I arrived in Malabo on a Sunday afternoon. The heat is oppressive. The airport exit is quite: no taxi drivers bombarding passengers for a ride into town. I find a couple guys sitting in the shade and one leads me to his car. As a former Spanish colony, Equatorial Guinea is the only country in Africa that speaks Spanish and remains the official language. Building a rapport with the driver, I finally breach the question of taking pictures; I’ve been told that photography is illegal and that special permission is necessary from a Ministry. My driver dismisses the claim, but then shows me in actions of snapping a picture then quickly hiding the camera and looking around to make sure no one saw. I decided I’d stray to caution and ask around first to get a better feeling for the controversy.
I took the afternoon to walk the streets. Malabo is situated on the Bay of Malabo and up against a mountain range set with lush jungle greenery. The buildings survive from colonialism and Spanish colonnades dominate the architecture, albeit in disrepair. The city is quiet, slow-moving and people sit on park benches in Plaza de la Independencia outside the Central Cathedral and just opposite the Presidential compound. Siesta is still observed between the hours of 1pm-4pm as all small shops close.
On Tuesday, my first day of work, I notice a growing military presence along Avenida de la Independencia. Around 1pm, State Police Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks start to block each intersection leading into the main thoroughfare through town. Police track down owners of cars parked along the street and are told to move out of the way. I continued to work, but found the road to the airport had been blocked, and I returned to town for another few hours. School kids and shop keepers lingered outside and hung off of balconies overlooking Av. Independencia. I asked one girl what was going on. She nonchalantly replied, “The president is coming.”
I decided to sit and watch. Official vehicles had been racing up and down the road for hours now, flashing lights and honking as they screamed through town. At 5pm, an army strong motorcade emerged down the road from the airport. Wailing sirens and lights. Two Special Forces trucks led with 10 or so men in the back, each with trained AK47s on each part of the road as they whipped passed. In the middle of the 40-50 car convoy (I stopped counting after a while), I saw Obiang as he skirted past in his presidential Mercedes Benz. The dust settled, my ears cleared, and the woman next to me gets up and says, “that’s it.”
“Every time?” I ask.
“Every time.” She responds.