The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses that travelers should exercise normal precautions in Gabon. Some areas have increased risk. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.
The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Peace Index 2021 ranks Gabon 93 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as being at a medium state of peace.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Libreville as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
The U.S. Department of State has included a Crime “C” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Gabon, indicating that there may be widespread violent crime and/or organized crime present in the country, and/or that local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.
Review the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
Crime: General Threat
Most crimes against foreigners are non-violent confrontations, and are most often crimes of opportunity, though there have been some reports of foreigners robbed at knife- or machete-point. These crimes include muggings, theft of unattended possessions, and pickpocketing. The items stolen most frequently during a robbery tend to be cash, cellular phones, and other electronic items.
Foreigners seldom experience physical harm when they comply with the perpetrator’s demands. However, criminals will resort to force, if necessary, to conduct a robbery. Confrontations with their intended victims do not deter gangs and other groups. Crime among the local populace can be more violent. In the month of March 2019 alone, three bodies discovered in the PK5 neighborhood of Libreville prompted police investigations that remain unresolved.
Visitors should be particularly aware of their surroundings in congested urban areas, such as open-air markets or on the beach. While these areas are certainly more dangerous at night, daytime incidents have also occurred. Being in a crowded area does not ensure one’s security. Some victims report being robbed in broad daylight in the presence of witnesses. Mob justice exists; suspects can find themselves pursued and beaten by bystanders.
Hotel rooms have historically been prime targets for theft, though the very best hotels in Libreville have policies in place to discourage employee theft and are quick to identify and remove perpetrators. Many hotels have basic security standards in place (24-hour guards, locking doors, and safes).
Residential burglaries continue to be a problem in Libreville and Port Gentil. Burglaries and home invasions are occurring more frequently than in the past. In the past few years, U.S. Embassy Libreville received and responded to reports regarding residential break-ins, including homes of U.S. nationals assigned to the Embassy. While most burglaries occur when residents are away from their homes, criminals have entered residences while the occupants are asleep.
Unsophisticated scams are common. Scams include taking money for items and then failing to deliver the item purchased. Only pay for items you have seen and can take possession of immediately.
Travelers have paid roadside vendors to top-up their cellphone minutes and then not received the minutes. Establish top-ups through authorized vendors.
Gabon’s established grocery stores, hotels and high-end restaurants have started taking credit and debit cards only recently, but there are frequent connectivity problems. Be prepared to pay cash even if an establishment advertises that it takes credit. When contemplating a large purchase, be prepared to visit several ATMs, possibly over the course of several days. At times, ATMs do not have cash available for withdrawal. There are no reports of card skimming in Libreville.
Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, Hotels: The Inns and Outs, Considerations for Hotel Security, and Taking Credit.
Crime: Areas of Concern
Crime continues to be more common in the capital, Libreville, and in Port Gentil, Gabon’s second largest city, than in rural areas. Libreville and Port Gentil account for most of Gabon’s 1.8 million population and are home to the country’s most affluent citizens. In urban and rural areas alike, police response can be slow, and capabilities are limited.
The U.S. Department of State has not included a Kidnapping “K” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Gabon. Review OSAC’s reports, Kidnapping: The Basics and Active Shooter and Kidnapping Response Tips.
There have been no recent high-profile kidnappings in the country of Gabon. Westerners have not historically been subject to kidnappings within the country.
There has been a slight increase of drug related crime in the outer areas of Libreville. Most drug related incidents are attributed to groups of unemployed youths with a lack of economic opportunity within the country.
Gabon enforces its drug laws. Foreigners found in possession of illegal drugs should expect prosecution and punishment, including imprisonment. Marijuana is illegal in Gabon. Avoid iboga, a hallucinogenic drug indigenous to Gabon. It is a dangerous, illegal Schedule I drug in the United States; reports of addiction, personal injury, and serious inappropriate behavior attributed to this drug have been recorded. The potential for narco-tourism becoming a problem is a topic of concern as iboga becomes more widely known on the world drug market.
