Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and the Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and the Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa

Article excerpt

Adam Roberts. The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and the Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an oil-Rich Corner of Africa. New York: PublicAffairs, 2006. xv + 303 pp. Bibliography. Index. $26.00. Cloth.

An old saw among overseas oil field workers goes: "What is such a nice resource like oil doing in such nasty countries?" In a similar vein, Adam Roberts asks why such a nice resource like oil attracts so many rogues. In this thoroughly readable, fast-paced investigative report, Roberts introduces a constellation of colorful characters. One of these is Simon Mann ("Captain F"), formerly of Eton and Britain's elite SAS military service, who decides to launch a coup by applying his business and military skills and his past connections to recruit soldiers of the former South African apartheid regime. His target is Equatorial Guinea's President Obiang, the corrupt authoritarian ruler of a tiny country that happens to sit atop a giant lake of oil. The president's calculating political and personal nemesis, Severo Moto ("SM") signs on to conceal the white faces, though he has his own ideas about who would come out on top. Shady financiers appear, most notably Sir Mark Thatcher ("Scratcher"), the none-too-bright son of the former British prime minister.

Followers of such skullduggery will recollect that in March 2004 the coup failed and many of the participants subsequently landed in jails in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe. Still, tins reader had to remind himself that Roberts's characters really behaved as he says they did, despite widening cracks in the plan. While launching a coup to seize a country (and its resources) is not a new idea, it is now a stupid one. Roberts points out that Nigeria's government moved to reverse a much more mundane coup in neighboring Sao Tome in 2003. More generally, other African states and the international community make life for successful coup plotters-and their business partners-more difficult than in years past. The idea that some white South African and British businessmen could just take over a country with the help of fighters recycled from the armed forces of apartheid and without attracting serious international condemnation requires quite a stretch of the imagination. …

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