Gabon: a tale of hope and determination

After almost a decade in the wilderness, Gabon has returned to the EITI – and Publish What You Pay Gabon played a crucial part in making it happen. Paul Aimé Bagafou outlines the lessons learned along the way.

Gabon’s road back to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) – the global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mining – has been long and arduous.

At times, our nation’s chance of regaining the EITI member status it lost in 2013 seemed remote: when the odds were stacked against us, as PWYP Gabon and other civil society groups were harassed and intimidated.

Yet our determination never wavered, and we played a fundamental role in Gabon finally rejoining the EITI in October 2021.

We now have a chance to write a new chapter in the history of our extractive sector: a sector which has long been marred by mismanagement and corruption, and where vested interests have hoarded the spoils of our abundant natural resources at the expense of Gabon’s citizens.

The story of how we reached this point – the setbacks and advances along the way – offers powerful lessons for civil society organisations around the world facing similar barriers in making their countries’ extractive industries more accountable and transparent.

Window of opportunity

First, some important background.

As Africa’s fifth largest oil producer – and home to other natural riches including rainforests and fertile soil – Gabon’s rather strong economic growth at the beginning of the 2010s brought it upper middle income status, although much of the population remained trapped in poverty.

Oil accounts for 80% of Gabon’s exports and 45% of GDP, but our heavy dependence on it left us ill-prepared when turbulent times struck.  

These arrived with the 2014 oil price shock, the political violence which erupted in the wake of the 2016 election, and later the COVID-19 pandemic.

Poverty and unemployment grew, economic growth stalled, our foreign reserves declined, and the social nets protecting the poorest in society disintegrated.

In desperation, in 2017 Gabon turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for support.

This gave civil society a window of opportunity to push for Gabon’s return to EITI status, which it lost in 2013 after failing to submit its validation report in time.

Our coalition insisted that getting access to IMF funds should be conditional on Gabon returning to the EITI. Our government agreed. This in turn opened up some space for civil society. But first we had to organise ourselves following years of struggle. A legitimate, organised civil society which can freely participate in monitoring extractive activities is a prerequisite for returning to the EITI. And we were far from it.

Under pressure

For civil society organisations (CSOs), the years after Gabon was ejected from the EITI were bleak.

The civil society group working on the EITI collapsed, and PWYP coalition members in Gabon faced intense pressure from the authorities.

Marc Ona Essaangui, then national coordinator of PWYP Gabon and a member of the multi-stakeholder committee implementing Gabon’s EITI, and Georges Mpaga, who created PWYP’s coalition in 2007, both faced harassment.

In 2013, for instance, Marc Ona Essangui was handed a six-month suspended sentence and fined five million CFA francs for defaming the President of Gabon’s chief of staff, after claiming that he owned the local subsidiary of the Singaporean food and agri-business group Olam.

Getting CSOs back on track 

But eventually, these difficulties were overcome.

After a failed first attempt in 2018, PWYP Gabon finally managed to bring together all civil society actors working on extractive sector governance, to train them on how the EITI functions, and to organise an inclusive vote to elect representatives to participate in the EITI multi-stakeholder group (MSG). 

We adopted a charter for civil society representation in the EITI, and crucially, brought women’s organisations into the process. 

To lead this work, we received technical and financial support from the PWYP International Secretariat, as part of its continuous effort to reinforce and increase the influence of civil society in the EITI. 

Finally, in 2021, the fruits of our efforts were rewarded and Gabon was welcomed back within the EITI. 

Tangible benefits

For civil society, the benefits of Gabon’s return to the EITI are immense. 

So long as Gabon was excluded from the EITI, civil society’s hands remained tied behind our backs as we tried to build greater accountability and transparency in Gabon’s extractive sector.

We had no real leverage to push for oil contracts to be disclosed, nor for social and environmental impact assessment reports to be published. And we were hamstrung in our efforts to advocate on behalf of communities directly impacted by extraction.

Now this is changing, and Gabon’s return to the EITI is already reaping dividends. 

In June 2022, for instance, the EITI MSG adopted its work plan. This provides a roadmap for strengthening governance and transparency in Gabon’s extractive sector, and is a blueprint for ensuring that the economic growth it brings is sustainable, felt by the entire population, and contributes to their prosperity. Thanks to civil society, this plan includes work to ensure that communities receive greater benefits from extractive projects through sub-national transfers. Civil society also succeeded in ensuring that the work plan incorporates activities which will foster contracts’ transparency, notably a diagnostic study on the transparency and citizen control mechanisms for awarding contracts and licences.

Vital lessons 

For us, a number of key lessons were learned on the road back to EITI member status:

  • It takes a strong coalition to identify opportunities to advance its goals. A divided civil society is a recipe for failure, but solutions can always be found.
  • Authorities and businesses often resist change, and can view civil society suspiciously, although our aim is to improve people’s lives. CSOs therefore need to create the most positive collaboration possible, so that trust can be built and progress made. This can take time.
  • Civil society needs to take ownership of the struggle. The authorities must also realise that civil society as a whole is mobilised, and that this mobilisation includes those working directly with communities affected by extractive projects, as well as the communities themselves. CSOs must be able to travel freely and without fear to engage with these communities, and help empower them.
  • The EITI guide for civil society is a useful tool which outlines concrete steps for CSOs to maximise influence, including how to select the best civil society representatives, and ensuring that they are accountable to their constituencies. 
  • CSOs should strive to make themselves visible by participating in all activities related to their issue. In this way they can show their expertise and the valuable societal contribution they can make. 
  • Above all, CSOs must not get discouraged, but realise that ensuring citizens benefit from their countries’ natural resources is long-term work, and that seeing direct progress can take time.

Gabon’s return to EITI status is a testament to our coalition’s resolve. 

But this is only one stage on a longer journey: to reach our goal of a sustainable, accountable and transparent extractive sector, fresh challenges await – and we remain determined to meet them.


Paul Aimé Bagafou is PWYP’s Gabon National Coordinator. A fervent defender of human rights and with over 21 years of experience in the non-profit sector, Paul Aimé founded the NGO Citizen Observatory on Extractive Industries (OCIE) in 2016. He has a solid expertise in the hydrocarbon sector: he has been the Secretary General of the National Organization of Petroleum Employees (ONEP) of Gabon from 2013 to 2017 and the supervisor of the Systems Administration team at Addax Petroleum from 2008 to 2016.

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