Libreville is the capital and commercial hub of Gabon -- officially known as the Gabonese Republic. The city was founded by the French in 1843. The "Libre" (before "ville") recalls the legacy of freed slaves who settled here in 1848. Situated on the Gulf of Guinea in northwestern Gabon, Libreville is home to around 250,000 people.
Gabon straddles the equator in west-central Africa, with the Atlantic Ocean on its west coast. The nation achieved autonomy from colonial rule in 1960, but maintains close ties to France. In 1990, for instance, French soldiers helped to quell riots that convinced Gabonese President Albert-Bernard Bongo to allow a multi-party political system. (Bongo's regime has survived since 1967, amid charges of election fraud.)
Gabon's 1.1 million people enjoy a per capita income almost three times that of most sub-Saharan African countries. Until offshore oil was discovered and exploited, wood products were Gabon's main export -- they still rank second. Uranium and manganese also contribute significantly to the gross national product.
A mountainous country, Gabon has roughly half the land area of France. About 85 percent of that terrain is tropical rainforest, 40 percent of which remains in a virgin state. That, along with grasslands on Gabon's high plateaus, provides habitat for every type of wildlife one might associate with Africa -- gorillas, elephants, pythons, parrots, you name it. Management of Gabonese forests is a hot environmental issue.