LIBREVILLE, Gabon, January 16 – Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, co-hosts of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, are confident that despite scepticism and after massive investment in stadia, roads and hotels they are finally ready to stage the continental showpiece.
While they may agree on that the two oil-rich west central African states have taken markedly different routes to make it across the finish line.
In Equatorial Guinea, with its population of 700,000 and run with an iron fist since 1970 by president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the Nations Cup has formed one of the central planks of a long term investment project.
This has seen the birth of Sipopo, with its conference centres and luxury villas which played host to the 17th African Union summit, and the start of the construction of a new town, Oyala, as well as renovation work at Bata.
A brand new 15,000-seater stadium has been built in Malabo especially for the competition while the 38,000-seater venue in Bata, venue for the opening match on Saturday between Equatorial Guinea and Libya, has received a facelift.
Official figures put the cost of these two projects at 75 million euros.
Improvements to the country’s transport system has seen 80 percent of its road network freshly tarmacked.
Hotels have been either built from scratch or renovated in Malabo.
Work on the Nations Cup began, according to the country’s autocratic ruler, from the moment they were awarded the 2012 edition back in 2006.
Despite these efforts there are areas which are likely to cause problems.
The mobile phone network is weak and becomes rapidly saturated while internet costs are high.
Other sensitive subjects are transport and accommodation, notably in Bata.
President Obiang wants the Nations Cup to serve as a shop window for his country.
“The only reason for winning (the right to host) the Cup is to present the best image of our country, to sell our image,” he declared at the group draw in October.
But Equatorial Guinea’s involvement in the competition has been questioned by the lone member of the opposition, Placido Miko.
He told AFP: “We are hosting the Cup for the sole intention to divert national and international public opinion away from the real problems of Equatorial Guinea and to present an image which is not the reality of the country.”
In neighbouring Gabon, the situation is different.
From 2006 to 2009 nothing or almost nothing was done to prepare for the arrival of the African football flagship.
It was only when President Ali Bongo Ondimba came to power that work on a wide scale began.
Preparations were hampered by confusion at the local organising committee (Cocan) which has changed leadership three times.
In March last year the Confederation of African Football (CAF) declared itself “worried” at the lack of progress the country was making.
As a result the historic Omar Bongo stadium is not being used as it is still a work in progress.
Matches in Libreville will be held at the Amitie Agonje stadium, finished in November, while work on the renovated stadium in Franceville has only just been completed.
As in Equatorial Guinea internet access and hotel accommodation are weak links, while access to the stadium in Libreville, venue for the final, is complicated with traffic in the capital at a standstill due to road works.
Despite this the official line is that things will be okay on the night.
“Gabon is finally ready for the competition,” Cocan spokesman Louis Claude Moundzieoud Koumba asserted.
The opposition, which has constantly attacked the delays, puts the overall cost to Gabon of hosting the tournament at 760 million euros – Moundzieoud suggests the true figure is lower, at between 450 and 600 million euros.
He added: “The stadiums, the infrastructure, these are for the Gabonese people, for the Gabon state, independent of who is running it. It’s a legacy for the future.
“The investment that has been carried out for the Nations Cup is part of a vast project of investment – 900 kilometres of tarmacked roads across the state, bypasses, work on electricification. For a generation we’ve never witnessed so much work. It’s all for the benefit of the Gabonese people.”
The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations runs from Saturday to February 12.