The Central African nation of Gabon gained independence from France in 1960. France gained control starting in 1839, and Libreville (Free Town), Gabon’s capital, got its name when French forces freed slaves there in 1849.
With independence in 1960, it functioned mostly as a one-party state until 1991, when a new constitution brought multiparty democracy.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for almost 50 years. Omar Bongo took over the country in 1967 when the country’s first president, Léon M’ba, died after a long illness.
He ruled the country with an iron fist and was accused of running down the country’s economy and for favouring the people from his tribe. Following mass riots in the 1980s, Omar Bongo turned the country into a multi-party state in 1990 but his rule was marred with extravagance at the expense of the people. The country is said to have more pipelines than roads.
Upon his death in 2009, his son Ali took over the leadership. He was serving as the minister of defence at the time. His August 2009 election was marred with controversies, something that would repeat in 2016.
A 2009 Transparency International report revealed that the Bongo family owned at least 33 properties in France, with most of them in expensive Paris districts.
Gabon is a major oil producer but a third of its population live in poverty, according to the World Bank. There are also issues of youth unemployment and strikes by public officials while the country of about 1.8 million people remains one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
In the midst of these challenges, however, Gabon has produced global icons who have put the country on the map, here are some famous people you probably did not know are from Gabon:
The Gabonese singer and musician served as the First Lady of Gabon for 42 years before President Omar Bongo passed away in 2009 and her son Ali Bongo took over. Now pursuing a career in music, the 74-year-old and her then-husband founded the Gabonese Democratic Party. She was instrumental in promoting the rights of women, organizing charities for children, and other social projects during her tenure as First Lady. Having grown up in a musical family and singing at an early age, she began pursuing a career in music around 1986 and is known for hit albums such as Levekisha, Cheri Ton Disque Est Rayé, Associé, and Patience Dabany. Her 2004 world music album Obomiyia allowed her to tour with James Brown in Europe and she remains one of Africa’s greatest musical ambassadors.
The Gabonese professional football player plays as a forward for Premier League club Arsenal and is the captain of the Gabon national team. He is best known for his pace, finishing, and off-ball movement. Having played for different European clubs, he made headlines in 2018 when he left Borussia Dortmund for Arsenal in a deal worth £56 million ($71 million). That made him the most expensive African player at the time and currently ranks as one of the most expensive Gabonese players.
The Gabonese professional basketball player played college basketball at the University of Massachusetts (UMass), with the UMass Minutemen and he was selected by the Golden State Warriors in the second round, 46th overall, in the 2007 NBA draft. In 2014, he earned an All-EuroLeague Second Team selection and won the EuroLeague Best Defender award in 2013. Lasme grew up in Gabon as a great athlete but as he kept growing tall, he realized his potential in basketball. After making his international debut in 2002, Lasme moved to the United States in 2003 and entered Emmanuel College while living with his cousin in Boston, Massachusetts. With his basketball skills, he was visited by University of Massachusetts Head Coach Steve Lappas and was immediately offered a scholarship to play for the UMass Minutemen. Gabon had its first Division I athlete.
The 33-year-old model is famed for being the wife of the American rapper and actor Ludacris aka Christopher Brian Bridges. Born on May 14, 1986, in Gabon to an American father and a Gabonese mother, Mbouguiengue spent most her childhood days in the French-speaking country of Gabon before moving to the United States. Today, she is not only the model with over a million followers on Instagram but also an author and founder of Unspoken Angels, a charity event that raises funds to create awareness about sexual and mental maltreatment. She married Ludacris in 2014 and they share a beautiful child named Cadence.
The 33-year-old is a Canadian football fullback retired of the Canadian Football League (CFL). He was invited to training camp as a fullback for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football Leaguebut he never made the full roster. He was drafted by the BC Lions in the second round of the 2008 CFL Draft. He recently got a two-year contract extension with the B.C. Lions, became the longest-tenured player on the roster, with 10 seasons – all with B.C. – under his belt. “Rolly is not only an incredibly durable and valuable part of our club, he’s one of the most respected players in our league…he exemplifies everything we ask of our players both on the field and in the community,” his head coach, Wally Buono, said recently.