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African Foreigners in Equatorial Guinea Find Business, Problems


Young West and Central African nationals are being attracted to oil-rich, lightly-populated Equatorial Guinea, leaving their home countries where they say economic opportunities are non-existent. But once they arrive, even though they do find work, they say they often encounter problems with authorities as well as with other Equatorial Guinea nationals. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from Malabo.

Ivorian music blares out of a small shack selling pirated music and videos on a potholed street of the capital in this former Spanish colony, which has experienced an oil bonanza in the past 10 years.

The shop owner is a young Malian in his 20s, but he refuses to be recorded for an interview.

He says he is afraid to say anything bad about Equatorial Guinea.

He says you need residency papers which are very expensive, and then papers to open a business.

Those who do not have their papers often get rounded up by police and expelled, unless they can pay bribes of at least $100.

A young Nigerian man, Charles, has a similar business, but no shack. He sells pirated CDs and videos directly on the sidewalk.

He says business is good because there are many foreigners from outside Africa as well, who have come for oil, security and construction jobs.

"Here in Malabo, you find a lot of people of different colors, Americans are here, Chinese are here, Indians, Lebanese, they are here," he noted. "They all are doing good business here in Malabo so I think the business is quite [more] profitable than business in our countries. So that is why we came because in Nigeria, there are a lot of people. The population is too much so there are not many jobs in Nigeria. In terms of business, it is not really moving. So here it is much better to transact business."

But when it is not about making money, Charles does not seem very happy.

"I do not actually like it here in terms of social [aspects], because here there is a lot of tribalism, injustice here," he added. "Because, if you are a foreigner, they will treat you like a foreigner. They do not take you as their own people. There are a lot of injustices and all that in this country."

One place where West and Central African foreigners mingle is at Internet cafes.

A Cameroonian woman, refused to give her name, but agreed to explain her reasons for coming to Malabo.

"The economy is really booming. The money is circulating. Like for us, there is no money in my country," she explained. I am a dropout from university. I could not get a good job there, so I just had to move to my neighboring country. Since I came here, at least things are better than in my own country."

She earns several hundred dollars a month at a photocopying shop.

Her boss, a Malian woman, does not allow her to continue the interview inside the store.

So, the Cameroonian woman walks through a mud-and-music-filled slum passageway to get back to the small room she rents, bordering the ocean and a view of boats on the clear blue horizon.

Here, she feels more comfortable talking about her problems.

"The mentality will take time to really change, to make them not to tell the foreigners, 'I am in my country.' Even if you are right or wrong, a Guinean is always right. That is the truth, but it is a nice place to live as far as you can get what you are looking for. That is all I can say," she said.

Like most foreigners here, she says she will leave as soon as she has enough money to open a business in her own country, or better yet, she says, figure out a way to get accepted to a university in Europe or north America.

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