Consult with the CIA World Factbook’s section on Illicit Drugs for country-specific information.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Libreville as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
The U.S. Department of State has not included a Terrorism “T” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Gabon.
The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Terrorism Index 2020 ranks Gabon 86 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as having a very low impact from terrorism.
Terrorism: General Threat
Gabon suffers from extremely porous borders. Trafficking in wildlife and natural resources is a problem for local security forces, and at times involves well-armed foreigners. There exists the potential for these same trafficking routes to be used to facilitate terrorism.
Political Violence and Civil Unrest Environment
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Libreville as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
There was widespread rioting and looting following the 2016 Presidential Elections. The cities of Libreville, Oyem, Port Gentil, and Lambarene all experienced unrest upon the release of election results. City streets in Libreville were impassable due to protestor-erected barricades of burning vehicles, tires, and other debris. International flights arriving to and departing from Libreville had to refuel in different countries, as fuel trucks were unable to service the airport. Some airlines canceled flights into the capital. Rioters burned and looted grocery stores and businesses in the neighborhoods of Hauts de Gue, Charbonnages, Cocotiers, Nkembo, Sotega, Venez Voir, Akebes, Glass, Awendje, Lalala, Beau Séjour, IAI, and the area known as the PKs (along the N1). Parts of the Parliament building burned, authorities reportedly arrested over 1000 people, and the government declared that three people died in post-election unrest - though the opposition claims that the number is higher. Authorities cut internet and SMS completely in the days immediately following the election unrest. After a week with no internet and SMS, it came back on, but even then only from 0600-1800 each day. Full internet connectivity only returned one month after the end of the unrest.
October 2018 parliamentary elections passed without incident. Shortly thereafter, President Ali Bongo Ondimba suffered a medical issue while on official travel in Saudi Arabia. The resulting uncertainty regarding the President’s health led to an anti-government military action by members of Gabon’s Republican Guard in January 2019. During the event, members of the Republican Guard briefly took control of a radio station and broadcast a call to action to overthrow the Bongo regime. Gabonese security forces quickly confronted and arrested the conspirators, resulting in two deaths. Of note, the Gabonese government shut down the internet in Gabon for 24 hours as the government restored order and the normal rhythms of daily life returned.
Protest & Demonstration Activity
Strikes and union actions are common in Gabon, and have occurred frequently over the past year. In 2019, Gabon faced students protests over a change in academic regulations and reductions in scholarships. In 2020, a general worker strike across several industries resulted in shortages of fuel, water, and electricity. In July 2020, taxi drivers demonstrated to protest police harassment, including exacting bribes.
Avoid large crowds, political gatherings, and demonstrations. Political gatherings and demonstrations have the potential to turn violent; police and security forces typically disperse crowds using tear gas or other force.
Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Law Enforcement Concerns: Security Agencies
The main law enforcement entities in Gabon are the National Police and the Gabonese Gendarmerie. The Gendarmerie, a branch of the Defense Ministry, is the principal agency in charge of law enforcement. The National Police, under the Interior Ministry, are responsible for traffic enforcement and security at major events. The Police Judiciare are responsible for conducting criminal investigations related directly to prosecution. People may often encounter the Republican Guard in their travels, but this agency is charged specifically with protection of the President of Gabon. Elements of the armed forces and the Republican Guard sometimes perform internal security functions.
Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate, prosecute, and punish those found responsible for abuses and corruption. There are reports of police, gendarmes, and military members seeking bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents.
The police and security forces often lack communications equipment, weapons and ammunition, and vehicles, limiting their ability to respond to routine and emergency calls. Many gendarme and police stations have only one vehicle, and often rely on personal cellular phones to coordinate any police response. Any response is often slow and limited generally to writing a report or taking statements.
Law Enforcement Concerns: Emergency Contact/Information
Reach police in Libreville at +241.011.73.90.00, and in Port Gentil at +241.077.29.63.89. In the event of an emergency, the local police are typically the first point of contact. However, police response is slow, and investigations are frequently never opened. Prosecutions are very slow, if they are even initiated.
