Vamos Nzalang

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Few could have expected such a wonderful atmosphere and a fantastic response from Equatorial Guinea’s national football team – the Nzalang on the opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations in Bata.

The country is flying after its national team beat Libya 1-0 in the first game of the tournament being jointly hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

It has been a whirlwind few days in Malabo and Bata as the preparations for the tournament reached their culmination.

Teams have been arriving from all over Africa over the last few days, with Northern Sudan, Libya, and Burkina Faso based in Malabo.

With many of the traditional Goliaths of African football missing – Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa – there is a feeling that it could be the year that the smaller nations, the David’s of the continent, make a mark on the bi-annual tournament.

The opening games were no exception with the players selected by Brazilian coach, Gílson Paulo, responding accordingly.

Ranked 151st in the world, few outsiders expected Equatorial Guinea to make much of an impression in their first appearance in the tournament.

Losing their coach a month before the competition was not seen as the best way to prepare for their Cup of Nations debut but once again this country has managed to confound its critics.

The team fought like lions throughout and finally got the goal they deserved with five minutes left. Both the team and its passionate support have been walking on air ever since.

As if to underline the giant-killing atmosphere at this tournament little old Zambia, recorded a historic 2-1 victory over Senegal in the following game.

The stage was set for the team’s heroics by a glittering opening ceremony in the gloriously refurbished Nkoantoma stadium that left little doubt that this small nation was taking its responsibilities as the host nation seriously.

The 40,000 spectators lucky enough to get a ticket for the opening spectacle were treated to a cultural smorgasbord that included a two-hour concert that featured local artists Anfibio, Besoso, Poen, Sandra Star, Yuma and Pili la Peligrosa.

A generous offer of a $1m bonus for a win in the first game may have been at the back of the players’ minds, but a team put together at short notice was undoubtedly moved more by the uplifting atmosphere within the stadium and the outpouring of national pride that comes with such events.

I haven’t lived here long but there can’t have been many happier days in the country’s history than this one.

Long live the Nzalang! Bring on Senegal and Zambia.

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Mongomo Gets A Spiritual Lift

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It is interesting to note how the petro-dollars flowing into Equatorial Guinea are finding their way to every corner of this small country.

As well as a construction boom in Malabo and the country’s second city, Bata, there are some remarkable projects underway in smaller cities like Mongomo to the east of Equatorial Guinea’s continental landmass.

Much of the development in this charming little town is linked to the president, Teodro Obiang’s personal association with the place.

The long-standing president was born here and travels frequently to Mongomo for more relaxed meetings with prominent figures from home and abroad and to be close to his family and fellow Fang tribesmen.

It is a special place for the country, rich in flora and fauna and boasting important areas of jungle that are home to the country’s important gorilla population, animals that demand a special place in the country’s collective psyche.

A similar story to that of Bata and Malabo is unfolding in Mongomo’s construction industry with key government buildings being developed in a bid to de-centralise decision making away from the island of Bioko.

In this vein, the South Korean giant, SsangYong Engineering & Construction, the company handed the task of building the Marina Bay Sands Hotel Complex in Singapore one of the world’s most stunning buildings, has been handed a contract to build a complex in the city that has been dubbed the Mongomo Leader’s Club.

Since last year, South Korean politicians have been regular visitors to the country lobbying for important construction contracts as well as a participation in oil and gas fields and a second LNG train from the island of Bioko.

The country’s diplomatic efforts have resulted in an important breakthrough in the construction sector with the Mongomo Leader’s Club set to become the first building constructed in Equatorial Guinea by a South Korean company.

The company reported that it received a construction contract worth US$77 million to build the club, which will occupy an area of 7,530 sq m, comprising two units, a four-storey structure and another separate two-storey building.

Fitted out on a par with the very best five-star hotels, including a reception room for the president’s exclusive use, a VVIP theatre with a capacity for 150 people, a beauty salon, a restaurant, a conference hall, a fitness centre, and a small casino. No expense will be spared with a build cost of approximately $10,500 per sq m.

Not far from the luxury complex is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mongomo, the latest addition to Equatorial Guinea’s rapidly expanding collection of landmark buildings.

