News A walk through the new island of Annobon The celebration of the Independence Day in Annobon has signified something more than the organization of some festivities. In reality, this date marked the inauguration of a new era for what was up to now the most cut-off and unknown point of Equatorial Guinea. Today we take a visual walk through the new island of Annobon, which has gone from being an isolated land to becoming a territory of the future.

24/10/2010

The name of the southern-most island of Equatorial Guinea, Annobon, is not exactly by chance: it has its origin in the fact that it was discovered on the first day of January of 1475 by the Portuguese expedition led by João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar, who were looking for new ports for the slave traffic. In fact, for centuries, the small territory was witness to the transfer of persons hunted like animals, towards Europe or towards America. Human beings condemned to live without freedom, in the best of the cases, or simply condemned to a cruel death during the voyage, which occurred on many occasions. From that frightful transit there are still remains of the very ancient port where those ships docked with their lamentable cargo.

From the 16th century, the island passed through successive ownership of the Portuguese and Dutch, Spanish and English, and almost all of them used it as a slave trade center, until in the 19th century it was integrated fully into the Spanish colony. In the colonial era, the church and school were built, although the life of the population barely changed. Since that time, the people of Annobon have had artisan fishing and agriculture as their principal means of earning a living, in which has been up to now a traditional and almost primitive way of life.

From the time of independence, the situation of the people of Annobon became worse, as occurred in the rest of the country, since on the island an era began of absolute isolation and almost total abandonment by the metropolis. During long periods, the boat with few provisions reached Annobon but once a year. The rest of the time the inhabitants had to live completely cut off, living only on their own resources and without medicine, electricity, communications or help of any type. There were years of disease and pandemics that decimated the population.

And afterwards, once peace was restored in Equatorial Guinea, after the events of the Coup for Freedom, the lack of resources in the country continued impeding appropriate development of the small island. Fortunately, the arrival of oil and the obtaining of the first benefits from its sale marked a new direction, totally different, for its future.

A new era

Due precisely to its past of slave exploitation, isolation, lack of resources and abandonment that the island of Annobon has suffered during its entire history, the spectacular transformation it is now experiencing does not stop amazing its own people and foreigners. In recent years and up to the current date, the Government of Equatorial Guinea, driven by the President, H.E. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has invested more than 200 billion CFA francs in the territory. An enormous amount of money in which short-term profitability is not sought, but rather the radical transformation of the island, until now disconnected and unexplored, in order to convert it into a prosperous and different territory.

Fishing and tourism: the great hopes

Converting the outmoded traditional fishing on which the majority of the population depends for their livelihood into modern and advanced industrial fishing is one of the principal projects of the future that the President as well as the Government plans for Annobon. Tourism is another. The privileged geographic situation, the natural, wild beauty, and the excellent beaches of the island, in addition to its geophysical interest, make it a destination of enormous attraction for tourists coming from Africa as well as from Europe and America.

Now that Annobon can house numerous visitors, as was shown in the celebration of the Independence Day on October 12, the goal of converting the island into an important tourism centre is envisaged as a real possibility. In fact, the Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture, Jerónimo Osa Osa Ecoro, stated to www.guineaecuatorialpress.com that there was the possibility of studying a type of special visa for tourists directly to Annobon, without the need to go through Malabo. It is a possible channel that without doubt would facilitate the arrival of visitors that could combine beach tourism with active ecotourism and is of great interest.

A historic project: the new port

In order to achieve these goals the major difficulty of the island had to be overcome definitively: its traditional and iron-clad isolation, result of the peculiar orography of the territory, whose steep coasts, which are relaxed only in small beaches, did not permit until now the docking of medium- and large-sized vessels. For this reason, the construction of the new deep-water port is of utmost importance for the people of Annobon, and it has contributed to ending forever the isolation of the island, just as the new airport has done.

An example: for the first time, in the celebration of the Independence Day, the military cargo ship Djibloo could dock directly at the new pier of the brand-new port of San Antonio de Palé. The captain of the ship told some of the visitors of the diplomatic corps how the cargo that they brought to the island up to now had to be unloaded using the small canoes belonging to the fishermen. It sometimes took weeks to unload the merchandise or if some of it fell into the water, it irremediably disappeared forever.

Therefore, the construction of the new port of Annobon has a value much beyond the mere functional value: it signifies an important historical improvement for the Annobon people, and it also means ending the feeling of abandonment and frustration that has pursued them for centuries…

The construction work on the port was carried out, as nearly all the work on the island, by the Moroccan company Somagec and is valued at more than a hundred million euros. The complex project has included the exhaustive exploration of the seabed and of the currents, of the materials of the area and the geography of the island. Once finalized, the port permits the docking of boats of any tonnage and passenger ferries, and therefore, the transfer and trade of any merchandise. Its construction took 36 months.

The best airport of Equatorial Guinea

The construction of the new airport is as important as the port, with a terminal whose design and equipment makes it the best one in the entire national territory.

In the airport construction, the greatest challenge to overcome was the extension of the former runway that was lengthened “magically” from the mere 600 meters that it had before to more than 1200 meters. In this way, the new airfield permits, with all the safety in the world, the landing of any plane, of any type and size, thus finishing with the forced and risky landings of before, remembered by all those who experienced them with true anxiety. For the extension of the runway, a dike of nearly 500 meters had to be built, of cast iron, rock and concrete, that is supported on the seabed. The construction also includes the very modern terminals, the pavilion of honor and other technical structures, in addition to communication channels with the city.

Roads, houses, high school… and above all, the future

But there is still more: in Annobon they have fixed the existing roads, and made new sections that will permit communicating all the important points of the island, and even going up to the lake. The first group of social housing has also been finished, which were used for the first time by some of the diplomats and special guests that attended the October 12 celebration. And, in addition, the first phase of restoring the old colonial church was finished, a beautiful and somber building that now shines like never before with its clean stained-glass windows, and the impressive wooden gabled roof that shines after the superb face cleaning it received, in a completely altruistic manner by the Somagec company.

And above all, there is on the table a lot of new projects of imminent construction: bringing drinking water to the majority of the population, the construction of the headquarters of the Provincial Government, the new police station, the expansion of the electricity network, the construction of the Mid-levelHigh School

A new history has started to be written in Annobon. A history that, without erasing the past of slavery, abandonment and oblivion that the island suffered for centuries, will project a different future, with hope and prosperity. As the Mayor of San Antonio de Palé said during his speech in the celebration, “it’s never too late to do well”, and it seems like it is not too late for the island of Annobon.

Report: Inés Ortega.

Equatorial Guinea’s Press and Information Office.