The Central African nation of Gabon gained independence from France on this day in 1960. France gained control starting in 1839, and Libreville (Free Town), Gabon’s capital, got its name when French forces freed slaves there in 1849.
With independence in 1960, it functioned mostly as a one-party state until 1991, when a new constitution brought multiparty democracy.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for almost 50 years. Omar Bongo took over the country in 1967 when the country’s first president, Léon M’ba, died after a long illness.
He ruled the country with an iron fist and was accused of running down the country’s economy and for favouring the people from his tribe. Following mass riots in the 1980s, Omar Bongo turned the country into a multi-party state in 1990 but his rule was marred with extravagance at the expense of the people. The country is said to have more pipelines than roads.
Upon his death in 2009, his son Ali took over the leadership. He was serving as the minister of defence at the time. His August 2009 election was marred with controversies, something that would repeat in 2016.
A 2009 Transparency International report revealed that the Bongo family owned at least 33 properties in France, with most of them in expensive Paris districts.
Gabon is a major oil producer but a third of its population live in poverty, according to the World Bank. There are also issues of youth unemployment and strikes by public officials while the country of about 1.8 million people remains one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
In the midst of these challenges, however, Gabon has produced global icons who have put the country on the map. As the country celebrates its independence today, here are some famous people you probably did not know are from Gabon: