Equatorial Guinea is a small micro-state “which sits in the armpit of Africa” about the size of the state of Maryland. In 1968, after becoming independent from Spain, this small plot of land, known to some as Devil’s Island, became the 126th member of the United Nations. The despotic, maniacal son of a witch doctor who won the election after independence, Macias Nguema, certainly turned it into a virtual hell for its citizens. The economy was pummeled into the ground, and governmental as well as civil assassinations become a horrifying norm. Macias outlawed Western medicines, calling them “un-African,” which resulted in outbreaks of cholera, ebola, tuberculosis, and leprosy. Uncle Macias, reputed to be a cannibal, reigned until 1979, at which time he was disposed by his nephew, Obiang Nguema. The kindest that can be said of Obiang is that he is not quite as mad as his Uncle Macias.
During Macias’ reign, British author Frederick Forsyth wrote a fictional account detailing how to overthrow a government identical to Equatorial Guinea. The Dogs of War became an instruction manual for the plot to overthrow Obiang in 2004. Simon Mann was the leader and mastermind of the motley band of mercenaries, which included Britains’ former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark. Make no mistake, this gang of thugs cared little for the people of Equatorial Guinea. Under Obiang, the country’s oil reserves caused the economy to grow, though little of that went to its citizens. Obiang learned the elements of torture from his uncle and oversaw the sadistic horrors of prisoners in Black Beach prison.
Oil was the draw for the new dogs of war; this was the “wonga,” (vast amounts of money). Mann planned to control the economy by putting in the leader of his choice, Severo Moto. Adam Roberts leads the reader through the maze of scheming that did not result in the overthrow of the government but in the downfall of the mercenaries hired by Mann. It seems most likely that Forsyth was involved not in a fictional coup of Equatorial Guinea thirty years before, but in plotting an actual failed coup.
This is a complex book, a cautionary tale that warns: “while it is power that corrupts, it is oil that corrupts completely.”