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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Gabon 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Libreville. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Gabon. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Gabon country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Gabon at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Exercise Increased Caution in Libreville and Port Gentil due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

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. 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. 

 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. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

In 2019, there were two separate theft incidents against U.S. nationals in Libreville. In both instances, the individuals attempted to snatch the victim’s belongings and take off running, seeking to avoid confrontation. In early 2018, criminals robbed several U.S. nationals of their cell phones and personal electronics from an unattended and unsecured vehicle. Thieves take advantage of stopped traffic, traffic control devices (stop signs or lights), or drivers slowing down at an intersection. When the vehicle slows, the thief opens the unlocked door to steal items from inside. In May 2018, an Embassy employee was the victim of this type of theft. In that situation, the embassy vehicle was moving through slow traffic when the thief grabbed a workbag placed on the passenger seat. In 2019, a thief robbed an Embassy employee at knifepoint while walking on the beach adjacent to the Bord du Mer and Radisson hotel. 

Foreigners are seldom experience physical harm when they comply with the perpetrator’s demands. However, criminals will resort to force, if necessary, to carry out 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 corpses discovered in the PK5 neighborhood of Libreville prompted police investigations that remains 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).  Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

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.

In December 2017, a Gabonese resident of Nigerien descent traveled from Booué to Libreville to “hurt Americans” after learning of the U.S. decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. As a result, two Danish nationals received injuries in a knife attack, one seriously. Gabonese authorities quickly arrested the suspect and concluded that this was a “lone wolf” act in which the individual acted alone. Apart from this incident, violent crime directed toward expatriates or foreign tourists is infrequent. 

Unsophisticated scams are fairly 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 vendors.

The U.S. Embassy does not restrict travel for its employees.

Exercise Caution when visiting popular Libreville night spots. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

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. Embassy Libreville has not received any reports of card skimming. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Practice the same protection of personally identifiable or private information that you would at home. A 2016 article by France’s Journal du Dimanche claimed that Gabonese intelligence services had wiretapped EU election observers in Gabon for the 2016 Presidential elections.

E-Commerce does not exist in most places in Gabon. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

The quality of roads throughout Gabon varies. The major roads in Libreville and Port Gentil are paved but in poor condition. Road improvement projects have largely stalled due to budget difficulties. Minor roads in Libreville and Port Gentil, and many roads outside of large cities, are nothing more than dirt tracks; conditions vary depending on the amount of rain that region has received. Interior roads are often winding, posing additional hazards.

Outside of the cities, many roads lack adequate maintenance and become significantly more hazardous during the rainy season. Gabon does have a system of highways that lead to the major metropolitan areas. Once travelers leave these major arteries, consider a four-wheel drive vehicle. It can be difficult to locate compatible spare tires outside of major cities; with tire blowouts a problem on poor roads, consider a spare tire or two, jack and tire iron, tire plug kit, and an air compressor as the minimum equipment when traveling outside of the major cities. Also consider tow straps, medical supplies and food and water for trips, as well as a cell or satellite phone. Avoid driving at night outside of Libreville and in areas with low population density. Rural and suburban areas alike have poor lighting and pose additional safety hazards due to pedestrians and animals crossing the road. Consider the availability of gas and diesel at a destination before embarking on a trip by road. 

Traffic accidents are one of the greatest dangers to visitors to Gabon. Exercise extreme caution as both a driver and a pedestrian, as enforcement for speeding and reckless driving is virtually non-existent. Pedestrians rarely have the right of way. Road hazards include poor street lighting, failure by drivers to obey traffic signals, a lack of marked pedestrian crossings, animals on roadways, slow moving vehicles, large trucks, inebriated drivers, poorly maintained roads, and erratic stopping by taxis and minibuses. Many local vehicles lack proper maintenance and some lack headlights. Large trucks sometimes park on the sides of roads without using emergency flashers or warning signs. 

Always drive defensively. When driving a vehicle or as a passenger in a taxi, always keep your belongings out of plain view. Always lock vehicle doors, fasten seat belts, and roll up windows. While stopped in traffic, scan rearview mirrors to identify potential trouble. If idling at a stop light or sign, leave adequate maneuver room between vehicles to allow for a hasty departure if necessary. Park only in well-lighted areas, preferably in parking lots with a security guard.

Anticipate police checkpoints, which have a loose purpose of ensuring that vehicles and drivers are carrying necessary paperwork. The reality is that police or security forces use these checkpoints to extort small amounts of money from drivers and passengers.

Review OSAC’s reports, 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 Conditions

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.

Aviation/Airport Conditions                                                                                                        

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. There was one reported airline accident in 2012, when a private charter plane crashed in the interior.

Terrorism Threat

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. 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, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

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.

Civil Unrest 

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 cancelled flights into the capital. Rioters burned and looted grocery stores and businesses in the neighborhoods of Hauts de GueGue, Charbonnages, CocotiersNkemboSotegaVenez VoirAkebes, Glass, AwendjeLalala, 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 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. 

 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. 

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.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Most Gabonese have a favorable view of U.S. nationals and of the United States.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

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.

Personal Identity Concerns

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in Gabon. Although there have been no reports of violence against LGBTI+ persons, discrimination, including in housing and employment, is a problem. Many LGBTI+ individuals choose to keep their status secret, except in trusted circles. Stigma is a likely factor in preventing the reporting of incidents. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Gabonese law prohibits discrimination against persons with “physical, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities, and requires access to buildings or services for persons which such disabilities. Most public buildings do not provide adequate access. There is some societal discrimination against persons with disabilities, and treatment facilities are limited. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

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 indigent to Gabon, 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.

Other Issues

Taking photographs of the Presidential Palace, airport, and military or other government buildings is illegal. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The police and security forces often lack communications equipment, weapons and ammunition, and vehicles, which limit their ability to respond to routine and emergency calls. Many gendarmes 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. 

There are frequent allegations of police corruption. Incidents of police or security force harassment or detention of foreigners are rare but do occur. On two separate occasions in one week an Embassy employee was stopped by police while in a diplomatic licensed vehicle in an attempt to collect fines for non-occurring violations. U.S. citizens who become victims of police harassment should be polite and cooperative. U.S. citizens detained by police should ask that the U.S. Embassy be notified immediately. 

Crime Victim Assistance

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 often never initiate. Prosecutions are very slow, if they are even initiated.

The Gendarmerie, a branch of the Ministry of Defense, is the principal agency in charge of law enforcement. The National Police are responsible for traffic enforcement and security at major events. The Police Judiciare are responsible for conducting criminal investigations related directly to prosecution.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

There is limited adequate medical care, and in the event of a traumatic injury or medical emergency, consider temporary stabilization and medical evacuation (medevac), if possible. Traffic and poor road conditions make for unpredictable travel times to reach a hospital. Availability of doctors and access to hospital facilities is unreliable, medical equipment does not function or lacks trained operators, medicines and surgical tools may not be available, and sanitary conditions may be substandard. Emergency responders and medical personnel likely do not speak English. 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 Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

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.

The following diseases are prevalent: Malaria; Yellow fever; Dengue fever; Chikungunya; Diarrheal illness; Tuberculosis; Schistosomiasis; African trypanosomiasis; and HIV/AIDS. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Gabon.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

Gabon does not have an OSAC Country Council. Contact OSAC’s Africa team for more information.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

The Embassy is located in the Sabliere neighborhood of Libreville, across the street from Hotel Onomo. 

Embassy Operator: +241.011.45.71.00 

Website: http://ga.usembassy.gov 

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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