What did I learn: GABON

This month I learned more about Gabon – a country I had very little knowledge about when I started!

I focused a lot on politics in Gabon, especially President Ali Bongo – who holds power despite ill health, and inherited control of the country from his father Omar Bongo on his death (while Ali’s mother has taken her career in a different direction). The 2016 election still resonates deeply around Gabon’s politics and culture – the opposition almost ousted Bongo democratically, but vote rigging and then a violent crackdown balanced the tables back in Bongo’s favour.

France’s role in Gabon also kept coming up – like most of French Africa, Gabon is economically and fiscally tied to the former colonial power, and Gabon is particular was the poster child for La Françafrique – France’s neocolonial method of keeping control and access to resources in its former colonies.

Gabon’s own natural resources play a big part in the country’s story – the export of oil and timber, the deposits of uranium (including a rare natural nuclear reactor), and Gabon’s interesting new position as a climate leader, where it uses a carbon-negative status to garner international investment.

Gabon’s thick forest is also home to incredible natural wildlife, some of which is vanishingly rare in the rest of the world – forest elephants, beach hippos, and western lowland gorillas. There’s some amazing videos of them in the wild (including the famous mirror test). I also got a chance just a few days ago to see some of these Gabonese animals in-person at the Calgary Zoo – they’re part of an international western lowland gorilla breeding program, as the species is critically endangered. I even got an up-close from a soon-to-be mother who had propped her feet up on the glass to relax.

Nature and politics aside, Gabon also has some really interesting culture and media – lots of good podcasts, radio, tv shows like Mami Wata (please point me in the direction of episode 2!), movies like Boxing Libreville, Yannis Davy Guibinga‘s photography, and Angèle Rawiri’s novel The Fury and Cries of Women. There’s also great music, including modern pop from Shan’L, Arielle T, Latchow, J-Rio, 80s disco from Ondendo, and traditional musical instruments like the ngombi harp and the ngongo mouth bow. On top of that, I got to learn more about beautiful traditional weddings and Bwiti healing.

As for Gabonese cuisine, I definitely got to try a lot of new things – nyembwé chicken with rondelles was really tasty, and iporo is a great way to cook cassava leaves. I also found some good instant fufu and a great baked banana recipe. However, I may have had my biggest culinary failure of this year (not great since it’s only February) – I learned a hard lesson about checking an ingredient’s freshness with odika chicken.