Saturday, December 14, 2013

Malabo's Nice New Fortress Embassy, And Its Bad Old Days Of Mayhem

Image from KCCT website

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has cut the ribbon on another new Fortress Embassy, this one in Malabo, and for the low, low, price of only $71 million. That's bargain basement.

I'm not being the least bit sarcastic about the cost. That has got to be the cheapest new embassy complex OBO has built in the last 10 years or more, especially considering that it includes staff housing, recreational facilities, and nearly self-sufficient site utilities, in addition to the chancery office building.

From the press release:
In an important symbol of our friendship and bilateral relationship with the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea Mark L. Asquino presided over the dedication of the new U.S. Embassy complex in Malabo today.

The new multi-building complex provides embassy employees with a safe, secure, and modern workplace. Situated on a 12.5-acre site in the Malabo Dos section of the capital, the complex includes a chancery building, a service/utility building, an access pavilion, Chief of Mission residence, Deputy Chief of Mission residence, staff housing, and a recreational facility.

The $71 million project incorporates numerous sustainable features to conserve resources and reduce operating costs, including an energy recovery unit that reduces the need for heating and cooling, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, and the use of regional and recycled materials. The new Embassy is registered with the U.S. Green Building Certification Institute as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) facility.

The facility was designed by Karn Charuhas Chapman and Twohey (KCCT) of Washington, DC, and constructed by Caddell Construction Co. of Montgomery, Alabama.

I'm delighted to read that the new embassy has an "access pavilion." A pavilion ... the very word makes me think of some pleasant little structure, maybe a nice shady place where the embassy staff can gather after work and have gin and tonics while they enjoy the spectacular equatorial sunset. But it's really just OBO's design excellence jargon for what is normally called a "compound access control" facility, i.e., a building for TSA-style screening of visitors.

Hey, OBO, people can see through that architectural happy talk. What's the point of trying to soften the reality of metal detectors and x-ray machines? Just call it a Compound Access Control facility, which is the official term. Even KCCT, your design firm on the Malabo project, uses that term in its own press releases for other embassy work.

KCCT, by the way, has made a specialty of overseas work for OBO and some other U.S. government agencies. That business model has been recession-proof, as described in a profile in a business journal last year:
D.C. architecture firm KCCT stays under the radar thanks to work on overseas embassies, consulates

The firm is now working on the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center for a possible 2,000-acre site near Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Va., where future diplomats will learn about terrorist tactics to help them prepare for working in dangerous locations abroad.

Over the past two decades, KCCT has come to specialize in designing overseas diplomatic facilities, creating 151 of those projects in 114 nations. Those commissions include 18 new embassy and consulate compounds in countries as varied as Angola, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Vietnam.

No post about Equatorial Guinea would be complete without noting how completely bat guano crazy the country once was. The place has settled down nicely since oil was discovered and business interests took over, but in the 1960s and '70s Malabo was very likely the worst place in Africa. More horrendous than even Idi Amin's Uganda.

Globetrotting With Uncle Sam has a fine blog post from last February about the recent history of Murder and Violence in Malabo:

Since 1968 when the country became independent, Equatorial Guineans have lived under two repressive dictators, both stemming from the same family. The current president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is the nephew of the first president, Francisco, Marchias Nguema, who many considered insane and who on Christmas Day in 1975, has 150 coup plotters killed in the national stadium while a band played "Those Were the Days."

Shortly after independence, the State Department opened an embassy in Malabo and assigned two officers -- a charge' d'affairs and an administrative officer. The stress of opening an embassy on Fernando Po must have gotten to the Charge' as in 1971 he radioed the Embassy in nearby Yaounde, Cameroon to report that the Administrative Officer was involved in a communist plot. The embassy directed that the consul from Douala immediately charter a plane to Malabo and to take control of the embassy. Upon arrival he found that the charge' had killed the administrative officer in the embassy under very mysterious circumstances.

-- snip --

Equatorial Guinea has been the target for at least two coup attempts. The first, against former President Marchia, is said to be the setting for Fredrick Forseyth's book "The Dogs of War" which was made into a movie by the same name. The second, the so-called Wonga Coup, took place after oil was discovered. It was led by Simon Mann, an Englishman living in South Africa and the son of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is said to have helped finance this attempt.

