Hot on the heels of Libya's UN-backed prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, the rebel forces' Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar sent his foreign minister, Abdulhadi Lahweej, to Paris, where he spoke with the government and with our sister magazine Jeune Afrique.
Afcon 2015 would have gone to Qatar if we hadn’t stepped in – Minister
The Africa Report: How have the preparations gone?
Francisco Pascual Obama Asue: It’s different to when you have four years to prepare. You know exactly what needs to be done and when. We had 50 days this time.
if no one could, it would have gone to Qatar
The stadiums [in Ebibeyin and Bata] are fine. The facilities and hotels are ready. A hotel [there] is not going to be the same as a hotel in Paris. It’s different. But we are giving everything, with all our hearts.
There have been problems, though. Burkina Faso, Congo and others have complained about the state of facilities.
We ask that the imperfections be excused [given the circumstances]. Some people are more understanding than others. When the Tunisians didn’t have hot water, we fixed it within an hour. I came here myself.
When did CAF ask you to host? Or was it E-G which made the first move?
It was CAF who asked us and we said yes. They did not have any other solution. We were the last resort. It would not have been good for this tournament, a celebration of African football, to be cancelled or moved outside. So for that reason the President agreed. Africa has to consume what is African.
Were you asked before Morocco had officially pulled out?
It was the beginning of November. CAF asked around about who could do it and, if no one could, it would have gone to Qatar.
Did the relationship between CAF President Issa Hayatou and President Obiang make a difference? Are they close?
Yes, they are friends. I’ve also known Hayatou since 1981.
Hayatou of course likes to say that the rest of the world doesn’t respect Africa enough and football is a way of countering that. Do you agree? Do you accept other countries do look at E-G and see only oil and problems?
There are 200 countries in the world. You’d have to say which one. Football creates relations before even diplomacy. We don’t have diplomatic relations with Burkina Faso and Cape Verde for example [but they are here]. Yes, everyone looks at Africa only as natural resources and not for development.
The domestic opposition [who have one MP and are subject to periodic repression] called for a boycott of this tournament.
At the World Cup in Brazil there were protestors, protests, people smashed cars. There is freedom of speech and opinion in Equatorial Guinea. But here there are no protests in the street. You can see that. The only worry about the event was ebola.
What was the thinking behind the venues in the east of the country?
Ebibeyin and Mongomo had stadiums which were already being developed. CAF regulations also require that there be at least 70km between venues. Having two of the groups play in Malabo would not have conformed to those rules.
E-G has been pursuing a strategy of hosting international events. AFCON came here in 2012. You held the African Union summit too. Is this an attempt to address and improve the country’s image?
We do not seek to be a protagonist. When we are asked, we are ready to help. There is a sense of satisfaction, of course, that the rest of Africa trusts us to do it.
A lot of work has been done in the last 50 days. South Africa spent around $40 million in 2013 when hosting at the last-minute. What has the cost been?
I don’t know about other countries. Yes, there has been a lot of expenses. But we were already doing the work on the two other stadiums. We have only had to accelerate that work which costs extra. The extra cost for each stadium has been 30million CFA [$500,000]. The other costs are transport for CAF and the teams. Each stadium as a whole cost around 9bn CFA [$16million] and that work on the two stadiums was already going to be done.
A surprising aspect of the build-up was the removal of coach Andoni Goikoetxea, replaced by Esteban Becker only three weeks before the tournament. Why did that happen?
His contact was ending on 31 December. We wanted a different type of person, that’s all. [Becker] is new, yes, but he understands the country because he managed the women’s team.
Women’s football is very popular here and it’s noticeable how many were at the opening game. It’s not the same all over Africa.
We are moving towards development goals and we see football as part of that, not just as a sport but as a way of improving women’s status in society.
But football cannot solve all the problems here. What other problems do you acknowledge? The domestic opposition [who have one MP and are subject to periodic repression] called for a boycott of the tournament.
At the World Cup in Brazil there were protestors, protests, people smashed cars. There is freedom of speech and opinion in Equatorial Guinea. But here, there are no protests in the street. You can see that. The only worry about the event was Ebola.
But it must help that the President’s son, Teodorin, is a big football fan who takes an active interest. [It was reported that he was behind the recent change of federation president and Becker’s appointment].
No, it’s a government policy and plan. We all implement it. It’s not just the President [who supports football]. It’s the government, all of us. I help teams too myself.
What was the legacy of AFCON 2012?
That we are here again today and ready to do it again.