14 February 2012
Last updated at 01:10
Over the past few weeks Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament. BBC Africa's Manuel Toledo reports on his recent tour of the country, whose government is often accused of human rights violations and where foreign journalists find difficult to visit.
Equatorial Guinea has been changing very fast since oil was discovered in the mid 1990s. The government is implementing a very ambitious plan called Horizon 2020 with the goal of transforming the country into an emerging nation in the next eight years. This is the new waterfront of Bata, the most important city on the mainland.
At the same time, according to local people, many beautiful buildings have been destroyed in the name of modernity. The cathedral square in Malabo, the capital - on the island of Bioko - has seen some examples of colonial architecture being replaced by modern government offices.
The country, situated on the mainland of the west coast of central Africa and on an island in the Gulf of Guinea, was a Spanish colony until 1968. At the time, Malabo was called Santa Isabel and the island was known as Fernando Po. The city was given its new name in 1973 in honour of a king of the Bubi ethnic group.
These are Bubi people from Moka, a village in the centre of Bioko. The Spanish Cultural Centre in Malabo dedicated a week to their culture. The country's official languages are Spanish and French, and the main indigenous ones are Fang, Pichi - a variant of pidgin English imported from Sierra Leone - and Bubi.
In several parts of the country there are posters like this one promoting gender equality. One of the country's most popular female singers, Yuma, has a song called Victim in which she criticises violence against women.
There are also photos of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in many public places. He and some members of his family have been accused abroad of human right abuses and rampant corruption. "They run the country like a family business," a foreign engineer told us in Bata. The government denies those charges.
Mr Obiang took power in 1979 when he deposed, in a coup d'etat, his uncle Francisco Macias Nguema. Mr Macias had been elected president at independence but during his time in power thousands of people had to go into exile and many others were killed. This monument in Bata commemorates the coup.
Last year, the constitution was reformed to impose a two-term presidential limit. This poster, on the memorial, says the reform is part of a "democratic test" by Mr Obiang. Opposition parties accused him of trying to add 14 years to the 32 he has been in power. However, others argue a two-term limit is better than none at all.
In the country there are no daily newspapers but many people have access to satellite television and the internet. In Malabo the BBC World Service in English is retransmitted via FM. The telecommunications and internet sectors will soon benefit from an undersea fibre-optic cable that is coming from Europe to South Africa.
Most young people the BBC spoke to in different parts of the country were very optimistic about their future. Contrary to the perception abroad that the oil boom is only benefitting a small elite, the life of many ordinary people seems to be improving thanks to the infrastructural changes promoted by the government.
This painting by Luis Royo del Pozo reflects Bata’s changing skyline. Born in Spain, he has spent more than 30 years in Equatorial Guinea, where his mother's family comes from. The Spanish Cultural Centre in Bata is currently showing an exhibition of his work.
Two sectors that the government wants to develop next are fishing and agriculture. The country is very fertile and has huge maritime resources but most of the food is imported. Public transport is getting better thanks to the new roads. Now people can go from one side of the small country to the other in less than four hours.
In the countryside there are many police and military checkpoints. These photos were taken on the road from Bata to Mongomo, in the north. At three of five checkpoints where the bus stopped, I was asked for money by corrupt officials. However, when I refused to pay and explained I was a reporter, they let me go.
Most of the roads are being built by Chinese companies. While in some other African countries foreign firms are required to hire local people, most construction workers in Equatorial Guinea seemed to be Chinese.
The country is very beautiful but few foreigners visit it. Tourists need an official invitation letter, and overland travellers are routinely denied visas at Equatorial Guinea's embassies in neighbouring countries. Carmelo Modu, the secretary of state for new technologies, told the BBC that the bureaucracy for tourists is being streamlined.
"The country is changing and we are learning from mistakes that we made in the past. We are developing ourselves," he said. "The negative image portrayed in the foreign media is outdated," he added. This photo was taken just outside Mongomo, the city where President Obiang grew up. The first president was also from here.
The government says it is aware that - with money - it is much easier to change the infrastructure than to transform people's mentality and that it is putting a huge emphasis on education in order to prepare the younger generation for the moment when the country runs out of oil. (Photos and text: Manuel Toledo, BBC)