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Africa :: Guinea
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IT SOUNDS like a rip-off from Frederick Forsyth's novel The Dogs of War in which mercenaries, organised by members of the British establishment, overthrow the dictator of 'Zangaro' to get hold of its vast platinum reserves.
But the arrest of Mark Thatcher, (wheeler-dealing, multi-millionaire son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher), by South African police who say he funded a failed coup plot in oil-rich equatorial Guinea, is for real.
This modern-day intrigue, according to various media reports, involves a dodgy Lebanese businessman billionaire, old Etonian mercenary Simon Mann and his Tory establishment chums Mark Thatcher and disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer.
And, depending which newspaper you read, the coup was supported/foiled by the US, British, French and Spanish secret services. But as Anthony Sampson writing in The Independent points out, the networks of mercenaries operating in Africa and elsewhere are a legacy of the former South African Apartheid regime.
These 'dogs of war' were armed and financed not only to try to destroy the ANC (African National Congress) but the CIA also encouraged them during the Cold War to destabilise the neighbouring states of Mozambique and Angola whose regimes were backed by the Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the Stalinist states and the ending of the Apartheid era the mercenaries went freelance. As Sampson says: "South Africa became the world's chief base for mercenary activity; while weak and corrupt governments across the continent were easy targets for rebel leaders, backed by big-business interests, which could deploy mercenaries against the ill-trained local armies."
And while the US and British governments may have assisted the current South African government of president Thabo Mbeki in foiling the Equatorial Guinea coup, that doesn't make them averse to using mercenaries when it suits their imperialist interests.
In Sierra Leone in 1998, Britain's High Commissioner used the mercenary services of the company Sandline (co-founded by Simon Mann) to help restore to power president Kabbah. Also, in Iraq, the US puppet regime of Allawi allows thousands of 'security personnel', ie mercenaries provided by US and British companies, to operate with impunity. In Afghanistan, the US-backed beleaguered president, Hamid Karzai, is protected by mercenary bodyguards.
It is the continuation of imperialism with its insatiable desire for cheap labour and materials and profitable markets backed by its military might, which is responsible for the wars and carnage which blight much of Africa and the Middle East today.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA is a tiny oil-rich African state with an impoverished population. Its president Teodoro Obiang Nguem, supposed target of the failed coup plot, is a corrupt brutal dictator. For 25 years he has ruled by killing and jailing of opponents, torture and rigging elections.
But it's not concern about democracy that motivated these alleged coup-makers. The US estimates that it will find 25% of its oil in West Africa within ten years. US oil giant Exxon Mobil have a big stake in Equatorial Guinea already.
The country's oil boom led to a dramatic increase in its industrial production, but its people's living standards remain among the lowest in Africa - most of the 500,000 population live in slums.
Much of the country's oil money stays abroad: top US oil companies are said to pay bribes directly into an "offshore account" controlled by Obiang at a bank in Washington.
Burkina Faso (3)
Democratic Republic of Congo (4)
Ivory Coast (3)
South Africa (127)
Article dated 4 September 2004
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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