These African leaders lived opulently. Here are the sad shells of their once posh palaces

From: Berhane Habtemariam <>
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2015 22:25:10 +0200

These African leaders lived opulently. Here are the sad shells of their once posh palaces

M&G Africa Reporter

In Benghazi traders turned Gaddafi's more than 10-hectare palace grounds and barracks into a marketplace to sell birds, dogs and other pets.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's former Benghazi palace in the country's east has been burned out. (Flickr)

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's former Benghazi palace in the country's east has been burned out. (Flickr)


THE sprawling palace compounds from which Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ruled for four decades are now garbage dumps and pet markets, following the 2011 revolution which toppled him.

In the heart of Tripoli, the once feared but now humbled Bab al-Aziziya compound resembles a wasteland. All that remains of the compound, which had been hit in a 1986 US air strike before being pounded in NATO airstrikes four years ago, are a few ruined buildings, the green flooring of Gaddafi’s home and a dug-up network of underground tunnels.

Apart from the bedouin tents on which Gaddafi prided himself and which accommodated him on travels abroad, the compound once showcased a zoo, an indoor pool, countless murals and a fairground in its gardens.

Rebels zealously bulldozed much of the compound when they captured it in August 2011.

Gaddafi ‘s former Bab al-Aziziya palace in the capital Tripoli lies in ruins on March 31, 2015 (AFP Photo)

Another of Gaddafi’s homes in Sabha, in the south of the country, has suffered the same fate. In the eastern city of Benghazi, birthplace of the revolution and which has since become an Islamist stronghold, traders have converted his more than 10-hectare palace grounds and barracks into a marketplace to sell birds, dogs and other pets.

The fate of Gaddafi’s palaces is not isolated—the demise of lush palaces in Africa where once strongman rulers have left is almost the order of the day. 

Remnants of Mobutu excess

In its hey day DR Congo Mobutu Sese Seko’s vast Gbadolite palace complex in his remote ancestral home employed more than 700 staff and played host to VIPs such as Pope John Paul II, UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali, and American televangelist Pat Robertson.

Mobutu’s ‘“African Versailles”, more than 1,000km from the capital, Kinshasa, cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dubbed the “Versailles  in the Jungle”, it also had an international airport that could accommodate aircraft, including the Concordes he regularly chartered, in addition to having its own power-generating dam.

A recent report in the Guardian detailed some of it: “…[it] brimmed with paintings, sculptures, stained glass, ersatz Louis XIV furniture, marble from Carrara in Italy and two swimming pools surrounded by loudspeakers playing his beloved Gregorian chants or classical music. It hosted countless gaudy nights with Taittinger champagne, salmon and other food served on moving conveyer belts by Congolese and European chefs.” 

The palace is now overrun with creepers, as the jungle slowly reclaims one of the most ostentatious pieces of architecture on the African continent. Looters had a field day after he was deposed in 1997, returning the palace to the bush it was raised from.

In the Congo’s northern Central African Republic (CAR) neighbour, the once-grand palace of self-styled emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa lie in ruins, 80 kilometres from the capital Bangui.

Bokassa’s palace is crumbled and rat-infested. Peter Bouckaert/Human Rights Watch

Militia recruits practice in its vast grounds, with the background of an algae-filled swimming pool. The tale of the emperor feeding his rivals to crocodiles has never quite been laid to rest, but from here he is said to have slept on a gold-plated bed, surrounded by piles of gold and diamonds.

His relatives who have now fallen on hard times, have been pushing to turn it into a tourist attraction.

Yamoussoukro ghost capital

In Cote d’Ivoire, Yamoussoukro was just another village in the bush, but it had the distinction of being the birth place of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the country’s first president. Houphouet-Boigny, like Mobutu, Bokassa and Cameroon’s Ahmadou Ahidjo among other post-independence Africa leaders was not averse to turning his home village into flights of fancy.

The old presidential palace in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire is now under lock and key. Luke Gelmi/Flickr

Yamoussoukro thus came to host what is claimed to be the world’s largest Christian church opened by the Pope, and an opulent presidential palace, in addition to a presidential mausoleum. The city has however remained a ghost town, despite being intended as the country’s new capital.

The deserted palace on which Houphouet-Boigny was interred in 1994 is not open to visitors, but many remain intrigued by the crocodiles in its artificial lake.

Cameroon’s Ahidjo

Cameroon’s Ahidjo has also in recent years enjoyed a revisionist wave, and acquired a mythical “father of the nation” stature as the country tires of Paul Biya’s 33-year-rule. But to most who lived under his reign he was a strong man who clamped down on many freedoms. 

He had a presidential spread built in his northern Cameroon birth town of Garoua, which also had an international airport. Located in Mayo-Oulo, the buildings remain under lock and key, the current administration content to blur out memories of his time in office.


His office was systematically looted and remains in a derelict state, haunted by bees and mice. Despite whispers that Ahidjo had intended to move the capital to Garoua, it remains a shell of its former self, despite two decades of close presidential attention. 

His old presidential palace in Yaounde has been turned into a national museum. He died in exile in Dakar.

Jinxed Guinea Bissau

In Guinea-Bissau, where no elected leader has ever finished their term, the presidential palace in the capital Bissau had to be abandoned following a civil war in 1998-1999. 

The armed conflict was triggered by an attempted coup d’état against the government of President João Bernardo Vieira.

The abandoned presidential palace of Guinea-Bissau, following vicious war. (Photo/Wikipedia)

Vieira was killed by soldiers on  March 2, 2009, apparently in retaliation for a bomb blast that killed Guinea-Bissau’s military chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie.

Sierra Leone, den of vice

Sierra Leone’s Kabasa Lodge now houses makeshift apartments and is a den of vice. Built by Siaka Stevens, the country’s third prime minister but first president, it stands derelict and rundown. Siaka was known for running a tight ship, marked by extreme corruption.

Kabasa Lodge is unrecognisable from its hey day. (Photo/Salone Online Free Press)

He also mismanaged the West African country’s economy, and retired in 1985. His policies are blamed for the country’s civil war. 

African presidential palaces, then seem to be an ill political omen. When a big man starts building one, in all probability he won’t be around much longer to enjoy it - nor will his children either. 

—Additional reporting from AFP

Received on Mon Apr 06 2015 - 16:25:10 EDT

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