"The Wonga Coup"

by Adam Roberts Reviewed by: Olatoun Williams

Equatorial Guinea, West Africa, ‘a small patch of land divided between a square of mainland territory and a scattering of islands in the Gulf of Guinea. The jungle covered part borders Gabon and Cameroun’. Sao Tome and Principe is a neighbor. So is Nigeria. EG is insignificant, a flea in the armpit of Africa that nobody ever cared about, not even the Spanish who once owned it. But there is to be coup - or in gentlemen gangster terms, an ‘assisted regime change’. It has as a primary goal, the violent toppling of Obiang Nguema, the current President. We learn that Nguema presides over a corrupt government in which his son Teodoro serves as 2nd Vice President in charge of defense and security. President Obiang rules over the full spectrum of African poverty at the heart of which witchcraft and superstition abound and ‘village rivalries (are) elevated to the level of national politics’.

Who are the coup plotters, the ‘gentlemen’ gangsters of the ‘Wonga Coup’? They are foreigners to Equatorial Guinea, behaving very badly.From the facts documented by Roberts, in a random line up: Simon Mann – ex Etonian, ex SAS officer, coup instigator and leader; on the periphery but somehow key, Jeffrey Archer, writer of blockbuster novels; Mark Thatcher – son of the late Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and prominent despite his absence, the cynical, cultivated tycoon, Ely Calil, a Lebanese, resident at the time between London and Nigeria.

And in association with these “scandal prone” foreigners to Equatorial Guinea, a sprawling crew of others- many of whom are South African - Apartheid era throwbacks. These mercenaries, former soldiers of the 32nd Batallion were once and still may be known in Southern Africa and Angola, as ‘the terrible ones.

Kudos to Adam Roberts: the volume of detail packed into his chronicle of the ‘Wonga Coup’, is stunning. However, even after a 2nd reading, due to no fault of his, I was far from untangling the multiple threads of relationships, loose ends and strategies that make up the absurd and staggeringly presumptuous plot. Across a landscape of 276 pages and 3 continents, I came across hundreds of codenames and characters each as dodgy as the next; sinners hanging out with tarnished saints some of whom purport to represent the law. This is the demi monde of international politics, murky as mud and no one can be trusted. I battled through stockpiles of ammunition: AK47s, 30 mm mortars, RPGs, yawned through letters and silly plans to stage a coup which became such an open secret it was discussed in a semi public lecture at the UK’s Chatham House! Nick du Toit, Mann's 2nd in command, even invites James Brabazon, writer and film maker, to come along to film the coup's implementation.

Salon.com describes these kinds of adventures well: “….a crazy mirror game…between real soldiers of fortune and the popular entertainments (books and movies) that glorify them”.

Staged on 6th - 7th March 2004, wonga was the driver of the botched coup. Oil soaked millions funneled through Simon Mann's proposed charter company - a neo-colonial construct in the tradition of the British East India Company.The welfare of the poor, downtrodden people of Equatorial Guinea had nothing to do with the war waged selfishly and shamelessly on their soil. I recommend Adam Robert's ‘Wonga Coup’ for its insight into a peculiar perception of Africa and its people which is as dismissive of the rulers as it is of those ruled over.

Mann has written a book about his adventure. Called ‘Cry Havoc’, it is 361 pages of what he terms a ‘swashbuckling fuck up’. Needless to say I have no intention of reading it.

The Wonga Coup