What does the adventure of Simon Mann and his band of latter-day mercenaries who plotted to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, teach Africa and the world? Simple. In the words of the British journalist, Alice Thomson: "Interfering Europeans, whether they come clutching guns or a mocrophone, should stay at home." Cameron Duodu has been following the saga.
In the October 2004 issue of New African, I wrote an article entitled " The Mercenaries Must Be Stopped", in which I detailed an attempt by white mercenaries to mount an invasion of Equatorial Guinea to overthrow its government and replace it with one which would share the country's oil resources among a group of European businessmen who financed the coup. I ended the article with the following words:
"Having been provided the opportunity, are the governments of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea going to use it to send out a loud and clear message that the Africa of today will not tolerate interference in its affairs by any latter-day incarnations of Cecil Rhodes, who think Africa was created for them to reap profits from it?"
The Zimbabwe government was one of the governments immediately concerned with the matter, and I must say that after stalling initially, it eventually acted in a manner that demonstrated its awareness of how to safeguard Africa's long-term interests.
The leader of the group that had planned to capture Equatorial Guinea and its oil resources, Simon Mann, a former captain of the British commando regiment, the "Special Air Services" (SAS), had been trying to purchase the arms for the Equatorial Guinea operation in Zimbabwe.
A product of what many people regard as the most notorious "snob-manufacturing factory" in England, a "public school" (that means fee-paying, privately-run institution) called Eton, he probably thought he could charm the pants off the Zimbabwean authorities with his haughty manner and "excellent contacts". His actions showed that he thought the Zimbabwe authorities were so stupid that they would sell him a whole cache of arms without checking on his background. Yet an elementary check-even on Google, without going to the trouble of using the services of a firm that specialised in what is called a "due diligence" investigation-would have produced the information that Mann was involved with companies, such as "Executive Outcomes", that skirt the murky lines between subversive military operations in Africa, and the provision of "security services" to profit-hungry companies operating in areas of Africa where resources are being fought over ruthlessly by all sides.
Whichever side such "para-military" organisations fought on, they did so purely for one thing: money, or in their peculiar parlance, wonga. They offered their services to those who required them, for purely mercenary reasons. They might add a public relations element to their efforts so that they could be presented as assisting a side that was the "legitimate" government, or the "anti-communist element" in a conflict, etc.
In countries like Sierra Leone, they might fight on the side of a government trying to ward of attacks by a vicious guerrilla movement like the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). But it would not escape their notice that certain areas of Sierra Leone produced diamonds, and that securing those areas would be more profitable than, say, the capital Freetown, which the government was more interested in securing. But if they fought in Sierra Leone on the side of the "legitimate" government, they would just as well fight on the side of a "bandit" army trying to oust a government in Africa (such as Unita in Angola or Renamo in Mozambique).
What was inescapable was that whatever ideological language they employed in any...