Turtle Bay

Obiang’s palace building spree

The age of fiscal austerity has clearly bypassed Equatorial Guinea, an oil rich African country with a reputation for world-class corruption, crushing poverty for its people, and a multibillion dollar building spree for presidential palaces, guesthouses, and airports. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea’s president and Africa’s longest lasting ruler, has now signed off on ...

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The age of fiscal austerity has clearly bypassed Equatorial Guinea, an oil rich African country with a reputation for world-class corruption, crushing poverty for its people, and a multibillion dollar building spree for presidential palaces, guesthouses, and airports.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea’s president and Africa’s longest lasting ruler, has now signed off on a $77 million contract to build a sparkling new presidential guesthouse, according to the Korean firm, SsangYong Engineering and Construction Co., Ltd, that won the bid to build it.

A rendering of the project, which will be called Mongomo Leader’s Club, shows a contemporary glass building, with neatly landscaped grounds and palm trees in the background. It boasts 5-star amenities, including a private room for the president, a casino, and a beauty parlor. It was first reported by the Korea Times.

"Despite the small population of Equatorial Guinea, approximately 630 thousand people, more orders for high quality buildings from Equatorial Guinea will be expected in the near future considering the nation’s abundant natural resources including natural gas and oil and its high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, 27 thousand dollars," the SsangYong press release reads.

The new building plan comes to light several months after Equatorial Guinea inaugurated the $830 million luxury Sipopo resort, which served as the venue for the African Union’s 47th Summit in June. Obiang, who is serving as the A.U. president this year, presided over the gathering.

The resort includes an artificial beach that stretches a mile long, a heliport, an 18-hole golf course and the country’s first spa, according to EGJustice, an anti-corruption and human rights group. There are also more than half a dozen other presidential palaces under construction or recently built, according to the group. Efforts to reach a spokesperson for Equatorial Guinea at the nation’s U.N. mission were unsuccessful.

Although Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in Africa and boasts per capita income equal to that of many wealthy European countries, Obiang rules a population of more than 650,000 that endures some of the worst quality of life indicators in the world.

Transparency International placed Equatorial Guinea 172 out of 182 countries on its government corruption index. The U.S. Justice Department, meanwhile, announced in October that it was attempting to seize more than $70 million in assets from Obiang’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, also known as Teodorin, including a $30 million residence in Malibu, California.

"Although Equatorial Guinea has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, nearly 70 percent of the population live in deep poverty. Most of this per capita income goes to the president and his family and cronies," Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told Parliament this week, according to Reuters. "It is quite simply a disgrace that the high level of oil wealth is stolen for the corrupt and personal use of an unaccountable and self-serving elite."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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