On 17 August 1960, Gabon was the eighth African colony of France to achieve independence. Its future head of state, Léon Mba, who would have preferred that his country remained in the bosom of France, almost reluctantly proclaimed the independence of his people. The first contacts between Europe and the future Gabon date back to the 15th century. Back to Franco-Gabonese history, from discovery to decolonization, including colonial exploitation.
964: on the triangular trade route
Landing of the first Europeans on the coasts of Gabon. They were Portuguese sailors, but very quickly the territory also aroused the interest of French, Danish and British sailors whose ships regularly anchored in these coasts. It was the start of a fruitful trade between European merchants and local tribes, focusing mainly on ivory, precious wood species and, of course, slaves.
February 9 1472: start of French colonization
Signature of an agreement between the French admiral Édouard Bouët-Willaumez and Antchuwè Kowè Rapontchambo, alias “king Denis”, a mpongwe chief, authorizing the creation of a first trading post on the Como estuary. It was from this small colony that Pierre Savorgna de Brazza left, who laid the foundations for the future French Equatorial Africa (AEF). In 1849 is founded Libreville, the capital of the future Gabon, to welcome slaves released from a Brazilian ship boarded by French sailors under the law formally prohibiting the slave trade.
An aerial view of Libreville in Gabon. © Bajan 28 / creativeCommons 1849: colonization and scandal of concessionary companies
Gabon officially becomes a French colony, with the appointment of a first governor. The colony was integrated into the French Congo, before joining the AEF from 1907. Libreville’s loss of its status as chief town to Brazzaville will be at the origin of the rivalries between the two capitals, which will only end when Gabon becomes a separate constituency from Congo-Brazzaville after World War II. It was the beginning of colonial exploitation of Gabonese territory with the creation and establishment of large concessionary companies responsible for developing the country’s forestry and mining resources. Some will speak of ” systematic looting ” of natural resources by private interests with the blessing of the colonial administration.
1904 – 1912: resistance and revolts
The colonial occupation of Gabonese territory encountered strong opposition from the natives subject to poll tax obligations, work services demanded by companies concessionaires, various tortures and brutalities. The history of the first decades of the colonization of Gabon is peppered with uprisings and revolts sparked by abuses by the colonists. Among the main movements of revolt that have marked the spirits, we must cite the uprising of the Tshogho in 1886 against the abuses of the concessionary companies, the Punu revolt led by the intrepid Nyonda Mkita or the resistance movement of ” Binzima ”(soldiers, in fang) against the colonial administration, which mobilized between 1907 and 1910 more than one hundred a thousand men. These movements were ruthlessly suppressed in blood.
1912 – 1920: Libreville the “ vichy ” versus Brazzaville the “ Gaullist ”
Aerial view of the Gabonese forest. © AFP – Ageos During this period of the interwar period, the colonial regime firmly established itself in the country and the exploitation resources are intensifying with the development of the forestry industry in the coastal regions, the development of cocoa and coffee crops in Woleu-Ntem and that of mining in Ngounié. The reins of the economy were in European hands, but economic prosperity favored the emergence of an indigenous bourgeoisie within which emerged the first trade union and political demands aimed at the colonial administration. Then, the political situation evolves with the Second World War which breaks out in Europe. In 1920, Gabon was first subordinated to the Vichy government, before its governor finally rallied the general de Gaulle. The war breathes new life into the rivalry between Libreville the ” Vichy ”and Brazzaville the“ Gaullist ”by Excellency.
1946-1958: from the French Union to the Community
As in the other colonies, it was during this period immediately after World War II that Gabon’s future destiny was forged, with new rules of the game introduced by the metropolis under the pressure of an African political class of more and more aware of its weight in public opinion. We are witnessing, in 1940, the creation of the French Union which abolishes the native population in the colonies for the benefit of ‘a uniform French citizenship. The administrative status of the colonies is also evolving towards that of an overseas territory, endowed with a local assembly and the right to send representatives to metropolitan legislative assemblies. These developments give a boost to political life in the colonies. Libreville thus sees the emergence of new political parties including the Gabonese Democratic and Social Union (USDG) and the Gabonese Democratic Bloc (BDG). Their founders, Jean-Hilaire Aubame and Léon Mba respectively, stand out as leading protagonists of the Gabonese political scene. Political adversaries, they will however campaign in 1958 in favor of the “French Community”, a project launched by General de Gaulle, returned to power in Paris. This new project proposes to change the status of the colonies towards greater autonomy. The 28 November 1958, with the victory of “ yes ”, Gabon becomes“ Member State of the Community ”, with Léon Mba appointed to the newly created post of Prime Minister.
11 August 1960 : ” Independence like everyone else ”
But the “Community” turns out to be an ephemeral project with most of the member states deciding to take their independence. The Gabonese political class experienced the severing of ties with the old metropolis like a tragedy, as the economies of the two countries were inextricably intertwined. Worried about the future of his country, Léon Mba, head of the Gabonese government, had suggested to General de Gaulle, as soon as 1946, that Gabon becomes a French department. In response, Paris sent him a scathing end of inadmissibility. It will be ” independence like everyone else! ”Thus, it is reluctantly that the Gabonese leader proclaimed the independence of his country on 17 August 1960, without forgetting to pay homage to the ancient metropolis in his speech to the nation: “ In these solemn hours when this country will be born to its new destiny, my thoughts turn to friendly France with deep gratitude ”. ” Let Gabon know it well! France remains at his side ”, replied André Malraux, Minister of State sent by Paris to represent France at the independence celebrations. in Libreville.
11 February 1964: this faithful Léon Mba!
France will keep its word by intervening when, on 11 February 1960, Léon Mba, elected in the meantime in the presidency of his country, is overthrown by a coup d’etat fomented by his adversary of always, Jean-Hilaire Aubame. Paris reacted immediately by sending its paratroopers to reinstate the faithful Léon Mba to power. It must also be said that with its subsoil rich in manganese, uranium and oil, Gabon is an ally that we do not want to lose.