gas, infrastructure, timber, ecotourism, and mining. Gabon’s government depends on revenues from hydrocarbons.
The Gabonese investment climate is marked by impediments related to establishing a new business, connecting to utilities, such as electricity and water, and transferring company ownership. Many companies also report difficulties in obtaining loans. Banks and other financiers struggle to release funds, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), due to a lack of guarantees and missing documentation. However, several business incubators active in the country are attempting to facilitate business activities. Gabon ranks 38th in Africa for the protection of minority investors and 43rd for the payment of taxes.
Gabon adopted a new hydrocarbon code and a new mining code in July 2019, to provide a modernized basis for the legal, institutional, technical, economic, customs, and tax regimes governing these sectors and to spur investment through a more stable business climate.
Economic conditions in Gabon continued to weaken throughout 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic caused two shocks to the Gabonese economy, prompting it to enter into a recession. First, the decline in global demand and the corresponding collapse in oil prices hit government revenues and the economy hard. Second, domestic demand plummeted as a result of the government’s actions taken to halt the pandemic, such as through border closures and a national curfew.
A renewed wave of illnesses that began in January 2021 compounded this situation. Gabon officially launched its national vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in March 2022; a total of 499,247 doses of COVID vaccines have been administered. Assuming every person requires two doses, the number of doses is seen as enough to have vaccinated about 11.5% of the country’s population (World-coronavirus-tracker)
On July 2021, the IMF Executive Board approved a USD $553.2 million, 36-month arrangement under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for Gabon. The Board’s approval allowed for an immediate disbursement of US$115.25 million for budget support. The program aims to support the short-term response to the COVID-19 crisis and lay the foundations for green and inclusive private sector-led growth and a strong and sustainable recovery to benefit all Gabonese. A combined first and second review of the EFF was undertaken in May 2022.
Historically, the mining, oil and petroleum, and wood sectors have attracted the most investment in Gabon. To attract more investors in those key sectors Gabon created a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Nkok near Libreville in 2010. This 1,350-hectare project targets local and foreign investors, provides priority access to electricity and water and on-site legal and financial services, and is near the deep-sea port of Owendo. Originally set up through a partnership between Olam International Ltd, the Gabonese government, and the Africa Finance Corporation, it operates with a mandate to develop infrastructure, enhance industrial competitiveness, and build a business-friendly ecosystem. However, corruption, bureaucratic red tape, and the lack of transparency, including through the inconsistent application of customs regulations, remain impediments to investment. Many international companies, including U.S. firms, continued to report difficulties in receiving timely payments from the government, and some oil companies have closed down operations altogether.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||124 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||N/A||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||-172.0||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||7,030||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Gabon’s 1998 investment code conforms to the Central African Economic and Monetary Community’s (CEMAC) investment regulations and provides the same rights to foreign companies operating in Gabon as to domestic firms.
Gabon’s domestic and foreign investors 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 specific investment codes, which encourage investment through customs and tax incentives.
Gabon established the Investment Promotion Agency (ANPI-Gabon) with the assistance of the World Bank in 2014. Its mission is to promote investment and exports, support SMEs, manage public-private partnerships (PPPs), and help companies establish themselves. It is designed to act as the gateway for investment into the country and to reduce administrative procedures, costs, and waiting periods.
Gabonese authorities have made efforts to prioritize investment. In 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.
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.
There are no limits on foreign ownership or control. However, the Government of Gabon automatically owns a 20 percent stake in all petroleum development in the nation, with Gabon Oil able to purchase up to an additional 15 percent. The standard practice is for the Gabonese President to review foreign investment contracts following the completion of ministerial-level negotiations.
The President has taken 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.
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) since 2017.
The government encourages investments in those economic sectors that contribute the greatest share to Gross National Product (GNP), including oil and gas, mining, and wood harvesting and transformation through customs and tax incentives. For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duties on imported machinery and equipment specific to their industries. The Tourism Investment Code, enacted in 2000, provides tax incentives to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation. The SEZ at Nkok offers tax incentives to industrial investors; the government has mused on the possibility of increasing the number of SEZs in a move to attract further investment.
ANPI-Gabon covers 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). It aims to attract domestic and international investors through improved methods of approving and licensing new companies and to support public-private dialogue. It has a single window registration process that allows domestic and foreign investors to register their businesses in 48 hours. There are, however, no special mechanisms for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in Gabon.
