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Ciudad de la Paz: the new Capital of Equatorial Guinea rises in the tropical forest

 


120 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, in the middle of the humid rainforest, the construction site of new Capital of Equatorial Guinea is making progress.

This city, officially named Ciudad de la Paz (Spanish for "City of Peace" and formerly Oyala), is located in the district of Djibloho, in the central part of the country's mainland. Its construction is intended to serve as Equatorial Guinea's seat of government, replacing Malabo, on Bioko Island, as the national capital.


Despite being one of the largest projects in West Africa, information on the city's current development is rather limited. Although the official move to the new capital was planned for 2017, Malabo continues to host government buildings, as well as embassies and headquarters of international organizations.

Here, a look at the history, design and controversies surrounding the new capital city of Equatorial Guinea.

The boom of petrodollars


With around 28,000 square kilometres, Equatorial Guinea is one of the smallest sovereign states in Africa. However, its small size contrasts with the economic power of this country, which is considered the richest on the continent in terms of GDP per capita and one of Africa's main oil exporters.

The improvement of the country's road and transport infrastructure is the reflection of Equatorial Guinea's economic boom, particularly in the two main cities of Malabo and Bata. In the latter, considered the main economic centre of Equatorial Guinea, many of the new constructions include numerous avenues, a new international terminal and a stadium with a capacity for 40,000 spectators.

Stadium of Bata. Source


Malabo, located on Bioko Island, has served as the capital since Spanish colonial rule. However, its insular status, far from the mainland, led the government of President Teodoro Obiang to consider building a new capital, emulating the example of cities such as Brasilia and Canberra or countries such as Tanzania and Nigeria, which moved their seats of government to the inland cities of Dodoma and Abuja respectively.


Urban design


Among the criteria considered for the location of the new capital of Equatorial Guinea were the road connections to the cities of Bata and Mongomo, the accessibility to water resources and the climatic conditions of the area. 

The design of the master plan for the new capital was commissioned to the Portuguese firm FAT - Future Architecture Thinking. According to the official website of the Studio: “The territorial planning of the city of Djibloho (Ciudad de la Paz) results from the interrelation of the river, an organic element, with the orthogonality of the road infrastructure, which, in turn, is combined with the dense vegetation and the sustainable use of existing water lines.”

Master plan of Ciudad de la Paz. Source: FAT - Future Architecture Thinking

The territory of Ciudad de la Paz occupies an area of approximately 8,150 hectares and is projected to house a population of 260,000 inhabitants. The layout of the city has four main road axes, along which the different urban uses and infrastructures will be located. The main one, the so-called "Axis of Urban Life", will cover a distance of 3.6 kilometres and will end in the Administrative Area of the Capital. This area will include the Presidential Palace, the Parliament, the Supreme Court of Justice, among other government buildings.

Source: FAT - Future Architecture Thinking


The second urban corridor, named "Natural Axis", will be located parallel to the river Wele and will house various recreational and cultural spaces for the population. Artificial lagoons on floodplains and urban forests with native vegetation also feature in the proposal. Finally, in terms of housing, the project includes three types of housing, which will be located around urban activity zones in order to create diverse and multifunctional districts.



Source: FAT - Future Architecture Thinking

Controversy

Although it is normal for large-scale projects to generate controversy around their development, in the case of the Ciudad de la Paz, the social and political context of Equatorial Guinea adds particular ingredients that make it a highly questionable project.

Firstly, the location of the new capital city meant the eradication of hundreds of hectares of rainforest, in a continent that is already highly affected by deforestation.  In addition, the construction of new highways and road links could facilitate the unregulated exploitation of forest resources, increasing environmental problems in contrast to the city's sustainability goals.

On the other hand, the enormous economic investment involved in Ciudad de la Paz results particularly scandalous for many sectors in the country, considering the exiting high levels of poverty and inequality in Equatorial Guinea.

Despite having one of the largest oil reserves in Africa and a GDP PPP (purchasing power parity) per capita higher than China, according to the 2020 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Equatorial Guinea ranks 145th in the list of countries by Human Development Index, below other African countries such as Kenya and Ghana. Furthermore, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, in 2017 Equatorial Guinea was below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of accessibility to drinkable water and school enrolment.

Informal settlement in Equatorial Guinea. Source

The same report also highlights that the expenditure on infrastructure projects in Equatorial Guinea between 2009 and 2013 represented around 80% of the nation's entire annual budget. In contrast, the budget for health and education services barely reached a tenth of all investments made in improving roads and transport systems, among others. 

Four years after the announcement of the government's move to the new capital, Ciudad de la Paz continues under construction. Some office buildings are completed and the new roads advance through the jungle environment. However, the city is still awaiting its official inauguration, as well as a great arrival of new residents.

Satellite view of the construction site of Ciudad de la Paz in 2020. Source: Google Earth


Bridge under construction in Ciudad de la Paz. Source





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