The expansive baroque religious temple with a capacity to hold up to 8,000 people and an area of 2,000 sq m was constructed by the Italian company, Moquinen Venture, over a period of five years at a cost of €13.5 million.

Equatorial Guinea’s official religion has been Roman Catholic since 1883 and significant investments have been made to restore many of the country’s churches in the last decade. These government-funded improvements to churches and progress in the country’s record on human rights have helped overcome historical difficulties between the government and the Catholic Church HQ in the Vatican.

Nigerian cardinal Francis Arinze, the president of the Pontificate Council for Inter-religious dialogue, represented Pope Benedicto XVI at the inauguration ceremony, which was also attended by five Cardinals, 45 Bishops, and some 300 priests from Central African region.

On the same day, the country’s minister of public works, Demetrio Elo Ndong Nsefumu – one of the busiest men in the country judging by appearances at the opening of new buildings almost every day – managed to combine work with pleasure when he tied the knot with María Jesusa Nchama Asumu.

Bata – the beating heart of Equatorial Guinea

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Malabo may be the capital but the country’s second city, Bata, in many respects is the true heart of this small country.

As the gateway to mainland Equatorial Guinea, Bata has been transformed in the last decade as power has been devolved from the island of Bioko and the president’s hometown of Mongomo.

Much of the country’s most important investments are taking place here ranging from the expansion of the national football stadium in time to host the African Cup of Nations football competition, new port infrastructure and government buildings and courts that represent the strengthening of the state throughout the country.

Further along the coast, beachfront resorts and luxury hotels are being developed as part of the country’s plans to develop its tourism industry.

Its port is also undergoing a massive upgrade to handle the large quantities of cement required to keep pace with the country’s runaway construction industry.

Bata’s importance is underlined by the decision to play the national team’s home games here during next year’s regional football tournament.

The city has also hosted important events including the investiture of president Teodoro Obiang in 2009 held at the Ngoló Palace for International Congress and Conferences.

The same complex was used to launch important reforms to the political system introduced late last month. Parliament meets here regularly showing the president’s desire to avoid the government becoming isolated on the island of Bioko.

Historically the city was populated by the Combe, the tribe that dominates the coastal region, but as it has developed Bata has become a melting pot for Fang from the east of the country, drawn towards the city’s expansion.

Internationally the city looks to receive visitors and immigrants from further a field and international airports, palaces, conference centres and social housing blocks have been built to receive foreign dignitaries, handle the flow of immigrants and host international events.

Arguably the most impressive infrastructure development is the construction of a 5 km maritime causeway, which provides the city’s residents with a modern public space for early morning exercise and social events.

At the end of the popular architectural intervention is the Tower of Liberty, a powerful symbol dedicated to the country’s leader and those that fought with him to liberate the country from the former dictator Francisco Macias.

The country’s equivalent of the Eiffel Tower was completed in October. Equipped with a restaurant the tower is more than 50 m high and has foundations as deep as 18 m.

“Equatorial Guinea enjoys its liberty today thanks to the fight of the nationalists,” president Obiang told those present at the tower’s inauguration in October. “This liberty brings us the independence that allows the government to transform the country. Today Equatorial Guinea is on the path to development and in 2020 it will be an emerging country, which is why we are working hard to develop every sector. We have to make Equatorial Guinea a country of reference. We invite everyone to enjoy this infrastructure so that it will be permanent, because it is with peace that Equatorial Guinea will become a strong, emerging nation.”

The seaside embankment is now being repeated in Malabo with the construction of a similar walkway from the port and passing in front of the presidential palace.