Here's a first-person account of the 1971 incident by the FSO who was sent to Malabo in response to the chargé's bizarre radio calls and discovered the murder. The chargé' was convicted of murder in a U.S. court despite being irrational and possibly insane, and it has never been made clear what exactly happened and why. His son later attributed the murder to a mental breakdown brought on by the terrorizing conditions of Malabo in 1971, however, the son was far too young at the time to be in a position to really know that. 

Forseyth's novel, "The Dogs of War," was extremely well-informed about the first coup attempt, and its plot anticipated the discovery of oil in Malabo, which discovery provided the motive for the later Wonga coup. The movie version of Dogs is worth watching - I found it on Netflix - for Christopher Walken's portrayal of the mercenary who goes a little crazy in a Malabo prison and then goes rogue on his London businessmen employers.

Malabo inspired murder in the movies, too

The movie had a happy ending. I mean, as happy as anything could get in Malabo in the days before the oil boom.


James said...

For Mr. Nguema and that country try this Wikipedia link. There is another Wiki link where they clean it up, but maybe this one is a truer description.,d.b2I&cad=rja

James said...

I must say the use of "Those were the Days" was an interesting touch and the executioners were dressed as Santa, proving the left always considers feelings.

TSB said...

The events in Malabo back then didn't get the attention of the news media the way Idi Amin did in Uganda, and to a lesser extent the even crazier Emperor Bokassa the First in Central African Repubic. The place is an obscure island, so it was out of sight and mind.

What a place Africa was in the 1970s!

Anonymous said...

TSB: I'm reading a book about a Cuban born in the late 50's who became a top Cuban special forces guy. He was inducted in the military at age 13, trained by the Soviets. His experiences in Angola and Afghanistan in the 70's and 80's are really interesting because we never heard the other side to these stories. He came here on the great "Mariel Boat Lift" and eventually used his military experience to rob Las Vegas Casinos. gwb Title: Storming Las Vegas

James said...

Conrad had it at least partly right in calling it the "Heart of Darkness"!

Anonymous said...

Thanks TSB! That's a great post and now I know where Malabo is. gwb

TSB said...

GWB: the Angola civil war was a bizarro world event in which the USA funded both the rebels (via the CIA) and the pro-Soviet government (via taxes paid by U.S. oil companies). The height of absurdity was when the rebels used their South African partners to try to attack the oil facilities and the government used a regiment of Cuban troops to guard the gringos' investment.

I'll look for that book. The only first-hand account I heard of the Angolan war came from a Brazilian major who served as a UN peacekeeper monitoring the Cuban withdrawal.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing the great reads I come across in my local library. A side story in Ch 7 is about Wayne Smith, the State Dept attache in Havana from 58-61 then from 79-81. He has a very different view on the Mariel Boatlift than we were told. The book I think is mostly about Las Vegas' lack of security. Smith was totally ignored by the State Dept and was against the Cuban sanctions by the time he left State. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB;James/ Sunday humor via John ('just stayin relevant my friends')McCain. Lindsey begged off on this one. gwb

TSB said...

GWB: I remember Wayne Smith. He was a junior officer in Havana when we closed the post in 1960 (61?) and the chief of mission when we reopened it in the Carter administration. Funny thing is he looked like Castro's slightly younger brother. His advocacy for Castro made him a bit of a rogue.

Anonymous said...

You got it TSB! What a memory. I would really enjoy hearing more from him. Why don't you get him to do a guest post? (distinguished himself for his approach towards dialogue with the Cuban regime.[1]

He later became an academic, and is currently at Johns Hopkins University. He is one of the major skeptics about the US embargo against Cuba.) gwb

Anonymous said...

And a Happy Boston Tea Pary Anniversary TSB plus somebody found a rogue judge!! gwb

TSB said...

GWB: Smith wrote a book back in the 1980s, I think it was, and another bit of trivia that I remember from it is that Kathleen Turner, the actress, was one of the children of the U.S. Embassy community in Havana when the post was closed.

Anonymous said...

TSB: I noticed that Judge Leon's decision is getting mention on TV but Larry Klayman who filed the suit isn't mentioned. He is like Juan Cole..banned from media mention for bucking the system. It looks like NSA has been messing with his emails too!