All drivers and passengers should wear seat belts, lock doors, and keep windows closed. Police routinely stop travelers at checkpoints within cities and on roads to the interior. During routine stops, police may occasionally seek bribes.
Roads to outlying cities are usually unpaved and in poor condition, with large potholes, absence of road signs, poor to non-existent streetlights, timber-laden trucks, and the presence of pedestrians and animals. Construction work is generally poorly indicated. Drivers may change lanes or stop unexpectedly, and frequently ignore lane markings. Pedestrians frequently attempt to cross major roads in the country. Use extreme caution while traveling at night or the early morning hours.
Use four-wheel drive vehicles for travel outside of Libreville, especially during the rainy season.
Roadside assistance and emergency medical services are available in Libreville, but they may not be dependable. These services are nonexistent outside of the city. Service stations are available along main roads, but vehicle repair facilities are not always available.
During short-term tourist or business visits, U.S. nationals may drive a vehicle in Gabon provided they have both a valid U.S. and an international driver’s license. Those residing or working in Gabon (holders of a carte de séjour) must either obtain a Gabonese driver’s license (permis de conduire) or register their U.S. driver’s license with the Direction National de Transport Terrestre.
The following items must be kept in the vehicle at all times: the vehicle registration (carte grise), proof of insurance (assurance), proof of vehicle inspection (visite technique), fire extinguisher, triangles, and first aid kit. The police may verify that the driver has all the required documentation and equipment if they stop a car on the road or at a police checkpoint.
It is against the law to use a cell phone while driving in Gabon.
If you are driving, while stopped in traffic, scan rearview mirrors to identify potential trouble. If you are idling at a stop light or sign, leave adequate maneuver room between vehicles to allow for a hasty departure if necessary. Even in daylight, thieves may open unlocked vehicle doors to snatch valuables. Park only in well-lighted areas, preferably in parking lots with a security guard.
For detailed, country-specific road and vehicle safety information, read the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety in Africa, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Safety
Gabon has a developing public transportation system. Most public transport is provided by private taxis and van buses. There are some large buses operated by the municipalities, but they do not have a major impact on the public transportation system. Vehicle safety features on public transportation vehicles are rarely inspected or enforced by police.
Strongly consider other transportation options before deciding to take public transportation. Every year, there are serious and fatal accidents involving minibuses and taxis. Many lack proper safety equipment (e.g., seat belts, headlights), are overcrowded, and driven by unlicensed drivers. Drivers are often reckless, making frequent stops to pick up passengers and speeding from one stop to the next. Travelers who do take taxis should hire only those called by a hotel. If hailing one on the street, specify “course” (exclusive use/not shared) to the driver.
Review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights; and consider the European Union Air Safety List.
The main international airport in Gabon is Léon-Mba International Airport (LBV) in Libreville.
Domestic air travel can be frustrating for even the most seasoned traveler. Flights are often delayed and canceled, sometimes for days. Baggage frequently goes missing and lost. Pack any required medicines, important documents, or valuables in a carry-on bag. Local airlines do not have to pay restitution for lost bags.
Gabon has a small Navy. The threat of piracy is a concern for nation states in the Gulf of Guinea, and there hves been reports of piracy of fishing trawlers and support ships for the oil industry in the past.
Consult with the Stable Seas Maritime Security Index for detailed information and ratings regarding rule of law, law enforcement, piracy, and other maritime security indicators.
Personal Identity & Human Rights Concerns
Impunity is a problem in the security forces. Nevertheless, the government took some steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute officials and punish human rights abusers. Authorities have established a national hotline to report abuses by security force members.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention in court, but the government does not always respect these provisions.
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, homes and correspondence, the government does not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police request and easily obtain search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conduct warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities reportedly monitor private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.
Safety Concerns for Women Travelers
The law criminalizes rape, and convicted rapists face penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Nevertheless, authorities seldom prosecute rape cases. The law addresses spousal and intimate partner rape regardless of gender. There are no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape, but a women’s advocacy NGO estimates it to be a frequent occurrence. Discussing rape remains taboo, and women often opt not to report it due to shame or fear of reprisal.
