Five key facts about Gabon, where presidential, legislative and municipal elections take place on Saturday:
– The Bongos –
The central African state has been run by one family for more than 55 years.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who is seeking a third term, took over when his father Omar died in 2009 after nearly 42 years in power.
Bongo senior, who took office in 1967, had the reputation of a kleptocrat — one of the richest men in the world, with a fortune derived from Gabon’s oil.
His son grew up the carefree scion of a wealthy ruling family and was once known by his initials of ABO, Ali B — or, less flattering, “Monsieur Fils” (Mr Son).
His sister Pascaline Bongo had an affair with reggae star Bob Marley and played a key role in the singer’s introduction to Africa, inviting him to give a 1980 concert in Libreville for her father’s birthday.
– Oil powerhouse –
Gabon is one of the richest countries in Africa in terms of per-capita GDP, thanks largely to oil revenues and the small population of 2.3 million.
In the 1970s, the country discovered abundant oil reserves offshore, allowing it to build a strong middle class and earn the moniker “central Africa’s little emirate”.
Oil accounts for 60 percent of the country’s revenues.
But a third of the population still lives below the poverty line of $5.50 per day, according to the World Bank.
– Africa’s ‘Eden’ –
Forests cover 88 percent of the surface of Gabon, providing a haven for gorillas, buffalo, panthers, elephants, chimpanzees and other species.
The country, which markets itself as the “last Eden”, has become a major advocate for conservation in a region where wildlife is being battered by wars, habitat destruction and the bushmeat trade.
In 2002, it set up a network of 13 national parks covering 11 percent of its territory.
One of the big success stories is conservation of critically endangered African forest elephants. Their global numbers have fallen 86 percent in 30 years but in Gabon they have doubled in a decade.
– Healer or hallucinogenic? –
A powerful psychoactive root found in Gabonese forests is used to make a drug that has been touted as a potential healer of heroine and cocaine addiction.
The hallucinogenic iboga root has long been used in an ancestral ritual known as “bwiti”, which combines worship of forest spirits with elements of Christianity.
High doses can have effects similar to LSD, mescaline or amphetamines, and cause anxiety, extreme apprehension and hallucinations.
But the pill form of the drug, ibogaine, has also been hailed for helping some drug addicts kick their habit.
Treatment centres using the drug have sprung up in countries including Costa Rica, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
– Star striker –
Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a former Chelsea forward, was one of the best strikers in the world in his heyday.
From Germany’s powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, where he stood out, he moved to Arsenal in 2018 and became joint top-scorer in the Premier League a year later.
For disciplinary issues Aubameyang was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy and his contract ripped up, after which he moved to Barcelona, then Chelsea before joining Olympique de Marseille.