President Ali Bongo Odimba has been a catalyst to change the course of Gabonese foreign relations, expanding Gabonese relations with countries such as China, Japan, Morocco, and Turkey to name a few. However, in spite of the newfound alliances that Gabon has made, France remains the foreign country that matters the most to Gabon both politically and economically and China is the second one.
The relationship between France and Gabon is based from historical colonial and familial ties. France is of great importance for many reasons. Because Gabon is part of the CFA Franc Zone, it is economically tied to France and the weight of its currency depends on the Euro. Furthermore, France holds 65% of Gabon’s bank reserve, it still has a military based in the country, and there’s over 120 French enterprises in the country. Though, France has significantly loosened its grip on the Francophone African countries, including Gabon, it will take time and viable policy changes in order for France to fall from being the top foreign partner that Gabon has.
As many developing countries, Gabon’s goal is to develop its economy and infrastructure, diversify its resources and attract foreign investors in the country. Partnering with China seems to be helping with some of these goals. Sino-Gabonese relations are very different from France-Gabonese relations on various levels. Diplomatically, it seems like Gabon and China are in more of an equal footing than relations with France and Gabon that evoke colonial ties that have never truly been broken. Sino-Gabonese relations have manifested itself with the construction of about 3 hospitals in Gabon, of the stadium in which Gabon hosted the CAN 2012, and along with talks of building alternative energy power sources. China has invested in Gabonese oil and in Gabonese wood. Gabon has borrowed money from China for development projects and has not required any major politically changes from Gabon as opposed to France, which has recently criticized President Bongo Odimba for corruption and breach of human rights.
During his presidency, Ali Bongo Odimba has also solidified diplomatic ties with Turkey and Morocco. These new found relations date from 2011 when Bongo Odimba visited Turkey five times and when King Mohammed VI invited him to Morocco about three times in 2013. So far, these exchanges seem more diplomatic than economic. However, it may be a bit too early to determine the outcomes of these relations and the forms that it will take.
Japan has increasingly started to invest in Gabonese industries, namely those related to fish and wildlife services. This industry has also been important to the United States as Gabon’s forestry and wildlife plays a big part in food production and environmental regulations in the Central African Region. Both of these countries have good relationships with Gabon, but they do not have major stakes in the country.
So far, China and France remain the two countries closely tied to Gabon. Each country has a different historical tie to Gabon that informs their current relationship and the course that it will take. It would be interesting to see if China’s presence in Gabon will ever surpass France’s presence.