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Destination Malabo

Destination Malabo

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Published by: heminator on Jun 12, 2010
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Destination Malabo
 A group of mercenaries’ failed attemptto take over the worst place on earth.
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hat’s the worst place in the world? If one were to judge strictly by mediahype, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and Sudanwould seem to be the prime contend-ers. Some pieces of terra firma, how-ever, are so Godforsaken and blood-soaked that they areignored by the media lest they be allowed to troublethe Western world’s already guilt-ridden conscience.This is why you never read anythingabout Equatorial Guinea, a countryof such Dantesque absurdity as toscarcely be believed.Physically, Equatorial Guinea isan odd and remote country. Slightlysmaller than Maryland, it is nestledfirmly in the armpit of Africa’s west-ern coast between Gabon and Cam-eroon, and bordering the Bight of Biafra. But there are also five inhab-ited islands. The largest of these,known as Fernando Pó or Bioko,houses the capital, Malabo, and islocated 150 miles from the mainlandoff the coast of Cameroon. Equato-rial Guinea has the second smallestpopulation on continental Africa.It was a Spanish territory for 190 years, though Spainrepeatedly tried to offload it on other nations for a mea-ger price. Graham Greene, who did clandestine work forthe British government in western Africa during WorldWar II, simply called it “the little dreadful Spanishisland.” Spain was a callous colonial ruler, but it at leastkept up the cocoa plantations and encouraged commerce.It was when the Spaniards left in 1968 that things reallywent south, and Equatorial Guinea came to be known asthe “Dachau of Africa.” One aid worker declared, “On ascale of one to ten, even an African scale, it’s a zero.” InMalabo in 1971, an American diplomat stabbed his gaylover and embassy colleague 10 times with a pair of scis-sors. His (unsuccessful) defense was that living in Equa-torial Guinea drove him insane.So what happened? Well, stop me if you’ve heard thisone before, but in the latter part of the 20th century, acolonial power became indifferent to its African territory.Independence loomed. The colonial power propped upthe local leader they perceived to be mostfriendly to their interests. Elections wereheld. The newly elected African leaderimmediately began consolidating power.Democracy was strangled in the crib, anda brutal dictator emerged.Where Equatorial Guinea departsfrom the standard African narrative isin exactly how brutal and capricious itsnewly installed dictator proved to be. Theson of a witch doctor, Macías Nguemabegan as a populist politician among theFang, the country’s largest ethnic group.His election in 1968 was hailed by Spainas “a peaceful, friendly, and constructivedevelopment.” He promptly kicked off an11-year reign of terror.
N
guema flattened the cocoa plantations, out-lawed fishing in an island nation, and destroyedall the industry. He had 10 of his original 12cabinet ministers killed, banned Western medicine, andlet cholera run amok in regions whose political supporthe doubted. He declared that “intellectuals are the great-est problem facing Africa today” and then forbade useof the word “intellectual.” He established links withthe Soviet Union and kidnapped foreigners for ransom.He referred to himself as “God’s Unique Miracle,” shutdown nearly all the country’s schools and churches—in the overwhelmingly Christian country—and once,according to the
 Financial Times
, “unskillfully hanged”150 people in a soccer stadium “to the strains of Mary
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H
EMINGWAY 
 Mark Hemingway is staff reporter at
National Review Online
.
50 miles
GULF OF GUINEA
Bight of Biafra
CAMEROONGABONEquatorialGuinea
Malabo
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Hopkin singing ‘Those Were the Days’ over the loud-speaker system.” A bit showy, you think? Perhaps, but itwas Christmas. Reports indicate that Nguema was a keenpractitioner of one of the local anthropological curiosi-ties—cannibalism. This taste may explain his cherishedskull collection.By the time Nguema was deposed in 1979, a third of the country’s population—around half-a-million at inde-pendence—had been killed and another third had fledthe country. Macías Nguema was removed in a bloodycoup by his nephew, Obiang Nguema. Obiang had servedin his uncle’s government and was complicit in many of his crimes. In power he has hardly shown himself averseto violence, torture, and corruption—there are allega-tions that he, too, is a cannibal and ate the liver of a polit-ical opponent in 1993. But, he has also shown himself tobe concerned with the appearance of holding elections.Rigged elections, yes, but still elections. In May, the rul-ing party captured 99 of 100 seats in the country’s assem-bly. The government issued a press release:
DEMOCRACY
 
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GUINEA
.This darkest place on the Dark Continent, though,has been threatening to become a player in world affairs.Large oil reserves were discovered off the coast in 1996.Since then, this land where civilization fears to tread hasbeen the recipient of $10 billion in foreign investment,and currently produces about 400,000 barrels of oil perday. Still, for most of the country it’s business, or thelack thereof, as usual. Per capita income is now secondonly to Luxembourg; a remarkable statistic consideringEquatorial Guinea has the smallest proportion of GDPspent on health and education of any country in Africa.That’s probably because the country’s rulers are squir-reling away all the oil money in foreign banks. In 2004,a money laundering investigation into Riggs Bank inWashington, D.C., called for $360 million of EquatorialGuinean funds to be frozen until their origin could besorted out.
   A   S   S   O   C   I   A   T   E   D   P   R   E   S   S
 
Mann’s plan for overthrowing the government of EquatorialGuinea was cobbled together fromFrederick Forsyth’s 1974 novel,‘The Dogs of War,’ a revered textamong mercenaries.
(Above) Simon Mann during his four-daytrial in Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo,in July 2008.
 
