Signing a treaty with the Orungu people, French colonists established Port Gentil on Mandji Island in the delta of Ogooue River in 1873. Isolated from the rest of the country, the township was set precariously on low-lying sand and in more recent times has joined the long list of communities set to be submerged by anthropogenic sea level rise. And in many ways, this shaky foundation on which Port Gentil was founded speaks heavily as to the town’s present contradiction as a community with such a limited climate-induced lifespan continues to grow so rapidly to support the very industry so implicit in global sea-level rise. Port Gentil has become a ville petrolier - an oil town.
But following the steep decline in oil prices in 2014, Gabon’s reliance on oil as an economic staple (80 percent of exports, 45 percent of gross domestic product) has looked increasingly less viable and decreasing revenues have pushed the country’s economy toward a cliff edge. Port Gentil very well may go down in history as a microcosm of the larger issue of climate change and resource extraction. Now feeling only the un-wanted side affects and the nasty hangover of resource extraction as waves the lap the front steps of houses, the oil-pumping party has been and gone and while most of the Texan and French aristocrats have since fled the scene, the flames spouting from SOGARA’s smoke stacks continue in vain.