There’s no hurry in Africa, they say. In this dark continent, there always seems to be time for everything; time to do things leisurely.
For three weeks, I had the unique ‘African experience’ in this tiny, oil-rich Central African nation. Back home, businesses operate almost 24 hours a day. From the busy offices during the day to the lively entertainment spots, Nairobi never sleeps. Not here.
The two largest cities – Malabo and Bata – are annoyingly slow. People “wake up to the day ahead” at about 8am.
At night, it is extremely difficult to note any economic activity in Equatorial Guinea. Here, everything grounds to a halt when the sun falls, as the whole country “goes to sleep”.
While prolonged human and vehicle traffic heading towards the CBD, industrial and residential areas is visible in East African cities from as early as 6am on working days, major roads within Malabo, Bata and Mongomo are virtually deserted all day. Preparing a pig’s breakfast is probably more challenging than moving from one end of the city to another.
This is because the next four-seater vehicle you come across with a blue, red or green line of paint engraved between the white colours depending on which place of the country you are in, is a public service vehicle. We call it a taxi in Nairobi.
There are very few 14-seater PSV vehicles in Equatorial Guinea, and even so, the available ones only ply the upcountry routes to such places as Mongomo and Ebebiyin.
Compare this with the nightmare of using public transport in Nairobi. What’s more, with a population of about 800,000, it is hardly a surprise that there are no queues in such places as banks, telecom service providers, supermarkets etcetera.
Actually, there are only two banks in Malabo and Bata – the NIC Bank and CCEI Bank GE. Malabo has only three ATM machines and just one has Visa services.
Due to its oil riches, Malabo has recently been “invaded” by teenagers from neighbouring Cameroon seeking employment. The foreigners hold an advantage because they can communicate in English and French – unlike the locals who only speak Spanish.
The only element of surprise here, considering the comparatively low population, is the relatively high cost of living.
For instance, a night’s stay at the three-star Hotel Ilachi in Bata or Hotel Semu in Malabo, will take you back Central Africa Francs (CFA) 50,000 (about KSh12,000), while similar facilities in Nairobi charge about half this amount.
A meal of rice, sphaggehti or bananas with beef, chicken or fish accompanied by a soft drink will take you back between CFA 9,000 to 12,500 (about KSh2,000-3,500), while the same meal in Nairobi, in a similar facility, would rate at most KSh1,000.
Transport isn’t cheap either despite the oil wells. A trip from Bata to Mongomo – about the same distance between Nairobi and Nakuru – leaves you CFA 9,000 (KSh2,000) poorer. Office hours end at 3pm.
An hour later, you will see women selling food on the streets with the men drinking beer and playing draughts by the roadside until darkness creeps in. Soon after, Equatorial Guinea goes to sleep.