Africa Cup of Nations

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The countdown to the Africa Cup of Nations has begun in earnest following the draw for the competition in Sipopo yesterday. Equatorial Guinea and its neighbour Gabon will host the competition for the first time in January / February 2012.
All the facilities are almost in place to host what promises to be a fantastic football celebration that will help visitors from all over the region to experience the world’s most misunderstood country.
Both countries are well advanced in their plans to host the 16 teams that qualified for the 28th version of the tournament.
Stadiums in Malabo and Bata, Equatorial Guinea’s main cities are well ahead of schedule and while Gabon appears to be behind its neighbour it expects to have its facilities in Libreville and Franceville ready ahead of kick-off on January 21, 2012. Equatorial Guinea will play Libya in the opening game followed by Senegal and Zambia in the country’s second city of Bata.
Games will be played in the 40,000-seater stadium in Bata, the largest city on Equatorial Guinea’s mainland. The decision to hold the home country’s games on the mainland promises to create a fantastic atmosphere in a city that has been transformed in recent times.
The Ivory Coast, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Angola will play their games in the New Stadium in Malabo. Built by the French contractor, Bouygues, the 15,250-seater stadium was host to Equatorial Guinea’s first triumph at this level, the victory of the women’s team in the 2008 female equivalent of the competition.
The other two groups of four: Group C; Gabon, Niger, Morocco, Tunisia and Group D; Ghana, Botswana, Mali, Guinea will play theirgames in Libreville and Franceville respectively.

CAN Tournament Fixtures

It is a statement of Equatorial Guinea’s progress that it is now ready and willing to hold such events. It would have been unthinkable for the country to have held the competition as little as five years ago but the progress that has been made in terms of road, airport and port infrastructure as well as the construction of four world-class hotels all ensure the competition’s success.
Unfortunately for the spectacle and the organiser’s hopes of attracting the maximum number of visitors to the tournament, the list of teams present in this year’s draw lacks some of the country’s illustrious neighbours.
In particular neighbours Cameroon and Nigeria will be missed as both football nations with a track record of success in the CAN and World Cups and as a valuable source of visitors. While Samuel Eto’ and Obafemi Martins will be sorely missed on the pitch their fans will be an even bigger loss to the tournament.
At times too much can be read into football and the parallels with power and economics but the absence of the continent’s most powerful nations appears to reflect something of a seismic shift in the region.
The presence of smaller nations like Burkina-Faso, Mali, Botswana, Niger and Guinea Conakry in Equatorial Guinea and its neighbour Gabon all reflect a broadening of the continent’s power base.
You don’t have to look any further than the hosts, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, two great examples of the new wealth distribution and subsequent power blocks developing in the region.
After a successful stint as president of the Union of Africa, Equatorial Guinea is determined to build on its time in the spotlight and is using its oil wealth accordingly.
With the world’s eyes turned on one of the most emotional of football competitions, the country is determined to show off more than just its excellent infrastructure in particular it wants to demonstrate its success in delivering peace in one of the world’s most violent continents. Equatorial Guinea has been free from the security concerns that overshadowed the competition in Angola in 2010.
Two of Togo’s squad were tragically killed during the last tournament in Angola after rebels from the province of Cabinda attacked the team bus.
As a country that has no internal security issues, Equatorial Guinea is almost an anomaly in Africa. While even its neighbours suffer from piracy and terrorism, Equatorial Guinea has been at peace since president Teodoro Obiang overthrew his uncle Francisco Macias in 1979.

Bem-Vindo a Guinea Equatorial

Portuguese has become the third official language of Equatorial Guinea, a sign of things to come in one of the most multi-cultural countries in Africa.

Equatorial Guinea’s surprising multi-cultural boom comes hand in hand with the construction bonanza that has sucked in workers from all over African continent and beyond, adding to the number of languages spoken in the principal cities of Malabo and Bata.

After the country’s official language of Spanish and second language of French, Portuguese has jumped ahead of other more widely spoken languages such as English, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic, largely due to its proximity to Spanish and the close ties the country is building with other African nations.

Angola, Sao Tome and Principe, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau all speak Portuguese as does one of the fastest emerging developing countries Brazil, which has shown a strong interest in developing closer ties with the African nation.
Few other African countries have embraced or attracted so many different nationalities to their shores. The official population has surged to 1.6 million people from 600,000 in the last 15 years.

Much of the population growth has been a result of Equatoguineans returning home to share in the country’s newfound prosperity but the vast majority comes from the influx of foreign workers involved in the oil business and the growing numbers of construction workers and engineers being sucked into the building boom that has resulted from an impressive program of infrastructure improvements being funded by the government.

