Thursday, August 11, 2011

Denied Entry into Equatorial Guinea

Due to its insular nature of Equatorial Guinea, it can be notoriously hard to find information online, especially of the Mainland area. However, a quick glance of the map shows that Equatorial Guinea is a very convenient transit country from Cameroon (Yaoundé/Douala) to Gabon (Libreville), as there are routes on the coast. This, along with the country’s Spanish-influenced past and the visa-free policies for Americans, makes Equatorial Guinea a relatively attractive country to visit. From Cameroon, there are two entry points – Rio Campo and Kye-Ossi / Ebebiyin.

However, Thorn Tree searches show the Rio Campo border to be frequently (and unpredictably) closed – also, past Kirbe the road goes to a dirt path, making travel difficult. Furthermore, if you get in through Rio Campo the road from there to Bata is notorious for checkpoints and bribery, according to local NGO sources.

The other entrance from Kye-Ossi / Ebebiyin is the main entrance for the mainland. However, when I visited there were only a trickle of people flowing through. Getting stamped out of Cameroon is easy enough (though customs will try to bribe you), but entering Equatorial Guinea is another story. While some Chinese construction workers (with visas) were let through, I was denied entry based on two excuses:

  1. Americans do not need visas only for air travel to Malabo, not via ground. This one seemed to be a fake initial excuse, as they moved on from it after 10 minutes of contesting their claim.
  2. I am Chinese (descent), therefore Chinese and not American (despite the American passport), therefore require a visa. This was an interesting argument – after waiting an hour for the (unhelpful) border guard to call Malabo and pleading my case, the guards stood firm.

I called the American Embassy to see what help could be provided, but they said there was indeed precedent for such decisions – in two years, I was the second American of non-Caucasian descent to be denied entry on the second argument (the other was Cameroonian-American). This was a problem that could not be solved with a bribe, as the head border guard made very clear. Also, having an American consulate ambassador was unhelpful, as no Equatorial Guineans were willing to talk on the phone.

Ultimately given the lack of traffic in the area and high suspicion of foreigners, I’d imagine other Americans of non-Caucasian descent will have the same problems. If you need to enter Equatorial Guinea by land, be sure to have contacts on the ground – not only will this help your entry case, but you will be able to avoid (some) bribery on the road to Bata.

For those able to enter, some information that may be of use:

  • The road to Bata has 7-8 checkpoints as of August 2011. Each checkpoint demands from 0 to 5,000 CFA, with 3,000 to 5,000 CFA being the normal payment. This information came from a Cameroonian and a Chinese group – if you have contacts in the country or are American, the bribes may be lower or non-existent (if you believe the rumor that Americans are not allowed to be bribed)
  • The road is newly paved.
  • When I was there on Thursday afternoon, many of the border guards, on both the Cameroonian and Equatorial Guinean side were drunk. Most also had AK-47’s. It is probably best to travel weekday mornings, and I would avoid Saturday at all cost.
  • If you are trying to transit to Gabon through Cogo, it should take 8-10hrs total transport time.
  • For best results, speak only English (even if you know Spanish or French). It'll force a translator.

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