We're still working on our own traveller-specific safety tips for Gabon.
In the meantime here's some great information from thenUS State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), which is part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The information is specific to US citizens, ex-pats as well as tourists, and consular and government staff working overseas.
Not ideal, but until our own reports are ready you'll get an idea of the level of security and issues you might face.
The U.S. Department of State has designated Gabon as a High Threat Crime Post. Criminals consider Libreville, the capital city, and Port Gentil to be prime grounds for operations due to the number of people, businesses, and affluent areas. Additionally, crime affects urban and rural areas due to limited police assets. Criminals will resort to force if necessary in order to accomplish their goal. Gangs are not deterred by confrontations with their intended victims. Car-jackings are not common but occasionally occur. Crime increases dramatically during the holiday season.
Congested urban areas are particularly dangerous at night, but daytime incidents are also very common. The presence of other pedestrians on the street should not be taken as an indication of security. Many victims report being robbed in broad daylight in the presence of witnesses. Mob justice exists in Gabon and sometimes suspects can find themselves pursued and beaten by by-standers. Pedestrians are cautioned not to wear jewelry or carry expensive items in open view. It is not advisable to display large amounts of cash, flashy jewelry, expensive clothing items, or cellular telephones. Walking around at night, either alone or in a group, is strongly discouraged. The items stolen most frequently during a robbery tend to be cash and cell phones.
Most residents in Gabon take residential security seriously and attempt to protect their homes accordingly. Perimeter walls, security guards, security lighting, window grills, and alarm systems with security response teams are essential for ensuring the safety of residents. Burglaries and home invasions are occurring more frequently than in the past. Gangs, armed with knives or firearms, target homes they suspect possess cash or valuables. Criminals have been known to enter residences while the occupants are home asleep. During the second half of 2011, Libreville experienced a substantial increase in residential break-ins.
Theft of unaccompanied items is the most common crime reported by Americans in Gabon. Residential burglary is the second most commonly reported criminal act. Violent crime directed toward expatriates or foreign tourists in Gabon was unusual, but in recent months, there has been a steady increase of reports where expatriates have been violently attacked.
In order to mitigate the risk of being targeted, visitors should follow strict personal security measures. Examples include protecting personal property (i.e., bags, purses, laptops, cell phones), avoiding displays of large amounts of money, and not wearing expensive jewelry.
Most local hotels are not on par with western security standards. However, there are some hotels that have safeguards in place which match security standards found in western countries (for example, providing 24-hour guards, locking doors, and safes in each room). Typical residences have grills on all windows and alarm systems installed to prevent burglaries. There are several local security services available. However, their level of training, professionalism, and salary vary, leading to questionable effectiveness.
Traffic accidents are one of the greatest dangers in Gabon. Use extreme caution when on the road as drivers are prone to excessive speeding and reckless behavior. Other road hazards include: poor lighting, failure to obey traffic signals, presence of pedestrians on roadways, livestock, as well as other animals on roadways, slower moving vehicles on the road, large trucks delivering heavy cargo, drunk drivers, poorly maintained roads, and erratic stopping by taxis and other vehicles.
There is a system of highways that lead to the major metropolitan areas. Libreville has two main roads within its boundaries; once travelers leave these major arteries, a four-wheel drive vehicle is required. The structural integrity of roads throughout Gabon is generally in poor condition. The roads are inadequately maintained and become significantly more hazardous during the rainy season (September - May).
Avoid driving at night outside Libreville in deserted or areas with low population density. Rural and suburban areas alike are poorly lit and pose additional safety hazards due to pedestrians and animals crossing the roads. Vehicles are not well maintained and often lack headlights. Large trucks park on the side of the road without using emergency flashers or warning signs.
Keep automobile doors locked, seat belts fastened, and windows rolled up at all times. Do not roll down your window in the event someone approaches your vehicle. Ignore persons outside your vehicle, and drive away if you feel uncomfortable. While stopped in urban traffic, continue to scan rearview mirrors to identify potential trouble. Always use your seatbelt.
Do not stop your vehicle if you encounter rocks or logs in the middle of the road. This is a technique used in Africa for robbers to force vehicles to stop. Either drive around the barriers or turn around. Do not stop to assess the situation.
Keep belongings out of plain view at all times. While idling at a light or stop sign, leave adequate maneuver room between your vehicle and the one in front so that you can expedite your departure should the need arise. Park only in well-lit areas, preferably in parking lots with a security guard.