Although the law prohibits domestic violence, NGOs report it was common. Penalties for conviction range from two months to 15 years imprisonment. Women rarely file complaints, due to shame or fear of reprisal, although the government operates a counseling group to provide support for abuse victims. The government provides in-kind support to an NGO center to assist victims of domestic violence, and through the center’s work, police intervene in response to incidents of domestic violence.
NGOs report sexual harassment of women continues to be pervasive. In June the National Assembly and the Senate enacted a revised penal code prohibiting sexual harassment. It states sexual harassment, “constitutes an offense against morals (and includes) any behavior, attitude or repeated assiduous or suggestive words, directly or indirectly attributable to a person who, abusing the authority or influence conferred on him by his functions or its social rank, aims to obtain sexual favors from an individual of one or the other sex.” Conviction of sexual harassment is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine.
Although the law does not generally distinguish between the legal status and rights of women and men, it requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. The law provides for equal treatment regarding property, nationality, and inheritance. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work. Women face considerable societal discrimination, including in obtaining loans and credit and, for married women, opening bank accounts without their husbands’ permission and administering jointly owned assets, especially in rural areas.
Consider composite scores given to Gabon by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in its Gender Development Index, measuring the difference between average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development, and Gender Inequality Index, measuring inequality in achievement in reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. For more information on gender statistics in Gabon, see the World Bank's Gender Data Portal.
Review the State Department’s webpage for female travelers.
Safety Concerns for LGBTI+ Travelers
In 2020, Gabon decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The law does not limit freedom of speech or peaceful assembly rights for LGBTI+ persons. There are no specific antidiscrimination or hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms designed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. There have been reports from civil society organizations and media of LGBTI+ persons being targeted for abuse. Such incidents were rarely reported to police, however. A case that drew attention during the year, however, was that of a gay couple who were arrested and charged after their marriage ceremony for violating “the good morals of society” and for failing to obtain legal authority to be married. Societal discrimination in employment and housing are problems, particularly for openly LGBTI+ persons.
Review OSAC’s report, Supporting LGBT+ Employee Security Abroad, and the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI travelers.
Safety Concerns for Travelers with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with “physical, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities and requires they have access to buildings and services, including voter access to election polling centers. Most public buildings, however, did not provide adequate access and accommodation for persons with disabilities, hindering their ability to obtain state services and take part in the judicial system. The law subsumes sensory disabilities under congenital and “accidental” disabilities, but does not recognize the concept of intellectual disability. The law provides for the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and transportation. Enforcement of these rights is limited; there are no government programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. There is accommodation for persons with disabilities in air travel but not for ground transportation.
Persons with physical disabilities face barriers in obtaining employment, such as gaining access to human resources offices to apply for jobs, because public buildings do not include features to facilitate access for persons with physical disabilities. The inaccessibility of buses and taxis complicates seeking jobs or getting to places of employment for those without their own means of transportation.
Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.
Safety Concerns for Travelers Based on Race, Religion, & Ethnicity
Discrimination in employment occurs. Indigenous persons have little recourse if mistreated by persons from the majority Bantu population, and there are no specific government programs or policies to assist them.
According to reports from the African immigrant community, police and other security force members often detain and falsely accuse noncitizen Africans of lacking valid resident permits or identification documents.
Review the latest U.S Department of State Report on International Religious Freedom for country-specific information.
Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.
Most Gabonese have a favorable view of U.S. nationals and of the United States.
Concerns involving the Rule of Law, Arbitrary Detention, Official Harassment, Corruption &/or Transparency
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention in court, but the government does not always respect these provisions.
The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government does not implement the law effectively. According to media and NGOs, officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity.
There have been numerous recent reports of corruption by government officials. For example, in September 2020, the Mayor of Libreville and several city officials were arrested and charged with embezzlement and money laundering. Other government officials charged with corruption include the former presidential chief of staff, several former ministers, and the director general of the Merchant Marine.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Gabon 129th out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most transparent.
Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally use libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole daily newspaper, L’Union, is pro-government. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticize the government and political leaders of opposition and progovernment parties alike. The country has pro-government and opposition-affiliated broadcast media.
There have been no recent cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists report receiving anonymous instructions or calls from persons suspected of being connected with the government not to report on certain issues.
Most newspaper owners have either a pro-government or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practice occasional self-censorship to placate pro-government owners.
Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and required to pay substantial fines. Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses. In April 2020, authorities suspended the online daily Gabon Media Time for three months because it published an article authorities considered libelous. There is evidence that in several cases, libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government.
The government does not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there are no credible reports the government monitors private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; the government generally respects this right. According to the revised penal code, conviction of contempt of the president or of any government official “committed anywhere, on any occasion, or by any means,” is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and monetary fines. Employing its authority under the communications code, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended eight print, radio, and online media outlets for libel and slander, including the radio station Radio Generation Nouvelle, in 2020.
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks Gabon 117 out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most freedom. The Freedom House Freedom in the World report rates Gabon’s freedom of speech as not free.
Review OSAC’s report, Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad.
Emergency Health Services
Medical facilities in Gabon's major cities are limited, but may meet basic needs. Credit cards are not widely accepted in Gabon, and hospitals almost always expect payment, in cash, before rendering service. Medical services in rural areas are unavailable or of very poor quality. Some medicines are not available locally; carry your own supply of medications to cover your entire stay. An ambulance can be requested by calling 13-00 from a Gabon telecom landline for other ambulance services (SMUR, SAMU).
Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on health insurance overseas.
The U.S. Department of State has not included a Health “H” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Gabon. Review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) country-specific Travel Health Notices for current health issues that impact traveler health, like disease outbreaks, special events or gatherings, and natural disasters.
See OSAC’s Guide to U.S. Government-Assisted Evacuations; review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad; and visit the State Department’s webpage on Your Health Abroad for more information.
Strongly consider COVID-19 vaccination prior to all travel.
You must have proof of yellow-fever vaccination to enter Gabon by air. Without proof, you must pay for and receive an immunization at the airport. Malaria and serious infectious tropical diseases are endemic.
Review the CDC Travelers’ Health site for country-specific vaccine recommendations.
Issues Traveling with Medications
Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.
Do not drink tap water in Gabon. People in Gabon are at a very high risk of food or waterborne diseases like bacterial diarrhea, although deaths caused by diarrheal diseases dropped by 22.8% from 2007 to 2017. A program with the African Development Bank looks to institute universal access to clean drinking water nationwide within the decade.
Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?
During the rainy season (September-May), torrential downpours can cause severe damage to local neighborhoods, dirt roads, and bridges. There have been no major natural disasters in the last five years.
Cybercrime is a growing concern in Gabon, especially scams involving Airtel Money and other online payment systems.
Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling Abroad with Mobile Devices, and Guide for Overseas Satellite Phone Usage.
There are no counterintelligence issues specific to private-sector operations in Gabon.
Other Security Concerns
This country has no known issues with landmines.
All categories of products may be imported into Gabon with two exceptions – sugar and eggs. The Interior Ministry regulates the private import of all firearms and munitions. Automobiles more than three years old may not be imported, although there is a diplomatic exemption.
A country-specific listing of items goods prohibited from being exported to the country or that are otherwise restricted is available from the U.S. International Trade Agency website.
Taking photographs of the Presidential Palace, airport, and military or other government buildings is strictly forbidden.
Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
Always carry identification and proof of legal immigration status in Gabon. Examples of identification include a residence permit (carte de séjour), passport, or an authenticated photocopy of your passport’s biographic information page, and your Gabonese visa. City hall offices in Gabon can authenticate passport photocopies for a nominal fee.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
There are no critical infrastructure issues specific to private-sector operations in Gabon.
OSAC Country Chapters
Gabon does not have an OSAC Country Chapter.
Contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.
Embassy Contact Information
U.S. Embassy: Sabliere neighborhood of Libreville, across the street from Hotel Onomo. Tel: +241-11-45-71-00.
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