Potential Hot Spots: Equatorial Guinea

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March 13, 2009: Equatorial Guinea seems to be a perpetual attraction for coup plotters, especially coup plotters with mercenary connections. The country was the model for Zamboanga in Frederick Forsythe’s classic “The Dogs of War.” Equatorial Guinea used to be a desperate West African backwater with a very high infant mortality rate (some estimates put it as high 20 percent of all children before the age of five). Now it is a backwater with oil wells. It is now sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil producer.

And so, on February 17 “an armed group” launched an attack on the presidential palace in Malabo. The city of Malabo lies on the island of Bioko, in the Gulf of Guinea just off the coast from the rest of Equatorial Guinea. However, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo was not in his home. Guards drove off the attack, though firefights went on for several hours. In initial statements made by the government of Equatorial Guinea, the attack was blamed on “criminals.” Spain, the former colonial power in Equatorial Guinea, immediately condemned the attack – a diplomatic indication that Spain backed the government. There was speculation that mercenaries were involved, and not because of Forsythe’s novel. In 2004 a group of mercs planned an attack in Equatorial Guinea but the plan was thwarted and they were arrested. Last year one of the group’s leaders was sentenced to three decades in jail. However, reports circulated that the attackers arrived in boats “with powerful engines.”

On February 18 the government announced that it had arrested 15 people involved in the attack. The attackers came from the Bakassi area, which Nigeria gave to Cameroon in 2008. Some of the men arrested had Nigerian currency. The Nigerian government denied involvement. On February 19 the government of Equatorial Guinea accused the Nigerian rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) of launching the attack. MEND issued a statement denying any involvement in the coup and said the government of Nigeria was to blame. Almost a month later, Equatorial Guinea still says the MEND conducted the attack, but no one is quite sure who is really responsible. Nigeria says the attack is another reason West African nations should coordinate policies to stop attacks on oil fields and oil production facilities.

 

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