Gabon's small population together with abundant natural resources and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in the region, with the highest HDI in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was ruled by a 'strong-man' president, Omar Bongo, whose dictatorial powers ended with his death in June 2009. His successor is his son, Ali Ben Bongo, who has been attacked for spending £85 million on a lavish townhouse in Paris.
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples. In December 2008, Gabon signed the non-binding UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity calling for the global decriminalization of homosexuality, one of only six African countries to do so. The age of consent is 18 for both same-sex and opposite-sex sexual activity. There is no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
According to a journalist interviewed by Agence France-Presse (AFP), homosexuality is generally considered an illness; the journalist gave an example of a young gay man who, under family pressure, had to go through initiation rites to "'reinforce his virility'". Furthermore, according to commentary provided in the AFP article by a homosexual Gabonese man, most homosexuals do not openly admit their homosexuality, in the sense that most of them are married and have a family. The same man indicated that Gabonese people tolerate homosexuals as long as the homosexuals are not "seducers ... and they do not behave shockingly"; if they do, they are usually "attacked". The New Internationalist reports that, in Gabon, homosexuality is "severely repressed" in practice (July 2006). However, according to another homosexual man, who is in his forties and "claims to be open about his homosexuality, attitudes have changed a great deal, and 'homosexuals are more open than they used to be."
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