Potential Hot Spots: January 19, 2005



On January 13 Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, pled guilty to helping plot and finance a coup in Equatorial Guinea. Thatcher was fined $500,000, in lieu of a jail term. Thatcher was arrested in South Africa August 2004. Prosecutors said the Thatcher and his group intended to topple Equatorial Guinea's long-time dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema. In March 2004 Equatorial Guinea arrested 15 allegeded mercenaries inside the country and claimed the 15 were "an advance group." 60 more men allegedly connected to the conspiracy (a follow-on force?) were arrested in the Zimbabwe. Equatorial Guinea is one of the bleakest spots in sub-Saharan Africa. The government is corrupt and cruel. The dictator has been accused of cannibalism (no kidding). The country now has large oil reserves --which means more money for the elites. This is a round about way of saying Equatorial Guinea needs a change in government. However, it is unclear who was behind the coup that Thatcher helped finance. No doubt this is a huge embarrassment for his family and particular his mother. There is also this sidelight: Equatorial Guinea has fascinated mercenaries and adventurers for years. The miserable, fictional West African country of Zamboanga in Frederick Forsythe's novel THE DOGS OF WAR --where a small band of mercs topples a corrupt dictator-- is based on Equatorial Guinea. In Forsythe's book, however, the mercs pull it off. (Austin Bay)

 Equatorial Guinea was a poor, and thinly populated (600,000 people), tropical dictatorship, when oil was discovered in the 1990s. By 1997, $100 million a year in oil revenue was coming in, which doubled the nations GDP. Oil revenue has since expanded five time, and most people are as poor as ever. Only a few percent of the population benefits from the oil income. President (for life, and since 1979 when he deposed his uncle) Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo rules by offering potential opponents the carrot (money) or the stick (jail or death.) There are only about 1,200 people in the armed forces, and another thousand police and security agents. All well taken care of. Generous payments are made for information about any threats to the government, and several attempted coups have been short circuited by these arrangements. 


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