I was on vacation last week and missed the opportunity to liveblog (or Time-Delay BlogTM) British gun-for-hire Simon Mann’s trial on charges arising out of a 2004 abortive coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.
I’m going to write about it now though, because E.G. president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is by far my favorite overlooked crazy-ass-dictator, and I think he deserves more media attention. He made it to #13 on Parade Magazine’s “World’s Worst Dictators” list this year, but I feel like a guy who has publicly proclaimed himself a god with accompanying divine right to kill whomever he wants should at least clear the top 10.
Anyway, last Monday a court in Equatorial Guinea sentenced Simon Mann to 34 years in jail for his role in the World’s Most Ill-Conceived Coup Attempt on Record. He, along with roughly 70 other foreign nationals, had been arrested in the Harare (Zimbabwe) airport on March 7, 2004 and accused of being mercenaries on their way to E.G. to overthrow Obiang’s government.
It later transpired that in the first week of March Spain had decided that a whole bunch of their warships were extremely bored and needed a change of scenery and moved them to a new location just off the coast of E.G. And, as it happened, an unusual number of exiled Equatorial Guineans seem to have been spotted hanging around the State Department building in Washington D.C. during the end of 2003/beginning of 2004. Unfortunately for Mann, though, it turned out that, despite these coincidences, the Whole Thing Was Definitely Mann’s Idea and No One Else Was Involved.
Mann was sentenced to 4 years of jail time in Zimbabwe for unlawful helicopter purchase. (For serious.) He was released after 3 years on good behavior, which included implicating Mark Thatcher, son of the Iron Lady herself, as a major financial backer of the coup plot. Thatcher eventually pled down to house arrest for his “unwitting” involvement. (Does anyone else think this sounds like a corollary to that old joke about the difference between heaven and hell? You know, in heaven the French are the chefs and the Germans organize everything, but in hell the British and Spanish plan the coups??)
In May of 2007, Zimbabwean officials agreed to extradite Mann to E.G. in exchange for (1) a promise to waive the death penalty; and (2) a generous helping of the sweet light crude that E.G. produces at a rate of half a million barrels per day.
Nobody seems to think Mann will actually serve out his prison term. -Not least because it would be a rare feat for anyone to survive 34 years in Black Beach prison, which is known for militant neglect of prisoners’ health. Meanwhile, Obiang has recently installed a new government, having decided that his feelings were too hurt by the old government’s potential involvement in the coup attempt to keep it around. He also announced that he definitely, absolutely, probably, maybe plans to give up power one of these days, he just can’t say for sure exactly when.