Mobutu became a lonely man who grew more melancholy with each passing day. He seemed to fall prey to the longing for excess that marks all those for whom life holds no more surprises. In Europe he bought one chic property after the other. He owned a dozen castles, storage spaces, and residences in the wealthy Brussels boroughs of Ukkel and Sint-Genesius-Rode. He owned a luxurious, eight-hundred-square-meter (nearly 8,500-square-foot) apartment on Avenue Foch in Paris, Savigny Castle close to Lausanne, Switzerland, a palazzo in Venice, a sumptuous villa on the French Rivera, an equestrian estate in the Portuguese Algarve, and a series of hotels in West Africa and South Africa, not to mention his luxury yacht on the Congo. But the most incredible of all his residences was, without a doubt, Gbadolite. In the middle of the jungle in his native region, close to the border with the Central African Republic, he had a city built, complete with banks, a post office, a well-equipped hospital, a hypermodern hotel, and a landing strip that could accommodate the Concorde. (Zizi Kabongo: “That’s right, as a journalist I once took the Concorde from Gbadolite to Japan.”) A cathedral was added, with a crypt that was to serve as the family grave, and a Chinese village with pagodas and imported Chinese people. The crowning glory was Mobutu’s opulent, 15,000-square-meter (158,400-square-foot) palace. The mahogany doors were seven meters (nearly twenty-three feet) high and inlaid with malachite. The walls were covered with Carrara marble and silk tapestries. Crystal chandeliers, Venetian mirrors, Empire furniture: no expense was spared, no luxury was too excessive. There were Jacuzzis, massage rooms, a swimming pool, and a beauty parlor. Mrs. Mobutu had a walk-in closet fifty meters (over 160 feet) long where she hung her extensive collective of French couture, some one thousand creations in all. Beneath the building itself, thousands of top French vintages lay gathering dust (if not actually going sour in the tropical climate). There as a discotheque for the children and a bomb shelter for the family. The fountains scattered around the grounds splashed around the clock and were lit at night—in a region that had almost no electrical network. Mobutu threw state banquets for thousands of guests where the pink champagne—his favorite beverage—flowed freely and the suckling pigs lay grinning with an orange in their mouths.

“He had the great chefs of France and Belgium flown in,” recalled Kibambi Shintwa, a man who still retained his “authentic” name. Shintwa had worked as a reporter for the presidence from 1982 and was closely acquainted with Mobutu.
. . . Mobutu’s corruption was so shocking that it caused a long-forgotten term to resurface in the English language: kleptocracy.

Congo The Epic History of A People by David Van Reybrouck




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