A nasty intersection of money and politics

2009-04-02 00:00

YOU can read this book as non-fiction — or thriller. If it reminds you of Frederick Forysth’s novel, The Dogs of War, that’s because his book was probably the blueprint for an attempted invasion of Fernando Po in the seventies. This is the world of mercenaries where reality is hard to disentangle from fantasy.

Thirty years later, the target was the same place, now known as Equatorial Guinea and producing large amounts of oil. Otherwise little had changed in what is called the flea in Africa’s armpit and run as a family business by the vicious Nguemas. The current president has behaved like an inefficient Pol Pot and looted the country’s wealth. Corruption is the main industry.

A motley band of restless adventurers, political fantasists, out-of-work soldiers of fortune, and reckless businessmen looking for quick profit was meant to take Malabo in March 2004. But their complex and ambitious plan failed when the invasion force was arrested during a stopover in Harare to collect weapons.

The fortunate plotters melted away. Those out of luck landed up in Chikurubi and Black Beach prisons. Roberts’s description of conditions there is enough to make your stomach turn. He interviewed Mark Thatcher, who had invested in the coup, was unwise enough to stay

in South Africa and subsequently prosecuted. He emerges as a dimwit with a liking for jocular threats.

The aborted invasion, surrounded by loose talk and a trail of paper, was launched from South Africa. The crucial question is this: how much did our government know? This book shows that it turned a blind eye breaking South African law on mercenary activity to ingratiate itself with the odious regimes of Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea. This book provides abundant evidence that it effectively became a plotter.

Christopher Merrett

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