General issues: French colony 1886-1888, Gabon-Congo French colony 1888-1891, French colony 1904-1936, French colony, self government 1959-1960, Republic 1960-Present
Country name on general issues: GAB, Gabon
Currency: 1 Franc = 100 Centimes 1886-1960, 1 (CFA) Franc = 100 Centimes
Population: 240 000 in 1907, 1 672 000 in 2014
Political history Gabon
Establishing a French presence
Gabon is located in central Africa. Gabon is populated by a number of Bantu peoples. The Fang are the largest population group – a people also living in neighboring Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The Portuguese are the first Europeans to explore the coast of Gabon. From the 16th century, several European nations have had trade settlements in Gabon. From 1839, the French establish a permanent presence in Gabon, signing the first treaty of protection. In 1849, Libreville is founded by the French – initially a settlement for freed slaves akin to the British settlement of Freetown in Sierra Leone, later to become the capital of Gabon. In subsequent years the Gabon interior is explored by the French, signing more treaties of protection. At the 1885 Berlin conference, where the colonial powers divide their respective spheres of interest in Africa, Gabon is awarded to France. After the French settlements in Gabon have gone through a number of administrative changes, Gabon is established as a French colony in 1886.
The colonial period
As the French set out to establish effective colonial rule and extend their presence in what will become French Equatorial Africa, Gabon will go through more administrative changes. In 1888, Gabon is joined with neighboring French Congo to form the colony of Gabon-Congo. Gabon-Congo is renamed French Congo in 1891. In 1903 – effective 1904 – French Congo is defined as a higher level of government administration. Gabon is reestablished as a separate colony – along with the colony of Middle Congo, the French territory of Ubangi Shari and the French military territory of Chad, all subordinate to the commissioner general – from 1908 the governor general – of French Congo. French Congo is finally, in 1910, named French Equatorial Africa.
The borders of Gabon with the neighboring countries are defined through treaties between 1885 and 1900. In 1911, the French transfer part of French Equatorial Africa – including part of Gabon – to the then German Cameroon as a result of the treaty of Fez – one of the treaties leading up to the establishment of a French protectorate over Morocco. A part that will be returned to the French after WWI in 1919. The borders within French Equatorial Africa will change a number of times. In 1918, part the coastal region of Gabon is transferred to Middle Congo – the current Congo Brazzaville. In 1926, a further part – the Haut Ogooué province – of Gabon is transferred to Middle Congo. The Haut Ogooué province is returned to Gabon in 1947, by which the borders of Gabon are established as we know them until today.
During the colonial period, agricultural development is realized with a focus on the production of rubber, later the production of timber. To develop Gabon economically, the French enlist a number of private companies that are given most of Gabon in concession in 1899 – a policy that proves to be less than successful and will be aborted in 1919.
In 1946, Gabon will gain the status of a French overseas territory – as do all French possessions – and embark on a step by step process towards independence. In 1958, Gabon gains self government as the republic of Gabon that gains full independence in 1960.
After independence, Gabon has been ruled, from 1967, by Omar Bongo Ondimba. Though one party rule was established and democratic rights were limited, the rule of Omar Bongo Odimba is qualified as one of political stability. When, in the 1990’s, democratic reforms were implemented, Omar Bongo Odimba remained in power. After his death in 2009, he was succeeded by his son Ali Bongo Odimba.
Economically, agriculture employs the largest part of the population. Natural resources provide the largest part of the GDP. Oil production has, since the 1970’s, made Gabon one of the richer African countries.
Postal history Gabon
The first post office in Gabon is opened in 1862 in Libreville – using the general issues for the French colonies. The first stamps are issued in 1886 – issues for the French colonies overprinted ‘GAB’. More provisionals are issued in 1888 and 1889. From 1891 until 1904, the stamps of French Congo are used in Gabon. From 1904, as Gabon is reestablished as a separate colony, until 1932, stamps are again issued for Gabon. In 1904, a set of the ‘Navigation & Commerce’ type, inscribed ‘Gabon’, is issued. Reflecting the administrative changes of the period, early in 1910 a set is issued inscribed ‘Congo Français Gabon’ and, later in 1910, a set of the same designs now inscribed ‘Afrique Equatoriale Gabon’. From 1936, the specific issues for Gabon are superseded by the issues for French Equatorial Africa.
Gabon will resume to issue stamps when self government is gained as the republic of Gabon. The first set is issued in 1959 commemorating the first anniversary of the republic. The first stamps of independent Gabon are issued from 1960. Gabon has, since independence, had a relatively modest issuing policy – many stamps showing themes of national interest – some issues being aimed at the thematic collectors market.