Gabon is a relatively peaceful democracy that has had successful elections over the past 20 years. The death of President Omar Bongo Ondimba in June 2009, after serving for 42 years, threw the country into an extended period of political uncertainty. Post-election violence following the announcement of the presidential election results in September 2009 were quickly dispersed by security forces. In Port Gentil, French expatriates were singled out due to the close ties France has with the ruling party and the French Consulate was burned. Six deaths resulted from this violence. Over the past year there have been no reports of political violence throughout the country.
Most occurrences of political violence are centered on election disputes and tend to be suppressed relatively quickly. There is no current information regarding links between Gabon and regional or international terror groups. Organized crime is focused on the drug and ivory trade, as well as human trafficking, which is a major problem for Gabon.
Since November 2009, Libreville has been experiencing unexpected rolling blackouts of electricity and water shortages. Old equipment and spotty maintenance have caused the aging utility infrastructure to fail. Labor Unions often strike to force management to concede to their demands. These rarely lead to violence, but some incidents have been reported as demonstrators gather for rallies.
In 2011, there were no acts of regional terrorism in Gabon and no known terrorist organizations. There some local crime gangs but no organized crime.
In 2011, there were no acts of international terrorism or transnational terrorism. Gabonese borders are considered porous and could be used as a possible corridor for terrorists, or other activities, to easily pass through the country from/to either Congo or Cameroon.
Civil unrest is not common in Gabon, although public protests, demonstrations, and strikes are fairly common in response to ongoing labor issues.
When a demonstration is pending, the Police and Gendarme are usually called out to monitor the group. Americans are cautioned to stay away from demonstrations in Gabon, as the Police have used force and teargas to disrupt such events. During the course of such events, police do not distinguish between "innocent bystanders" and protesters, and the possibility of becoming a collateral casualty should be a concern for Americans.
During the summer season, torrential downpours can cause severe damage to villages and bridges. Most major Gabonese cities are on the coast. There have been no major natural disasters in recent history. The lack of infrastructure could complicate any rescue or response operation dealing with a transportation accident. The French army has a base located in Libreville and assets at Leon M'ba International Airport and may be able to assist in any major accident or natural disaster.
There were two reported airline accidents in Gabon in 2011. A DHL plane ran out of fuel, and the pilot successfully crash-landed in the estuary near the shore in June 2011. All passengers were able to swim to shore. An AfriJet airplane crashed upon landing in Port Gentil in September 2011, resulting in significant damage to the aircraft but no fatalities or injuries. Local ground transportation includes minibuses that transport passengers around the city and from town to town. Every year, there are a number of serious and fatal accidents involving these taxis. Many of the minibuses lack proper safety equipment such as seat belts and headlights. The drivers are often reckless, making frequent unauthorized stops to pick up passengers and speeding from one stop to the next.
Drugs, especially marijuana, are present in Gabon. Care should be taken to avoid being involved in any form of narcotics activity.
Police interaction with tourists and expatriates is generally uneventful. However, road blocks and police checkpoints are frequently erected throughout the country. Persons should always follow the instructions of security forces. In most cases, once the traveler's paperwork is checked they are released. The police or military may ask for bribes in the form of "coca-cola money", which should not be paid.
In the event of an emergency issue, the local police are typically the first point of contact. However, police response is sometimes slow, and investigations are often never opened. It is much better to prevent a crime than try to prosecute it in Gabon. Prosecutions are very slow, if they are even initiated.
If a person is harassed or detained by the police or other security personnel, they should immediately contact U.S. Embassy Libreville via telephone. The Embassy's main telephone number is +241-76-20-03. The afterhours duty cell phone number is +241-07-38-01-71.
How to handle incidents of police detention or harassment
U.S. citizens are advised to call the American Citizens Services at the U.S. Embassy.
Medical facilities are not up to U.S. standards and vary according to location in Gabon. The French Military has a hospital at their base that could supports expatriates injured in remote areas of the country. Libreville has several functional hospitals.
Simple personal security measures such as holding your valuables, not wearing a lot of expensive jewelry, or flashing money will decrease the likelihood of being targeted by criminals for petty crimes of opportunity. Travelers are advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to avoid unfamiliar areas with large crowds, such as beaches or popular streets, especially after dark.
There are no specific areas to avoid in Gabon, but visitors should stay in the developed areas of the cities when visiting.
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