Mobutu lived in opulence that shocked and choked many

Friday December 16 2016
Mobutu photo

Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko in Kinshasa on September 29, 1991. PHOTO | AFP


A Kenyan presidential delegation visit to Mobutu Sese Seko’s Gbadolite palace was so shocked by its opulence that then Foreign Affairs PS Sally Kosgei almost choked during a meal.

Mr Musyoka writes in his autobiography that Dr Kosgei, who also served as head of public service, MP and minister, was part of a delegation trying to broker a peace deal between Mobutu and rebels led by Laurent-Desire Kabila.

Mr Kabila’s rebel movement, with the backing of Rwanda and Uganda, started their war on Mobutu in 1996 in the east of what was then known as Zaire.

‘’We were served exotic food in some banana leaves. There was a serving of some extremely tasty fish. I remember my Permanent Secretary, Dr Sally Kosgei, almost choking on some of it,’’ he writes.

“Even Moi concurred that such luxury amidst abject poverty was unacceptable,’’ he writes.

Musyoka does not go into details of the opulence but Gbadolite palace was just one of properties spread around the world and the Democratic Republic of Congo built or bought by $5 billion Mobutu is said to have looted from the mineral-rich state.


It was built at an estimated cost of $400 million by Tunisian-born French architect Olivier Clement Cacoub and Senegal’s Pierre Goudiaby Atépa.

During its heyday, it brimmed with paintings, sculptures, stained glass, ersatz Louis XIV furniture and marble from Italy.


Guests would be served Taittinger champagne, salmon and other food served on moving conveyer belts by Congolese and European chefs. It employed 700 staff, including chauffeurs, chefs and servants as well as 300 soldiers.

Apart from Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania through Musyoka’s counterparts Alfred Nzo and Jakaya Kikwete were also involved in the peace efforts.

Due to security concerns of flying to Gbadolite in South African Air Force jets, Pretoria pushed for change of venue of the talks to Togo, he writes.

“When we flew into Togo, I advised Moi to hand over the whole issue to the African Union Central Organ.’’

The peace efforts ultimately failed and Kabila shot his way to Kinshasa in 1997 and ruled for nearly four years before he was assassinated in 2001 and replaced by his son Joseph.

Mobutu fled as the rebels advanced and his own soldiers looted the palace.

Today, the home of the looter-in-chief is being reclaimed by the jungle from which it was carved.

Bushes, flowers, vines, weeds, even trees shoot up through every available crevice in a living testimony to the fragility of civilisation, TheGuardian’s David Smith wrote after a visit in 2015. In another incident, Mr Musyoka was mugged on a street in Buenos Aires, Argentina during an official trip.

‘’ I remember being knocked down from behind. I lost my watch. The country’s foreign mission later apologised to me and to Kenya,’’ he writes.