I'll Take the Presidential Suite: AU Chair Sending Wrong Signal

February 16, 2006

In a Sunday Times of London report concerning a lavish jaunt to New York last fall to deliver a 15 minute speech at the UN, the spotlight was on Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Recently chosen to chair the AU, it has been noted that the President of Congo-Brazzaville spent $295,000 for luxurious accommodations for him and his entourage at the Palace Hotel in New York City. It hardly needs to be said that dropping $8,500 on a three story suite with art deco stylings, a 50in plasma screen and up to $4,000 a day on room service doesn’t necessarily support the claim that the AU is committed to tackling waste and corruption. According to the Sunday Times article:

Aides to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo startled staff at the Palace hotel on Madison Avenue by pulling out wads of $100 notes to settle a bill for 26 rooms. Sassou-Nguesso, who is chairman of the African Union, representing all the continent's governments, is negotiating with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cancel many of his country's debts on the grounds that it cannot afford to repay them. Yet the president spent a week last September in the Palace hotel, one of Manhattan’s most prestigious addresses…More than 70% of the 3m people in the republic — known as Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its larger neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo — live on less than £1.15 a day.
As CGD's Todd Moss has commented, the AU has struggled recently to strike the right tone, only just passing over Sudan for the chairmanship for this term. The details of Mr. Sassau-Nguesso's opulent lodgings hardly cast the organization in the best light. Indeed, the trip sounds like something out a B-Movie, with a "cash payment" of $177,942.96 to settle the final bill. Makes you wonder how much he may have tipped the bellhop for lugging around duffel bags full of hundred dollar bills.


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