The monthly flow of foreign workers coming and going can be felt in Malabo’s international airport where Cameroonian, Egyptian, Chinese and Turkish construction workers queue for flights back home on one side of the airport while American and British engineers ending their three-week stretches on the oilrigs wait for their connections back to their respective homes and families on the other.

Even the Spanish community is growing following something of a rapprochement between the government of Equatorial Guinea and its former colonialist power.

Arguably the most visible group of foreigners in Malabo though is the Chinese, which seems well on course to be the largest minority in a few years.

Few figures seem available on the exact numbers of foreign workers or where they are from but judging by the number of bars, restaurants and businesses run by immigrants from China this part of the population seems to be the fastest growing of all the non-African visitors.

Large Chinese construction groups have been involved in the management of many of the city’s new landmarks, including the CEMAC parliament building, and the conference centre in Sipopo and trucks ferry Chinese workers regularly between the extensive number of buildings being built by companies like China Dalian.

Closer to the port Russian and Ukrainian seems to be more prevalent with former soviet block seafarers and engineers capitalising on their rich maritime history to develop one of the largest ship repair facilities being developed in Africa.
A surprising proportion of the country’s political elite speak Russian, a throwback to the country’s influence in Africa during Cold War and it is not uncommon to hear the locals saluting friends with a friendly ‘privyet’!

Malabo Means Business

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Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo, most definitely means business. Whether it’s the corporate hotels – Sofitel and Hilton – doing a roaring trade in the city centre and close to the airport or the skyscrapers being built further east, there is no escaping the fact that the city is drawing in foreign investment and global corporate names in an impressive manner.

The investments pouring in to this small, little known corner of Africa are most clearly visible in the development on either side of the newly constructed six-lane highway that links the towns of Ela Nguema, Sipopo and Baney and ushers the money men from the airport to the capital’s most thrusting district, Malabo II.

It is here that the headquarters are being erected for the French, US, Egyptian, Swiss, Chinese and African energy and construction giants as well as new administrative buildings for international bodies like the United Nations and CEMAC – the parliament for the Central African States.

At the centre of this aspiring, modern wing of the capital is a statue dedicated to the country’s progress. It sits at the centre of a powerful cluster of buildings housing the Prime Minister’s office, the country’s most important private bank, CCEI, the Central African parliament building, CEMAC and the source of nearly all of the country’s newfound wealth, GE Petrol.

Spreading out from this nucleus of influential edifices are a range of government ministries and annexes held up as a symbol of the country’s efforts to strengthen its fledgling institutions.

A pristine Ibis Hotel and social housing blocks completed recently by the Chinese construction company China Dalian flank the banks and offices.

Further towards the airport, the illuminated twin towers of Sonagas, the state-owned gas company with a participation in the country’s Liquefied Natural Gas train, act as a beacon to foreign investors looking to get involved in the construction of a second $2.2bn LNG train.

Large tracts of land in this satellite city have been allocated to the construction of head quarters for the country’s largest foreign investors as well as a towering new Malabo HQ for the Bank of Central African States. Rococo palaces and steel clad contemporary architecture vie to establish itself as the dominant vernacular in this youthful stretch of the city.

Amongst the companies still to add their HQ to the growing list of towers are oil companies, Mobil Corporation, the largest producer of Equatoguinean oil, and Noble Energy, the energy group that is due to begin exploring for oil with Swiss trading house Glencore and GE Petrol later this year on its Block ‘O” later this year.

Their offices will sit close to a new headquarters designed by Portuguese architects, Saraiva Associados for the Ministry of Energy and Mines and being constructed, once again, by China Dalian.

Directly in front of the energy ministry will be the offices of China Gezhouba (Group) Corporation, a Beijing-based company carrying out one of the biggest projects in Malabo – the construction of a waste water, drainage and sewage treatment system in Malabo, Ela Nguema and the communities that surround the capital.

There’s no question this is where Malabo’s money men mingle with the country’s most important authorities to shape the city’s exciting future.