Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Saturday, 6 November 2004 @ 4:46 pm.
"We are ready for an unforeseen event that may, or may not occur." - Al Gore, Vice President, USA (1992~2000). Question: What really attracted Sir Mark Thatcher - the very beloved son of Margaret (The Iron Lady), former Prime Minister of Great Britain - to be involved in coup plotting in Equatorial Guinea?
Answer: Crude oil, Stupid!
Equatorial Guinea was fairly well-off in the 1950s, even with its modest slave labour-driven, cocoa-based economy. The country became independent in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish colonial rule. Equatorial Guinea's first post-independence president, Francisco Macias Nguema, (who was probably afflicted with either benign psychosis or acute ignorance), unleashed a nightmarish reign of state-sponsored sadism, that led to the death, disappearance, or exile of an estimated 30% of the country. Under his dictatorship, the capacity of the state to do anything meaningful for its citizens was practically zero. Equatorial Guinea was simply a failed state: a banana republic!
President Macias Nguema was overthrown, and subsequently executed by his own nephew, Obiang Nguema-Mbasogo, in 1979. Nonetheless, executive corruption persisted. Opposition leaders were hounded and tortured, and, predictably, Obiang Nguema-Mbasogo won 97% of the votes in massively rigged elections. Funny enough, for over fifteen (15) years, Equatorial Guinea continued to thrive as a full-blown banana republic under President Obiang, simply because the country escaped the attention of external predators. Today, with the discovery of crude oil in Equatorial Guinea, all of that has changed.
Petroleum was discovered in Equatorial Guinea in 1995. Suddenly, Equatorial Guinea's economy expanded by a mind-blowing 1,500%. Overnight, oil production leapt from zero to 350,000 barrels per day! Mercenaries tried to invade the country in 1997; separatists attempted a rebellion in 1998; then there was an attempted coup d'etat in 2002. Each time, President Obiang Nguema-Mbasogo crushed the invasion, (or rebellion, or coup attempt) with shocking barbarity and assiduous brutality, with a little help from his loyal foreign "bodyguards".
Unlike Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea is one of those rare cases in which the discovery of petroleum has not yet aggravated the country's social, economic, environmental, and political problems, primarily because that country's government already existed in a hopeless state of near-total dysfunction before the discovery of crude oil there. The country's decayed infrastructure, and paralysed bureaucracy, plagued with corruption, fails to provide even basic welfare services to most of its population.
In 2004, a band of aging White mercenaries, (mostly veterans of an infamous mercenary organisation that coordinated communal clashes, inter-ethnic conflicts, and civil wars on behalf of various so-called "ethnic militia", "warlords", diamond-smuggling barons, and oil-rich rogue regimes in West Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa), met in South Africa, with the sole objective to destabilise and overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, in exchange for petro-dollars and lucrative petro-contracts. An opposition leader, one Mr. Severo Moto, who was then in exile in Madrid, was slated to take over power in a "government of national unity, consensus, and reconciliation". President Obiang Nguema-Mbasogo was to be flown to Spain "in the national interest". But it all went wonderfully wrong.
The mercenaries were arrested, variously in Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. And then, they began to talk. Subsequently, the South African police arrested the son of the Iron Lady, Sir Mark Thatcher on suspicion of being one of the active mentors, and key financiers of the failed coup plot.
"Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992, because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may re-apply if there is a change in your circumstances."
-- Department of Social Services, Greenville, South Carolina, USA.
In the past, both the USA and the EU took strong stands against authoritarianism, and institutionalised executive kleptomania in Equatorial Guinea. In the early 1990s, the US ambassador to Equatorial Guinea openly criticised his host government's very poor human rights record. In response, the government of Equatorial Guinea formally accused the US ambassador of practicing witchcraft, and told him to leave their (God-fearing) country with maximum despatch. In one of those refreshing displays of "unbridled superpower arrogance", the ambassador used the opportunity of his farewell address to name Equatorial Guinea's most notorious pathological sadists and political thugs, most of them, very close confidants, or associates of His Excellency, President Obiang.
However, today, all that has changed. ExxonMobil (of USA) was the first to discover crude oil in commercial quantities in Equatorial Guinea. Other US multinational oil companies are now also operating in the country. Suddenly, the White House has discovered the need for a "positive, constructive engagement" with Equatorial Guinea, even when there is little or no improvement in the human rights situation there. Surely, this is yet another noxious attraction in the oil-rich territory of the Gulf of Guinea. It reflects a failure to learn from the bitter lessons of the Middle East, where Pentagon support for autocratic or/and despotic oil-rich regimes in Iran, Iraq, and the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has helped create an implacable adversary, culminating in an epidemic of copycat trans-national terrorism, post-9/11.
In the Niger Delta region, violence now rages with reckless exuberance. It has repeatedly threatened, and in some cases, significantly disrupted crude oil production in Nigeria over the past couple of years. These are experiences that both the USA and the EU, (and their oil companies) ought to be in no hurry to institutionalise here. At the very least, the recent "fact-finding" tour of the Niger Delta region by some EU diplomats is an indication of failure to learn the lessons of the Middle East, or even of Equatorial Guinea, just a short skip away to the south of Nigeria.
Increasingly, the Gulf of Guinea region is becoming attractive as an alternative to the Middle East region, as a conflict-free source of supply of petroleum to the USA and the EU, for obvious reasons, sequel to 9/11. However, as it appears, this blossoming relationship, based on existing conditions and terms, is unlikely to do the USA, or the EU, or the Gulf of Guinea region much good, ultimately. It is an insalubrious magnetism for sure; one that is beyond the bravado of quixotic geriatric mercenaries, and genetically privileged "foreign core investors".
The "Cat-and-Mouse" battle continues.
K├▓mb├▓ Mason Braide (Ph.D.)I welcome your comments via e-mail, and encourage this article to be freely reproduced, published, photocopied, dubbed, scanned, faxed, reprinted, reformatted, broadcast, digitised, uploaded, or downloaded, in whatever manner or form, with or without acknowledgement, or further permission.