One area that has changed out of all recognition is the road network. There was just 60 km of surfaced road in the entire country in the early 1990s, prior to the oil boom. Most roads have now been surfaced and highways have been constructed to connect the city of Malabo with Malabo International Airport and Luba Freeport.
The European Union and African Development Bank have helped to fund road improvements on cross-border routes between Rio Muni and Cameroon and Gabon.
The Port of Bata in Rio Muni is also expected to be the terminus of the planned new trans-Africa highway from Djibouti to Central Africa, which would ease exports from Equatorial Guinea to much of the rest of Central and Eastern Africa. Such improvements are particularly important as the country has no railway lines. At the same time, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the ports of Malabo and Bata, while an oil terminal has been constructed at Luba on Bioko Island.
The Port of Malabo is one of the deepest ports in the region, with berths with a depth alongside of up to 16 metres. This is deeper than most other African ports and so Malabo can handle very large vessels. As a result, the government hopes to position it as a regional transhipment port that can handle trade between the rest of the world and Central Africa. However, the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville also have similar ambitions for their own ports and have the added advantage of having more substantial domestic markets.
Bata has been developed to handle cocoa, coffee and timber exports. It was redeveloped by CCCC First Harbor Engineering Company, which constructed a 570-metre quay, with a depth alongside of 14.5 metres and five berths. According to government figures, $500m was invested in the port between 2006 and 2011, including in-terminal upgrades and the acquisition of new cargo-handling equipment and harbour dredging.
Luba Freeport, which incorporates a 200 metre deepwater quay, was developed at a greenfield location about 45km southwest of Malabo. It has a 50-hectare site dedicated to oil industry needs, with storage and bunkering facilities, plus an autonomous free zone. Luba Freeport, which is 67% owned by British conglomerate Lonrho, has positioned the project as a major oil services centre for the entire Gulf of Guinea region.
Malabo International Airport is also located at Punta Europa and less than 10 km from the capital city. From being an airstrip with limited use in 1990, it is now a developed airport that is used for both civilian and military flights. New, small airports have been also constructed on Annobón, Corisco, and Mongomo.
Both the fixed-line and mobile telecoms sectors are dominated by Getesa, which is 40% owned by Orange, an offshoot of France Telecom. Mobile telecoms penetration is increasing, although is still more limited than the size of the national economy would suggest. Equatorial Guinea is now connected to the new fibre-optic cable that runs from Europe to the African coast. It should provide improved broadband access, although much remains to be done to extend internet access among the population.
The international financial organisations agree that this infrastructure will help but still have concerns. An African Development Bank country strategy paper published last year stated: “Despite sustained growth and its huge natural resources, the country is lagging behind on the improvement of social indicators. Three quarters of its population are considered poor, job creation in the private non-oil sector is low and the country’s institutional capacity is limited.”
It discussed the government’s plans for diversification and argued, “to take advantage of these opportunities, the country will have to overcome a number of persistent obstacles and, most of all, ensure a healthier business climate, one that gives more assurance to private sector operators”.