Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coup d'Etats and other funny going-ons - Part II: The Wonga Coup

Beware, beware the Bight of Benin
For few come out though many go in.

Less than a year later, March 2004, saw a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea (EG). Richer pickings this time as EG is the third largest oil producer (after Nigeria and Angola) in Africa.

After independence from Spain in 1967 it was led by Macias Nguema whose brutality can be compared with that of Uganda's Idi Amin and the Central African Republic's Bokassa (shall we make a league table of the most brutal dictatorships that exist/have existed in Africa/the world? Perhaps by those killed or tortured per 1000 heads of population?) Anyway. his nephew Obiang, the current president, overthrew him in a coup in 1979 and promptly had him executed by a Moroccan firing squad. His own human rights record is only just slightly better than his uncle's.

In 2003 Simon Mann, a Brit who had run a mercenary business Executive Outcomes which gained fame in Sierra Leone and for whom several ex-Buffaloes worked, got together with some of his chums and decided to launch a coup in EG. They started off by setting up a "front" company led by a certain Nick du Toit supposedly to invest in fishing industry and recruited several other South African ex-special forces colleagues. He also befriended Obiang's younger brother, Armengol Nguema, the head of EG's security services and with a ruthless reputation. One of Nick's colleagues Sergio Cardoso travelled to Sao Tome on more than one occasion to seek advice from Arlecio Costa, the ex-Buffalo who led the attempted coup here and other Santomense ex-Buffaloes.

Prior to their arrival in Bioko another ex-Buffalo, Johannes Smith, had set himself up as an independent security advisor to the EG government.

Mann remained in South Africa doing the logistics - procuring arms, recruiting ex-special service "foot soldiers" and arranging transport. The cover story was protection of a mine in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo. Recruitment was not a problem - there were promises of rich pickings but arms and transport proved to be. Time was getting short as they hoped to install exiled EG politician Severo Moto as president before (obviously to be rigged) elections in March 2004. Transport proved problematic - he persuaded ex-UK prime minister's son Mark to finance the purchase of a helicopter (Mark Thatcher later claimed before a S. African court he had been misled into believing it was to be used in a new air ambulance company - oh yeah!). An airliner big enough to transport the troops and collect the arms cargoes was more problematic - eventually he bought one from a US family-owned company Dodson Aviation with an office in S. Africa and it was personally flown to S. Africa by a member of the Dodson family. Arms were an even greater problem and he eventually approached the state-owned Zimbabwe arms supply company (he should have contacted Viktor Bout!) and placed an order to be collected on the Dodson plane on its wat to Malabo with the foot-soldiers.

Loose talk!

Our previously mentioned Johannes Smith got wind of it and informed the EG government which contacted the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government and in an oil-for-action swap, Zimbabwe agreed to the arrest of everyone on the Dodson plane.

Nick du Toit made a final pre-coup visit to South Africa. He was returning to Bioko on a privately chartered jet which stopped off in Sao Tome to refuel and dropped off a South African businessman assisting and investing in a company helping the Santomense ex-Buffaloes to develop a luxury tourism complex on the north coast of Sao Tome.

As Nick and colleagues disembarked in Malabo, they were arrested. As Simon Mann and the "foot-soldiers" landed in Zimbabwe to collect the arms, they were arrested. South Africa negotiate for most of the "foot-soldiers" to be released after c. 1 ome year. Nick du Toit and colleagues langiush in the infamous Black Beach Prison as does Simon Mann who was extradited from Zimbabwe to EG.

Reference: The Wonga Coup by Adam Roberts

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