Thursday, March 18, 2010
Money for Nothing? The Oil Culture in Gabon
Oil exports from Gabon have depleted over the years and this has lead to some cultural challenges here.
When oil export was at its height, certain unofficial ‘subsidies’ existed. There were more jobs, especially in government. Of course you had to know someone to get that job, but once you did, you were comfortably compensated and it doesn’t seem that much work was actually done. Jobs were then passed down through family and friends, obviously not based on knowledge or experience, but by who you knew.
There certainly was a lot more money circulating. Libreville was reported as selling more Moet and Chandon per capita than anywhere else in the world. This led to a cultural perspective, which unfortunately still exists today. Rewards are not associated with hard work, rewards are associated with who you know, or at least being in the right place at the right time.
As far as I can see, this has led to a complete lack of entrepreneurial spirit. There are no locally owned businesses that I am aware of. There are plenty of guys with little cigarette stands on the street (per above) and plenty of taxi drivers, but most of these guys come from Cameroon and Mali. On the positive side, there really is no crime in Libreville. I have never felt unsafe. There certainly are criminals, but most of those guys come from Cameroon or Mali.
Gabon is also extremely fertile. You can put a stick in the ground and it will grow, yet many fruits and vegetables are imported. Depending on the season, the jungle is full of mangoes, papayas, etc., but nobody can be bothered to go pick them.
People have come to just expect things, which I find very unusual.
This “expectation” occurs often…a friend recently picked up a police officer that was waiting for a taxi on the side of the road. There was a lot of traffic and he figured what the heck, it’s hot out and this guys looks like a senior officer, let me give him a ride and I can practice my French. As they were driving along and he began to go a bit out of his way, the gendarme started to ask for money (in a non-threatening way). Hey, I’m giving you a ride home and instead of a thank you I get hassled for money? My friend stopped short of the destination and asked the gendarme to get out.
Another friend works out in a local gym and noticed a guy lifting weights and using torn towels instead of gloves. After a few weeks, he brought in an extra pair of gloves and gave them to the guy through an acquaintance interpreting. The guy ended up asking for shoes.
The oil export is 60% - 70% of what it used to be. The local population is are going to have to change their way of ‘working’.