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January 7, 2007
Lifestyles Of The Rich And Subsidized, Take 2

Last February, I wrote about the expensive tastes of Daniel Sassou-Nguesso, the ruler of the desperately poor African nation of Congo and the president of the African Union. In a September 2005 stay in New York, the man who keeps demanding Western aid also demanded a lot of room service. He dropped over $190,000 in cash as a down payment on a $326,000 bill for a week's stay during a UN session for Sassou-Nguesso and his entourage. Now the Times of London reports that Sassou-Nguesso ran up another bill in 2006 which belies the abject poverty of his subjects:

IN two short visits to New York last year the leader of one of Africa’s poorest countries spent $400,000 (£207,000) on hotel bills as members of his entourage drank Cristal champagne and charged tens of thousands of dollars of room service to accounts paid by the Republic of Congo’s mission to the United Nations.

Detailed hotel bills obtained by The Sunday Times showed that a Waldorf Astoria suite occupied by Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, chairman of the African Union, recorded £12,000 of room service charges during a five-night stay last April that cost his country £73,000.

When he returned to the same hotel during the UN general assembly meeting last September, almost £14,000 of room service was added to his bill during another five-night stay. His entourage, including several members of his family, occupied 44 rooms which together ran up a bill of £130,000 — comfortably more than the £106,000 that Britain gave the country in humanitarian aid last year.

The latest revelations about Sassou-Nguesso’s lavish travel habits have appalled anti-corruption campaigners and embarrassed the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Last year they agreed to a large debt relief package on the grounds that the country — known as Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo — was too poor to meet its financial commitments.

At least Sessou-Nguesso is consistent. He continually runs up bills higher than the foreign aid that the West has granted his nation. I suppose we could just ask the World Bank and the IMF to just simply transfer the aid directly to the Waldorf-Astoria, and cut out the middleman.

In a five-night stay in April, the entourage ran up $23,000 in room-service charges, or around $4,600 per night. That amounts to over three times the GDP per capita of his nation. In September on another visit, the room-service bill ran to $27,000 for a trip that lasted five days and included 44 people. And bear in mind that this just calculates what Sessou-Nguesso spent at the hotel. Who knows how much cash he dropped in New York restaurants and other entertainment destinations?

The Western industrial nations have been pressured to forgive debts of African nations, including Congo. France pressured the World Bank to implement its debt-relief package for Sessou-Nguesso after the revelations of his earlier stay in New York caused Paul Wolfowitz to suspend the deal. Now we see how that aid gets used -- to entertain a Marxist dictator while 70% of his citizens live off of one dollar a day or less.

It behooves us to give struggling nations in Africa a helping hand, if not for humanitarian reasons, then at least to keep al-Qaeda and other terrorists from exploiting the people and resources of nations struggling to survive. George Bush rightly limits that assistance to nations which have reformed their political systems in order to ensure that the aid does not prop up dictators and kleptocrats. Sessou-Nguesso provides a brilliant example of why we need to follow that wise policy.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 7, 2007 9:58 AM

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