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The Gang That Couldn't Coup Straight


A new book tells the story behind a failed plot by mercenaries to overtake the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea. The plot involved oil, guns and the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The goal of the plot -- masterminded by Simon Mann, an adventuresome former officer of the British special forces -- was to topple the government Equatorial Guinea and get rich from the country's oil-export revenues, says Adam Roberts, author of The Wonga Coup, (Wonga is an old British slang word that means money.)

In early 2004, the plotters brought together about 100 soldiers, many of the veterans of wars in Angola and Iraq. They planned to fly up from South Africa, get most of their weapons from Zimbabwe, fight their way to the presidential palace and taken over Equatorial Guinea.

But the plan soon fell apart. The careless plotters were infiltrated, and South African intelligence officials learned of the plan. "People were loose tongued, they were talking about it, they were boasting about it in bars even before they set off," Roberts says.

The plotters were arrested in Zimbabwe "and dragged off to hellish conditions in prison," Roberts says.

"They probably thought that this was still the 1950s when you could get away with this sort of thing. In 21st century Africa you can't really expect to carry out a coup like this. They were wrong to assume that they were more superior or more sophisticated than African governments. They were wrong to try and get their guns in Zimbabwe, and I guess morally they were wrong to try it in the first place."

Read about some of the characters in this story:

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.