Mr. Obiang, who doubles as the country's agricultural minister, approached Germany's Kusch Yachts to commission "Zen": a $380 million football field-length cruise-liner packing a movie theater, restaurant, bar, fingerprint-activated doorknobs, and a swimming pool, says Global Witness.
Zen's basic design was completed by Kusch in December 2009 for $342,000 with an original delivery date set for late 2012, but construction has not yet started.
The government of the oil-rich but dirt-poor nation says Obiang never intended to use government funds to purchase a personal ark. He was just, they say, inquiring on what such a boat would cost – then caught sticker shock and thought better of his sealust.
But even if they're right, what was a guy whose official salary is only $81,588 a year be doing at the yacht store? It would take 4,600 years of regular wages to pay off Project Zen. Even an average yacht – a $65 million proposition, according to a 2005 Forbes Magazine report – would require 797 years of steady government work as the agricultural minister.
Yet, despite his bureaucrat's salary, Obiang finds a way to whet his appetite for the finer things in life.
Obiang boasts a $35 million Malibu mansion, a private jet, a one-in-thirty Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 (the wold's most expensive contemporary car), a record label that doesn't make records, and – if gossip blogs are to be believed – a romance history with Eve, the American rapper who did "Who's That Girl." (New York Daily News claimed the two spent a Christmas partying on Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's $700,000-a-spin yacht.)
It's hard to fathom how a man who rolls with Malibuans and cuddles rap stars didn't have an inkling of what the world's the world's second most expensive oceangoing acropolis would do to his Bank of America checking account.
Equatorial Guinea's poverty
And what would it cost the country? World, meet Equatorial Guinea: Africa's fourth-largest oil producer where poverty has somehow found the foot room to get worse since its two islands started shipping crude into your gas tank.
If all the money in the country was split per-person, the average Equatorial Guinean would harvest $37,900 a year. Instead, three-fourths live on less than five quarters a day, and a third die before age 40.
The country's meager health and education budget combined wouldn't pay for a third of the cost of Zen, Global Witness claims. Even the World Bank – which usually likes to see money funneled toward bridges, dams, power plants, something Rockerfeller-esque – has chastised the country for its meager education noblesse.
Yet if there's any question on where Obiang picked up his expensive tastes, here's the backstory, per Foreign Policy: In 1991, Walter International, a Houston-based gas company, pledged to pick up Obiang's tuition bill at Pepperdine University as a way of courting government goodwill during the early days of Equatorial Guinea's oil and gas exploration.
The bill came back pretty high – $50,000 for one semester – after the freshman ditched the dorms, rented a Malibu palace and a hotel suite, then promptly dropped out.
Walter International, its industry peers – and we who pump that sweet, light crude into our tanks – have been picking that bill up ever since.