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Equatorial Guinea

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Gambia and the 1999 Protocol

As military interventions go, it was practically flawless.
Last month Gambia’s long-ruling dictator, President Yahya Jammeh, lost an election that turned out to be a little freer than he had planned. After first conceding defeat and even phoning up the victor, property developer Adama Barrow, to congratulate him, Jammeh changed his mind and decided to stay in power.
Within days the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had condemned Jammeh’s action and ordered him to hand over power to Barrow. Within weeks the organisation was organising a military force to make him do so, while the presidents and prime ministers of other ECOWAS countries shuttled back and forth trying to persuade Jammeh to see reason.
On 19 January (last Thursday), with Jammeh still clinging to power, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution supporting ECOWAS but asking it to use “political means first.” Typically, however, it did not endorse military action at all. It was the usual Security Council compromise, saying the right thing but not demanding decisive action for fear of triggering a veto.
So ECOWAS just went ahead anyway. On Friday a multinational force of 7,000 troops from five West African countries crossed the border from Senegal into Gambia. Barrow, who had fled to Senegal to avoid arrest or worse, was sworn in as president and immediately ordered the Gambian army not to resist. And with very few exceptions, it didn’t.
Most of Saturday was taken up with a series of missed deadlines for Jammeh to hand over power and leave the country. However, that evening he boarded a plane and left for Guinea, en route to his permanent place in exile in Equatorial Guinea, a country so isolated and obscure that it makes Gambia seem positively metropolitan.
The likely reason for the delay was revealed on Sunday, when Mai Ahmad Fatty, one of President Barrow’s advisers, reported that $11.3 million was missing from the Gambian government’s coffers, which were nearly empty.
Yahya Jammeh did not spend his 22 years in power stealing the country’s money and hiding it abroad like any normal dictator. As a full-time megalomaniac, he simply didn’t believe he could ever lose power. But when reality finally came crashing in, he quickly understood that maintaining his lifestyle in exile would require lots of money, so he grabbed whatever was available on his way out.
Good riddance – and not a single life was lost in the whole operation. Gambia has seen the first legal transfer of power since its independence in 1965, and ECOWAS has once again shown that it is the most effective regional security organisation on the planet.
You will never see the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the Arab League intervening militarily to defend democracy. The Organisation of American States doesn’t do military interventions at all, and one doubts that the European Union would actually resort to force to stop a dictator from coming to power in one of its Balkan members.
The African Union does a bit better (e.g. the interventions in Somalia and South Sudan), but its huge membership of 54 countries makes decision-making a lengthy and tortuous process. Whereas ECOWAS’s fifteen countries have repeatedly and successfully intervened to defend or restore democratic governments in its member states, most recently in Côte d’Ivoire (2010), Guinea-Bissau (2012), and Mali (2012).
ECOWAS was founded in 1975, and its members first committed themselves to respect human rights and to promote democratic systems of government in 1991 (when a number of them were actually still dictatorships). But the key year was 1999, when they all signed up to the Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace-Keeping, and Security (Protocol-Mechanism).
It could be compared to the UN Security Council in the sense that it has the right to order military interventions in sovereign states to stop wars, but it goes further in two important ways: it can also intervene to thwart unconstitutional attacks on democracy – and there is no veto. Even giant Nigeria, which has half of ECOWAS’s total population, has to accept majority decisions.
Decisions to intervene are taken by a two-thirds majority on the Mediation and Security Council, a nine-member body with a rotating membership. Nigeria obviously has huge influence, which it regularly wields in favour of democracy, but it is sometimes not even sitting on the MSC when it takes its decisions.
The Southern African Development Community and the African Union (with responsibility for the whole continent) have subsequently followed ECOWAS’s lead and adopted similar rules for intervention, but this kind of tough international protection for human rights and democracy is non-existent outside Africa.
You could argue, of course, that it’s Africa that needs it most, and you would be right. But the point is a) that Africa does have it, and b) that several other regions of the world would benefit from similar institutions.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 8. (“The likely…out”)

Large Splodge of Wonga

12 September 2004

A Large Splodge of Wonga

By Gwynne Dyer

Simon Mann, heir to the Watney’s beer fortune, graduate of Eton and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, former co-founder of Executive Outcomes, a leading mercenary outfit in Africa in the 90s, currently resident at Chikurubi maximum security prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, believes that “a large splodge of wonga” (a large amount of money) would spare him most of the seven-year term to which he was sentenced last Friday. A number of his co-conspirators apparently believe the same. They just don’t get it.