ANPI-Gabon’s website address is: https://www.investingabon.ga/
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.
3. Legal Regime
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 or their summaries are 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.
Gabon is affiliated with the Organization for the Harmonization of Corporate Law in Africa (Organisation pour l’harmonisation en Afrique du droit des affaires, OHADA, http://www.ohada.com/ ).
The Transformation Acceleration Plan (PAT) is a new structure of enforcement of mechanisms to ensure governments follow administrative processes and was launched in January 2021 in response to a request by the IMF for a transparency enforcement mechanism. The PAT will monitor the implementation of administrative processes, and regularly transmit the monitoring information necessary for decision-making to the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister.
No new regulatory systems have been announced in the last year, and no new reforms have been implemented in the last year.
Gabon lacks transparency on public finances and debt obligations, with limited availability of public documents.
Gabon is a member of CEMAC, along with Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad. Gabon is also a member of the larger Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which is headquartered in Gabon and 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.
Gabon is a member of OHADA, which includes nine validated Uniform Acts: General Commercial Law, Commercial Companies and Economic Interest Groups, Secured Transactions Law, Debt Resolution Law, Insolvency Law, Arbitration Law, Harmonization of Corporate Accounting, Contracts for the Carriage of Goods, and Cooperatives Companies Law.
Gabon has been a member of the WTO since January 1, 1995. It fulfills its duties on notification of all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
Gabon’s legal system is based on French Civil Law. Regular courts handle commercial disputes in compliance with OHADA’s standards. Courts do not apply the law consistently, however, and delays are frequent in the judicial system. A 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’s judicial system is not independent from its executive branch, making it subject to political influence, which creates uncertainty around the fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.
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 a 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.
No major related laws have been passed this past year.
ANPI-Gabon’s website contains most investment-related information in Gabon: https://www.investingabon.ga/ .
There are no specific ministries in charge of reviewing transactions and conduct for competition-related concerns. That responsibility lies with the ministry that is party to a contract.
The Gabonese Law No. 14/1998 of July 23, 1998, on the Establishment of the Competition Regime of Gabon on Competition covers all aspects of competition and anti-trust measures.
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 expropriate, nor have there been any indications or reports of incidences of indirect expropriation.
Gabon has a bankruptcy law, but it is not well developed. In the World Bank’s Ease of 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 ranked 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.
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, mostly tiny urban parcels, appear to have been registered in Gabon according to a 2012 report (the most recent year for which such records exist). 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 legally purchased property is unoccupied by the owner, property ownership can revert to others.
The Ministry of Commerce manages patents and copyrights in Gabon. Gabon is a member 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 technology transfer, and create favorable conditions for research. As a member of OAPI, Gabon acceded to international agreements on patents and intellectual property (IP), including the Paris Convention, the Bern Convention, and the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization.
During the past year, no IP related laws or regulations were enacted. Gabon does not report on seizures of counterfeit goods, so related data is not available. Gabon is not on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
6. Financial Sector
There is no law prohibiting or limiting foreign investment in Gabon. Aside from the preference in employment given to Gabonese workers, from a general corporate law perspective, there are no specific legislative requirements. Regardless of the type of company, there must be one resident representative on the management board of all Gabonese companies. However, this resident representative can be a non-Gabonese citizen.
The Government of Gabon automatically owns a 20 percent stake in all petroleum development in the nation, with Gabon Oil able to purchase up to an additional 15 percent. The standard practice is for the Gabonese President to review foreign investment contracts following the completion of ministerial-level negotiations.
The contracting company can assign its rights and obligations under any hydrocarbon’s contracts to a third party, subject to the prior approval of the Ministry of Oil and Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Economy. The state is entitled to the right of first refusal on application to assign these rights to a third party, excluding assignments between the contracting company and its affiliates. The Gabonese government encourages and supports foreign portfolio investment, but Gabon’s capital markets are poorly developed. Gabon is the home to the Central Africa Regional Stock Exchange, which began operation in August 2008. Additionally, the Bank of Central African States is in the process of consolidating the Libreville Stock Exchange into a single CEMAC zone stock exchange to be based in Douala, Cameroon; this process began in July 2019.
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. These sections provide 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 IMF.
Foreign investors are authorized to obtain credit on the local market and have access to a variety of credit instruments offered by local banks without restriction.
