Indigenous peoples in Gabon

It would seem particularly complicated to conduct a census in Gabon and the figures vary according to the source. The latest figures, from the 2010 census, suggest a total of 1,480,000 inhabitants.

The population comprises around 50 different ethnic groups with distinct cultures and languages, the main ones being the Fang (32%), the Mpongwè (15%), the Mbédé (14%), the Punu (12%), the Baréké or Batéké, the Bakota, the Obamba, etc.

Throughout Gabon, there are also indigenous hunter-gatherer-farmer communities (often referred to as Pygmies) made up of numerous ethnic groups (Baka, Babongo, Bakoya, Baghame, Barimba, Akoula, Akwoa, etc.) with different languages, cultures and areas of origin.

The size of their population varies depending on the source but ranging from 7,000 to 20,000 individuals; however, there are no official figures for Gabon’s indigenous population since the 2012 national census did not include this group. Pygmy communities are found both in towns and in forest areas. Their means of existence and their cultures are inextricably linked to the forest, which covers 85% of the country.

Pygmy communities in Gabon are threatened by severe environmental damage to ancestral lands and resources, the building of roads, dams and railways, large-scale commercial bush-meat hunting, insecurity of land tenure and encroachment through logging and extractive activities, conservation developments and regulations, resettlement and integration plans, insufficient representation in community land claims and lack of sufficient funding and support for indigenous organizations to function autonomously.

The last decade has seen the rise of the indigenous movement and four officially recognised indigenous organizations.

Since 2002, due to increasing environmental threats posed by expanding extractive industries, the country has received a large influx of foreign funding and human resources to support Congo Basin conservation initiatives, in particular the establishment of 13 national parks.

Out of these developments has grown an awareness of the rights of local and indigenous peoples in matters concerning the conservation and development of the country. In 2005, Gabon agreed to its own Indigenous Peoples’ Plan as part of a World Bank policy instant decision loan agreement for the Forest and Environment Sector Program. This marked the government’s first official recognition of the existence of and its responsibility towards indigenous peoples.

In 2007, Gabon voted for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.