Equatorial Guinea’s Grotesque New Luxury Spa

When Canada hosted the G20 summit, no expenses were spared. The government spent $1 billion on the G8/G20 meeting, including a fake lake in the media center which drew guffaws – at best – and the ire of the public.

Move over, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. You’ve got nothing on Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the president of Equatorial Guinea.

Obiang inaugurated a massive luxury hotel complex this week outside the country’s capital, the primary purpose of which is to host the African Union summit. The multimillion dollar complex – run by international hotel chain Sofitel – has the country’s first spa, as well as its first 18 hole golf course.

Clearly, these are important priorities for the president of a country who has been running Equatorial Guinea as if it were his own personal fiefdom since 1979. In spite of tremendous economic growth and increased government revenue due to oil production coming online in the 90s, the benefits of this are very slow to trickle down to the general population. While Equatorial Guinea is considered a “high income” country, with a GDP per capita of over $12,000 , over 70% of the population in Equatorial Guinea falls below the poverty line.

The Sofitel Sipopo complex is more than just a misplaced priority. It’s symptomatic of irresponsible, megalomaniac behavior on the part of a leader for whom the interests of the people is a mere afterthought. The Guardian, which seems to be the only news organization to have reported on this, quotes several human rights groups lambasting the government for making this project a priority.

This big, shiny, new hotel reminds me of another. In 1979, William Tolbert, then president of Liberia, spent millions of dollars to build Hotel Africa* near the country’s capital. Hotel Africa was the most luxurious and modern hotel in Liberia, and was built especially to host the African Union summit that year. Used on and off as a camp site by the UN mission in Liberia, Hotel Africa now sits as a big, empty hulk, a reminder of poor leadership and “misplaced priorities.”

* Flash site – click on “Welcome to the Hotel Africa” to read story and view photos.