The banking sector is composed of seven commercial banks and is open to foreign institutions. The industry is highly concentrated, with three of the largest banks accounting for 77 percent of all loans and deposits. The lack of diversification in the 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.
According to data from the Gabonese General Directorate for the Economy and Fiscal Policy, the term resources of the banking sector fell by 8% in the first half of 2020, due in particular to the negative impact of COVID-19 on economic activity. These resources stood at 552.1 billion FCFA at the end of June 2020, compared to 600 billion a year earlier.
The Gabonese banking sector remains weak due to its difficulty in financing the private sector as a result of unreliable and often incomplete documentation presented by new companies. In addition, interest rates offered by banks are very high – around 15 percent – discouraging individuals and businesses.
BGFI Bank Gabon is the largest Gabonese bank in both deposits and loans with approximatively 45 percent of the market share and a balance sheet total of over 3,000 billion FCFA, according to the Professional Association of Gabon Credit Institutions (APEC). The Bloomfield Investment Corporation financial rating agency gave the BGFI Bank a mark of A+ in recognition for its financial strength and management system.
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 in the local economy.
Gabon’s financial system is shallow and financial intermediation levels remain low. Basic documents are required for applying for a residency permit in Gabon.
Gabon created a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) in 2008. Initially called the Fund for Future Generations (Fonds des Génerations Futures) and later changed to the Sovereign Funds of the Gabonese Republic (Fonds Souverains de la République Gabonaise), the current iteration of Gabon’s SWF is referred to as Gabon’s Strategic Investment Funds (Fonds Gabonaises d’Investissements Stratégiques, or FGIS). As of September 2013, the most recent FGIS report, the FGIS had USD 2.4 billion in assets and was actively making investments. Further details are not available.
Gabon’s SWF accepted the Santiago principles and joined the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs on January 2022.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Government-appointed civil servants manage Gabonese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), which operate primarily in energy, extractive industries, and public utilities. SOEs generally follow OECD guidelines on corporate governance, which usually consists of a board of directors under the authority of the related ministry. That ministry determines the board members, who may be government officials or members of 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 SOEs’ activities each year, conducting audits 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. 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.
Gabon does not have an active privatization program. However, when there is a privatization program foreign investors are usually invited to participate. The bidding process for these programs is easy to understand, non-discriminatory, and transparent.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is a general awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers; however, there are no formal rules or regulations pertaining to RBC in Gabon.
Gabon has several NGO’s working primarily in the environment, human rights, and mining sectors. The political labor unions in Gabon have taken the lead in promoting and monitoring RBC, and they are able to work freely. With a push from these labor unions, Gabon fairly enforces labor rights laws and regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. However, Gabon has not effectively enforced consumer protection laws and regulations.
While Gabon is widely praised as a leader in environmental protection and has been praised as a positive example in Africa, pollution remains a problem and prosecution is weak and penalties lacking.
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 the government is committed to the 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 initiative’s rules. However, 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 rejoined the EITI on October 2021.
There is no information on national legislation regarding private security companies. Gabon is not a signatory of The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. Little information is available on the private security industry in Gabon. An estimate from 2015 nevertheless indicated that the sector in Gabon employs around 7,000 PSC personnel, indicating that it is a significant actor in the Gabonese security landscape.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities;
- U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; and;
- Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory
Department of the Treasury
Department of Labor
Gabon created a National Climate Council in 2010 and established a national climate strategy in 2012 that has helped the country to reduce deforestation (in a country where 85 percent of the land still remains tropical forests) and absorb some 100 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Thus, Gabon’s rain forests, which form a part of the Congo Basin, are often called “the world’s second lung.” Gabon created 13 national parks in 2002, which cover 11.5 percent of the country, and that are supported by the U.S. government, including USAID, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It also created nine marine parks and 11 marine reserves in 2017.
Gabon is one of the few countries that is already net carbon positive. In fact, it took a leadership role among such countries (as well as Africa) in COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, and is expected to do the same at COP 27 in Egypt. In June 2021, Gabon also became the first African country to receive funding ($17 million from Norway) to continue to reduce its carbon emissions, rights of which can be sold to other countries. Note that Gabon, even with its favorable emissions status, has maintained its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2025.
Although already carbon positive, Gabon launched a program in 2009 to initiate a plan to diversify the economy away from energy to one that emphasizes even more the idea of sustainable economic development in areas such as forestry and agriculture. This move towards more sustainable development remains a major commitment of the government as next year’s expected presidential elections loom large even now in the country.
