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History of Gabon
 
 
 

Early History

The earliest inhabitants of the area were Pygmy peoples. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes as they migrated. From the 1300s until the present time Bantu groups immigrated into Gabon from several directions to escape enemies or to find new land. Little is known of tribal life before European contact but tribal art suggests a rich cultural heritage.

Gabon's first confirmed European visitors were Portuguese traders who arrived in the 15th century and named the country after the Portuguese word gabao – a coat with sleeve and hood resembling the shape of the Komo river estuary. The coast became a centre of the slave trade. Dutch, English and French traders came in the 16th century.

French Period

France assumed the status of protector by signing treaties with Gabonese coastal chiefs in 1839 and 1841. American missionaries from New England established a mission at Baraka (now Libreville) in 1842. In 1849, the French captured a slave ship and released the passengers at the mouth of the Komo river. The slaves named their settlement Libreville – French for "free town."

French explorers penetrated Gabon's dense jungles between 1862 and 1887. The most famous, Savorgnan de Brazza, used Gabonese bearers and guides in his search for the headwaters of the Congo river. France occupied Gabon in 1885, but did not administer it until 1903. Gabon's first political party, the Jeunesse Gabonais, was founded around 1922.

In 1910 Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959.

Independence

At the time of Gabon's independence in 1960, two principal political parties existed: the Bloc Democratique Gabonais (BDG), led by Leon M'Ba, and the Union Democratique et Sociale Gabonaise (UDSG), led by J.H. Aubame. In the first post-independence election, held under a parliamentary system, neither party was able to win a majority. The BDG obtained support from three of the four independent legislative deputies, and M'Ba was named Prime Minister. Soon after concluding that Gabon had an insufficient number of people for a two-party system, the two party leaders agreed on a single list of candidates. In the February 1961 election, held under the new presidential system, M'Ba became President and Aubame became Foreign Minister.

This one-party system appeared to work until February 1963, when the larger BDG element forced the UDSG members to choose between a merger of the parties or resignation. The UDSG cabinet ministers resigned, and M'Ba called an election for February 1964 and a reduced number of National Assembly deputies (from 67 to 47). The UDSG failed to muster a list of candidates able to meet the requirements of the electoral decrees.

When the BDG appeared likely to win the election by default, the Gabonese military toppled M'Ba in a bloodless coup on February 18, 1964. French troops re-established his government the next day. After a few days of fighting, the coup was over and the opposition imprisoned, despite widespread protests and riots. The French government was unperturbed by international condemnation of the intervention; and paratroops still remain in the Camp de Gaulle on the outskirt's of Gabon's capital.


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