RealNews

Congo Hotel Survives All Manner of Strife

It’s counted diamond dealers, foreign soldiers and an ill-fated president among the guests. It’s been occupied by rebels who left behind astronomical bar tabs. It’s been splattered with bullets, littered with corpses, battered, broken, bruised and rebuilt. In the city immortalized by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” the Palm Beach Hotel has seen it all, and survived — much like the country itself. “It’s been difficult really, but we managed. In Congo, we always manage,” says Gaspar Mande, the soft-spoken chief receptionist. The brainchild of a general once close to the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, the Palm Beach opened in 1995 — just in time for an anti-Mobutu rebellion that swept the country a year later. When rebels led by Laurent Kabila captured Kisangani in 1997, it didn’t take them long to check in. But not as paying guests. Heavily armed soldiers camped out six to a room, pillaging telephones, TVs, VCRs, alarm clocks and refrigerators. Rebel commanders sent the hotel’s staff home amid the chaos, but invited them back weeks later after realizing their troops were occupying a potentially lucrative source of income. “They needed money, so they kicked the soldiers out,” says one employee, Jeff Basilieki. Full Story

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