Gabon offers regulatory incentives in line with its climate plan. Gabon’s climate plan is a robust document that has been designed to diversify the country away from oil, which still accounts for 80 percent of exports, and more in the direction of sustainable economic development through, for example, the creation of a sovereign wealth fund, reduction of waste products flared during oil production, production of a carbon budget each year for all new projects and businesses, production of a national carbon budget every two years and production of 80 percent of energy from clean sources.
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, yet enforcement remains limited and official impunity is a problem. 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 5 million (USD $8,572). Corruption is rarely prosecuted in Gabon, except in limited high-profile cases. In 2020, Transparency International listed Gabon at 129 of 179 countries.
The government established the Commission to Combat Illicit Enrichment (CNLCEI) in 2004; however, in the summer of 2018, the CNLCEI’s five-year mandate was not renewed. Its regulations did not extend to the family members of civil servants or to political parties.
There are no known laws or regulations to counter conflicts of interest in awarding contracts or government procurement. There is no information about any action on the part of the government to encourage or require private companies to establish codes of conduct that prohibit the 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). However, 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 reportedly 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.
National Financial Investigations Agency
Tel : +241 01176 1773
Agence Nationale d’Investigation Financière
Immeuble Arambo, Boulevard Triomphal
10. Political and Security Environment
Violence related to politics is relatively rare in Gabon. Elections, however, can lead to heightened tensions or violence.
While the 2018 legislative and local elections took place without major incident, violence did break out on August 31, 2016, after the National Electoral Commission announced that the incumbent ABO defeated his opponent Jean Ping in the presidential election by a margin of less than 2%. Protestors took to the streets, attempting to burn the National Assembly building. Non-governmental 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 people were killed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on Gabon’s economy since March 2020. Measures to contain cases included closing several economic sectors, which increased the unemployment rate, with around 12,500 Gabonese losing their jobs (Minister of Labor announcement, January 2021). The social tension was high in February 2021 when further restrictions were announced, including a 6PM to 5AM curfew; this led to peaceful protests, occasionally marked by riots, during which two people were killed in Libreville and Port-Gentil.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Gabon has a population of approximately 2.2 million; third country nationals (TCNs) make up roughly 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 that 60% of Gabonese under 30 are unemployed. This is due to the bad 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 industrial companies, in particular, import the majority of their workers from China. Authorization from the Ministry of Labor is required to hire foreigners. Reforms adopted in 2010 in the education and research system represent a step towards developing service training and encouraging PPPs. 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.
The COVID 19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the devastating impact it has had on Gabon’s informal sector. According to the Directorate General of Taxes (DGI), a May 2017 International Monetary Fund (IMF) survey ranked Gabon as having the “most important” informal sector in Central Africa. It was ranked 33rd out of 37 countries with the informal sector representing between 40 and 50 percent of GDP. According to the results of surveys carried out in the field by DGI teams, of the 1,400 companies identified at the biggest African market of Libreville called Mont-Bouet market, 487 were operating in the informal sector. That meant that meant that none are registered by the Administration, nor do they pay taxes.
In 2011 the Gabonese Minister of Commerce estimated that 200,000 people work in the informal economy. The presence of the informal sector leads to losses of around 400 billion XAF on the state budget, he claimed.
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.
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. However, the GSEZ 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 antiunion discrimination. The government observes the resolution of labor disputes and takes an active interest in labor-management relations. Unions in each sector of the economy negotiate with employers overpay scales, working conditions, and benefits.
However, the right to strike is limited or restricted. Strikes may be called only after eight days’ advanced notice 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. Nevertheless, 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, slowing customs processing and work done in the tax, custom, treasury, and hydrocarbons sectors.
The Gabonese government strictly enforces the labor code’s mandatory retirement age of 65.
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.
A new Gabonese Labor Code is working its way through the legislative process. The draft reforms concern several key issues, including the strengthening of protections for workers’ rights, fighting against discrimination and eliminating gender inequalities, opening up the formal labor market to new categories of work and codifying telework. The new code should also improve the employability of young people and simplify work authorization procedures for large projects. It will affect trade union representative and other professional elections. It will also strengthen apprenticeship, which brings the world of vocational training closer to that of employment and promotes professional integration and retraining.
14. Contact for More Information
Frank W. Stanley
U.S. Embassy Libreville