By Mabasa Sasa – The Herald
Simon Mann, who was jailed in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea for his role in a botched 2004 coup attempt, has claimed his bid to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo had the tacit backing of Western intelligence agencies, and senior British, Spanish and South African government officials.
The allegations – made without providing any proof – are contained in his recently published memoirs, “Cry Havoc”. It was already known that Mann, a former British soldier, had connived with Sir Mark Thatcher – son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – and other individuals, including London-based businessman Ely Calil, to unseat Equatorial Guinea’s President Mbasogo.
However, his claim that several governments gave tacit approval could open a can of worms if they have any substance. Further, Mann states that his only regret is that he was caught. “If faced with all the same factors, I’d end up doing it all the same again. Obviously, if I knew it was going to fail, I wouldn’t go through with it.
“I had cold feet. I knew things were wrong. But there was so much time and will power invested . . .
“I had signals that the South African and Spanish governments both wanted it to go ahead, almost telling us to get on with it.
“And it was also my experience in Angola and Sierra Leone, where we had been in weird situations before, but by pushing on and being excessively ballsy, we’d won. I thought we could do it again.”
Mann was involved in civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone through his mercenary companies Sandline International and Executive Outcomes, which he ran with another ex-British soldier Tim Spicer, and tycoon Tony Buckingham – who is sometimes referred to as “the new Tiny Rowland”.
Zimbabwean state security agents got wind of Mann’s Equatorial Guinea plot and arrested him and 69 other mercenaries in Harare where they had stopped to buy arms for their bid to either kill or kidnap President
Mbasogo in Malabo. Sir Mark was arrested in South Africa. Mann claims America’s CIA spilled the beans on the plan because Washington wanted to curry favour with President Mbasogo and get hold of oil concessions in the small West African country.
He spent three years imprisoned in Zimbabwe before being flown to Equatorial Guinea where he served less than two years of a 34-year jail term. (He was released on humanitarian grounds and is understood to have flown back to that country to thank President Mbasogo). Mann details how they planned to carry out the coup, saying it would be, “Wham Bang, Thank You Obiang.”
The mercenary, in trying to justify the coup, repeatedly claims that it was a humanitarian mission to save Equatorial Guinea from President Mbasogo, a position many have said is incongruent with the profit motivation behind mercenary activities. “I was invited to do it by the leader of the opposition, Severo Moto – he was chucked into prison after being elected mayor and later exiled . . .
“I didn’t need the money – I had plenty of money already . . . I thought, ‘We can do this – why not?'” But after making that claim, he goes on to say: “If the Brothers-in-Arms (mercenaries) put Moto in power, Moto will see to it that the Brothers-in-Arms benefit from (Equatorial Guinea’s) great wealth.”
He goes on to say, “My thinking was that we could bring him down and also make a lot of money. “There was also an adrenaline aspect – it was a mountain that needed climbing. “And I was flattered – I had been retired but these people came to me and said, ‘You’re our man’.
“So yeah, I wanted to make a lot of money and I wanted another adventure. In the end, I thought it was worth doing.” Apart from Sir Mark’s involvement, Mann claims a former UK Prime Minister – most likely Tony
Blair – endorsed the plan, which he says was also financially backed by two members of the House of Lords, Jeffrey Archer and Peter Mandelson (both of whom are close to Blair).
“I first met Mark Thatcher in 1997. My family had just moved to Cape Town. “Days after arriving, I’m approached by a pal of Thatcher’s, our very own Frank Thomas, who has connections to Margaret Thatcher.
“Thomas tells me his chums in South African National intelligence are nervous about my turning up in their country. They are agog.
“What am I up to? Executive Outcomes casts a long shadow. I must meet his boss. I do that. I’ve nothing to hide. SANI (SA intelligence) agree. Then Thomas introduces me to my new neighbour, Mark Thatcher, only son of former British Prime Minister Margaret . . .
“Soon I am to find out where meeting up with a former Prime Minister can take you. In London I become friendly with one of Lady Thatcher’s former advisers. His name is David Hart and . . . he is close to Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff at 10 Downing Street.”
Mann also speaks of the moment when they were at the Harare International Airport as they waited for a consignment of arms from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries. Their contact tells them to get into the bed of a truck where the weapons are supposed to be packed.
“So we climb up the high sides. A sickening sinking weight thumps downward to my lower gut. I climb . . . peer over the sides . . . There isn’t enough kit on here. Something’s wrong.
“I look across at Charles. He and Lyle have their knives out, opening a box. Some of the boxes look like the real thing but others don’t.
“My mind reels. Stupidly I think what a long walk it is to Jo’burg. My skin soaks me in a chilled sweat. I open what looks like a shoe box.
“Plain brown cardboard. Inside are one old 36 grenade, a few loose rounds of 9mm. They laugh at me. “What the **** is this? I look back to Charles. He’s holding an RPG-7 round: rocket and warhead.
“Lyle’s looking at the rocket while Charles looks at me, his face a mirror of mine.”
They are then ordered off the truck. “I glance around the meanly lit hangar. A circle of 10 men stand silent in a ring around the trailer. Black overalls, HK MP5s slung across their chests. Relaxed, alert, poised. “I know the look of these men. I’ve been one. They are pros, even if we are in the heart of black Africa.
“God knows . . . but where had they come from? No formal arrest. No hope. I’m going to die, so I think of home.
“They tell me how I’m going to die. Nobody knows where I am, they tell me. They’re going to shoot me. The crocs will hide me. There are plenty of crocodiles in Zimbabwe . . .
“What ways out of this? Who are these people? What’s gone wrong? God knows what’s gone wrong . . . Stay loose. We can get out of this, I tell myself. Thatcher can get me out. Thatcher and the Boss can get us all out.”
Mann does not say who the “Boss” is. One reviewer of “Cry Havoc”, Oliver Gover says the book “contains a strong sense of scores being settled by Mann”. Other reviewers take aim at the technical execution of the memoirs.
Tim Butcher, writing in the UK Telegraph, says; “Little wonder he failed to oust the President of Equatorial Guinea if the book’s main maps are so wrong: misspelling the target island for the attack, 14 years out of
date with the name Zaire, muddling the oil-rich province of Cabinda and rendering Brazzaville as a more mockney Brazzerville.
“One sloppy map might be forgiven, but textual errors mass in such numbers that they undermine any faith in the book.
“The subject matter belongs, after all, to the realm of mercenaries, regime change and intelligence, a murky enough world where claims are often impossible to verify.”
For Mann’s version of events on military matters and Africa to convince, the reader needs to trust it, something I found impossible when he gets so many verifiable things wrong, including the date of the Gulf War, the circumstances of Charles Taylor’s coming to power in Liberia and the number of British Army fatalities in Northern Ireland.”- Southern Times.