LIBREVILLE — Situated in western Africa, Gabon is considered both one of the wealthiest and most stable in the region. In spite of this, however, approximately one-third of the country’s 1.5 million people live below the poverty line. While several suggestions have been made as to the main causes of poverty in Gabon, the subject is complex, with numerous factors at the heart of the matter.
Perhaps the most obvious of the causes of poverty in Gabon is unemployment. Despite stable growth since 2010, an unemployment trend has become evident. Of working-age adults, one in five is out of work, a figure which increases to one-third when applied to the country’s youth population.
Part of the unemployment issue can be attributed to a lack of job creation in the private sector and, while the government is attempting to assist such growth, the jobs that do exist in the private sector are often filled with foreign nationals who have the skills required to complete them.
Another issue is Gabon’s overdependence on oil. In 2015, the oil industry only made up 5 percent of employment, while accounting for an estimated 30 percent of total GDP, 75 percent of exports and 40 percent of tax revenues. This being the case, the Gabonese government has little incentive to diversify the nation’s productive base, limiting opportunities for employment and other streams of financial growth.
A further product of this reliance on oil is the exposure the Gabonese economy has towards global oil prices, meaning that in leaner times, the country’s income is severely reduced, which particularly impacts the poorest members of society. This, in turn, further exacerbates the poverty issues facing the country.
Part of the reliance on oil revenues may stem from Gabon’s weak business environment. Foreign investment is essential for developing nations seeking to grow their private sector and without the right business climate, such investment is unlikely to be received. Labor laws hinder employment possibilities, productivity is generally poor and infrastructure is, at best, limited. Combined, these factors hamper Gabon’s ability to generate investment from abroad, negatively impacting the country’s opportunities for job creation and wealth generation.
The education system in Gabon also feeds into the nation’s poverty. While enrollment is high, at 92 percent, approximately 37 percent of students are required to repeat grades, a figure which is one of the highest globally. For those who do succeed throughout their schooling, employment is not a given. Almost a quarter of all those with a high school diploma are unemployed, leading to assertions that the education system does not align with the needs of the labor market. For those deemed to fit into this category, unemployment and a lack of technical skills force them further into or towards poverty.
Ultimately, the causes of poverty in Gabon are perhaps more a result of governance than circumstance. Attracting foreign investment and increasing employment opportunities should be the future focus of the country’s government in order to alleviate the poverty impacting a third of the Gabonese population.
– Gavin Callander