The conspiracy was classic African stuff: a plane-load of mercenaries flying across Africa, picking up a consignment of weapons as they went, to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny dictatorship that is Africa’s third-largest oil exporter. The money was put up by a syndicate of British and South African investors, the mercenary muscle was provided by British and South African soldiers-of-fortune, and the pay-off would come in the form of cash and a cut in future oil revenues for the investors plus a contract for Simon Mann to provide security for the new regime.

The only problem with the scheme was that the “classic” period in African history is long over. South African law no longer permits mercenaries operating on its soil to hatch plots against other African governments, and the idea that Mann could recruit around eighty mercenaries to overthrow Obiang’s regime without attracting the attention of South African intelligence was just stupid. The police didn’t intervene right away, but they kept everybody informed, including Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe was where Mann planned to pick up the weapons that he could not legally obtain in South Africa, buying them direct from Zimbabwean Defence Industries on the flimsy pretext that his group of mercenaries were on their way to guard a diamond mine in the Congo. The Zimbabweans had been warned, and when Mann’s private Boeing 727 touched down in Harare last March to collect the arms, the Zimbabwean police instead collected all 66 mercenaries aboard and dumped them in Chikurubi prison.

At the same time, another fifteen of the conspirators who were already in Equatorial Guinea were arrested and thrown into an even nastier prison. President Obiang’s exiled rival, opposition leader Severo Moto, whom the plotters planned to put in his place, flew back and forth between the Canary Islands and Mali as the scheme unravelled and finally went back to Madrid.

Even if the coup had succeeded, it would not have been allowed to stand. The old Organisation of African Unity (now replaced by the African Union) declared in 1999 that it would suspend any member whose government came to power in a coup, and there have been determined attempts to enforce the rule. Not all have succeeded, but when the country is as small as Equatorial Guinea and there are white mercenaries involved in the coup, the AU would definitely intervene. It would have been willing to use troops if necessary (probably from South Africa and Nigeria) to undo a coup as flagrantly insulting to Africans as Mann’s.

Obiang’s regime is monstrously oppressive and corrupt (and so is Zimbabwe’s, for that matter): things are very far from perfect in Africa. But the days when small gangs of heavily armed whites could kill African people and even chang their governments with impunity are gone for good. How is it that Simon Mann and his colleagues didn’t notice?

Simon Mann belongs to that class of English ex-public schoolboys, expensively educated but too dim to work in the high end of business and finance that is the preferred career for their brighter contemporaries, who end up, perhaps after a stint in the army, living off their inherited money, their contacts and their presumptive status as respectable people. Except that often they are not respectable at all: some end up as mercenary soldiers; more spend their lives messing around at the seamier end of the business world.

Among the alleged investors in the syndicate is Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose advisers encouraged him to move to the United States when his Middle Eastern business ventures trading on her name threatened to embarrass her. He moved on to South Africa in 1995 amid a number of investigations into his business activities in Texas, and was in the process of bailing out again and moving his family back to Texas when South African police arrested him last week.

Other alleged investors include London-based Lebanese millionaire Ely Calil, disgraced peer Lord Archer, and assorted British and South African-based “businessmen” all of whom seem to know one another, and none of whom you would want to spend much time with. These are the people on whom Simon Mann is now counting to raise the “wonga” that he imagines will free him from jail in Zimbabwe, but he is dreaming.

Even if these were people who would gladly part with large sums of cash to help a friend in trouble (which seems unlikely), money will not get Mann out of Chikurubi prison. Zimbabwe is a corrupt place, but no African government could let a man like him buy his way free. It’s a question of self-respect.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 7. (“At the same…Madrid”;and “Obiang’s…notice”)