Gabon: Movement in the Petroleum sector

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While the rest of the world searches for alternatives to petrol, it is the basis of almost the entire economy of countries like Gabon. Several months ago the country was rocked by revolts that went widely unreported yet which by the end of January saw the leader of the political opposition declare himself as the new President. The issues are now extending beyond politics and are now impacting Gabon's petroleum sector, which provides 60% of the national revenues.

Libreville, Gabon by carlosoliveirareis via Flickr Creative Commons License 2.0

AFP reports that since Saturday April 2nd:

La quasi-totalité de la production pétrolière du Gabon, 4e producteur sub-saharien, était stoppée samedi, au deuxième jour de la grève des employés du secteur, alors qu'à Libreville et Port-Gentil, les stations ne disposaient plus de carburant.

Petrol production in Gabon, the fourth-largest producer in Sub-Saharan Africa came to an almost complete halt on Saturday,the second day of strikes by workers. Pumps at service stations in Libreville and Port-Gentil ran dry.

Shell and Total, the two largest operators in the country have seen their production come to a complete standstill.

The main demands of the protesters concern the use of foreign labour :

L’Onep (l’organisation nationale des employés du pétrole) a lancé une grève jeudi à minuit afin d'obtenir un décret réglementant l'emploi de la main d'oeuvre étrangère. L'Onep entend à la fois lutter contre l'emploi de hauts cadres expatriés et surtout contre le recours à une main d'oeuvre africaine ou asiatique qu'elle estime peu ou pas qualifiée.

ONEP (Organisation Nationale des Employés du Pétrole, National Organisation of Petroleum Workers) began a strike at midnight on Thursday with the aim of obtaining an edict to regulate the use of foreign labour. ONEP intends to fight both the use of expatriate senior executives and especially the use of African or Asian labour that it regards as insufficiently qualified.

As Desiré Clitandre Dzonteu explains, the President had announced the creation of an audit system for the petroleum sector.

Cet audit a pour ambition de contrôler les flux financiers issus de l'industrie pétrolière et de renforcer sa gouvernance au Gabon. […] L'objectif au bout de cet audit, a souligné le chef de l'Etat, est de voir si les termes des contrats sont avantageux ou non pour le gouvernement gabonais.

This audit is intended to regulate the flow of money produced by the petroleum industry and to strengthen it's governance in Gabon. […] The President underlined that the goal at the end of the audit was to examine the contract terms with the big oil firms and decide if they are advantageous or not for the Gabonese government.

It appears that either the employees or the State are showing signs of a desire to end the relationship with the management of Gabon's petroleum sector. Serge Tchaha continues:

Il y a toujours la peur du syndrome hollandais qui guette les pays qui ont ce type de ressources. Cependant, il faut aussi admettre que ces ressources sont un réservoir pour l’amélioration de la santé économique et financière des pays .

There is always the fear of Dutch disease which is an issue for countries with these kinds of resources. Even so, we should remember that these resources are a deep well that can be used to improve the economic health of the country.

It seems we have not heard the last of this affair.

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