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Malabo - A view from our expert author


The pulsing heart of one of the least visited states in modern Africa, this city is still one of the ten smallest capitals on the continent.

Whatever you are expecting of Malabo, the city is bound to yield a few surprises. Bioko island is historically the home of the ancient Bubi ethnic group, yet they are in the minority here. Malabo was an isolated outpost of Spanish colonialism, yet many inhabitants speak English Creole in the marketplaces. Today, the economy is dominated by the American oil industry, but you are far more likely to bump into a Chinese person than an American on the streets.

Sitting at the northern end of Bioko island in Bioko Norte Province, Malabo looks out across the Gulf of Guinea towards the shores of Cameroon, 40km away on the African mainland. The pulsing heart of one of the least visited states in modern Africa, this city is still one of the ten smallest capitals on the continent. This may not be the situation for long though, as it is expanding rapidly thanks to an influx of oil wealth, as well as Western and Chinese workers. Touring the centre, you get the impression that this used to be a sleepy little place, perhaps like nearby São Tomé, but when they struck oil two decades ago everything changed, and there are few who would want to go back to that earlier time.

Malabo is compact, logically laid out and made up of numerous distinct areas, each with their own atmosphere. To the north of the airport is Punta Europa, the main LNG terminal and also a home away from home for the thousands of Americans who work on the island. If you manage to get an invite from a resident, expect villas with swimming pools, large security fences and all the trappings of expatriate compound living. The closest most people get to this place is viewing it from above as they make their final approach to Malabo airport.

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