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Despite the obvious corruption, the United Statesnow considers the brutal backwater to be of major stra-tegic importance, given the turmoil in world oil marketsand the fact that China is taking an active interest in theregion. In 2006, two months after Equatorial Guineasigned a major oil contract with the China National Off-shore Oil Company, Obiang Nguema made an officialvisit to Washington. Secretary of State Condoleezza Ricecalled Obiang a “good friend.”And if you thought the small country’s historycouldn’t get any more tragicomic, Equatorial Guinea wasrecently host to one of the most bizarre trials in recentmemory. At issue is what role the governments of theUnited States, Spain, South Africa, and the United King-dom played in the failed attempt by a marauding bandof British and South African mercenaries to overthrowObiang’s government.
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lack Beach prison in Malabo is one of the country’sfew notable addresses. It was Macías Nguema’s pre-ferred execution spot and has housed two genera-tions of political prisoners in near starvation conditions.Black Beach is currently playing host to the most illustri-ous prisoner in its history. He also happens to be guilty of the crimes he was accused of committing.Simon Mann (1952–) does not have the typical merce-nary’s pedigree. His father was the captain of England’snational cricket team and heir to the Watney Mann brew-ing fortune. Educated at Eton, Mann attended Sandhurst,took a commission in the Scots Guards, and eventuallyserved in Britain’s elite Special Air Service (SAS).Mann followed up his military career with a series of failed business ventures and a brief return to active dutyduring the Gulf war. Soon after, he became one of the prin-cipals in a private military company, Executive Outcomes.Clients included Texaco and De Beers, but the companywasn’t exactly discriminating. It was, however, effective.In the early 1990s, working on behalf of major oil compa-nies and the Angolan government, Executive Outcomesreclaimed oil facilities seized by rebels in military opera-tions of an unprecedented size for a private army.In 1996, Mann created a subsidiary called Sandline andrecruited a former lieutenant-colonel of the Scots Guards,Tim Spicer, to run it. While the point of the subsidiarywas to distance itself from the shady reputation Execu-tive Outcomes had acquired, Mann and Spicer set aboutdoing their best to tarnish the new name. In 1997, Sand-line received $36 million from the government of PapuaNew Guinea to end a revolt in Bougainville. News of thedeal caused the army to revolt and forced the prime minis-ter to resign. Spicer was arrested as soon as Sandline forcesattempted to enter the country. His release was securedonly after the British government intervened.By the next year, Sandline was embroiled in a muchbigger scandal, accused of violating a U.N. arms embargo inSierra Leone on behalf of an Indian client himself accusedof embezzling millions from a Thai bank. Still, Sandlineoperated in one form or another until 2004. That was theyear Mann was arrested for masterminding an attempt tooverthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.On March 7, 2004, Simon Mann and 67 South Africanmercenaries were arrested on board a Boeing 727 at an air-port in Harare, Zimbabwe, en route to Equatorial Guinea.Mann was accused of trying to purchase a large shipment of weapons during their brief stopover in Zimbabwe. Alreadyon board were hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of weapons and equipment, as well as $180,000 in cash.The next day, a South African named Nick du Toit and14 mercenaries were arrested as part of the advance teaminside Equatorial Guinea. They were lying in wait, readyto seize the airport tower in Malabo and otherwise lay thegroundwork for Mann’s planeload of soldiers to take overthe country.While these events raised eyebrows internationally,what really caught the attention of the world’s press camefour months later when the South African police raidedthe home of one of Simon Mann’s Cape Town neigh-bors—Mark Thatcher, son of the former British primeminister. (Bizarrely enough, Obiang’s playboy son, Teodo-rin, also has a house in the same posh suburb, Constantia).Thatcher, who has amassed a sizable personal fortune invarious businesses, has a checkered past involving accusa-tions of loan sharking, Saudi bribes, and tax evasion.Investigators had discovered a number of suspiciousmoney transfers to Logo Logistics, a firm owned by Mann,just prior to the coup attempt. Investigators think thatThatcher contributed about $275,000 for the purpose of chartering a helicopter to be used in the coup. Thatchermaintained that he didn’t know the funds were to be usedfor the coup attempt, but eventually struck a deal and paida $500,000 fine to the South African government, whichhas strict laws curbing mercenary activity.Ely Calil, a Lebanese-Nigerian financier—underinvestigation at the time by the French government forshady oil dealings in Nigeria—also allegedly helped fundthe plot. Calil is friendly with an Equatorial Guineanpriest named Severo Moto who is in exile in Spain. Theplotters had planned to install him as the country’s newruler. In the 1990s, Moto had tried his own hand at over-throwing Obiang. He was arrested by Angolan authori-ties on a Russian fishing trawler full of arms and soldiersheaded for his native country. After fleeing to Spain, hewas convicted of high treason in Equatorial Guinea and

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