Equatorial Guinea

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1471 The Portuguese navigator Fernando Po sighted the island of Fernando Poo, which is now called Bioko.

1777 Portugal ceded the islands of Annobon and Fernando Poo, and also all the commercial rights to a part of the African coast that included present day Río Muni, to the Spanish. Hoping to export Africans as slaves to their American possessions, the Spanish sent settlers to the islands, however most of them died of yellow fever.

1781 The region was abandoned by the Europeans.

From 1827 to 1843 the British leased bases at Malabo (then known as Port Clarence) and San Carlos from Spain for use by their anti-slavery patrols, and some freed slaves were settled on Bioko (then known as Fernando Po).

In 1844 the Spanish re-acquired Bioko and settled in what became the province of Rio Muni, mainland Equatorial Guinea.

During 1879 a Cuban penal settlement was established in the country, and some of the convicts remained on the island after being released from prison. The general region of Río Muni was awarded to Spain at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 that divided up the whole country of Africa amongst many of the conquering European nations. The precise final boundaries were later defined in a treaty with France during 1900. The Islands and Río Muni were grouped together and became known as the Western African Territories.

1904 The Western African Territories were renamed Spanish Guinea.

Under Spanish government control, the economic development of the area was largely confined to Bioko, although some interest was taken in Río Muni by the beginning of the early 1940s.

In 1959 the colony was reorganised in to two separate overseas provinces of Spain, each with its own governor. In a further move to assimilate the region to Spain, three Hispano-Guineans were elected to the Spanish Cortes in 1960. However, nationalists were not satisfied with assimilation and demanded independence.

By 1960 about 6,000 Europeans (mostly Spanish) were living in the colony, controlling the production of cocoa and timber.

1963 Spain granted the country a limited amount of autonomy.

1968 Spanish Guinea was granted independence and became the Republic of Equatorial Guinea with Francisco Macias Nguema named as the president.

In 1969 there were violent anti-European demonstrations in Río Muni and most Europeans left the country leaving the economy to suffer badly.

By 1970 all political parties were merged into the United National party (PUN), headed by Macías Nguema.

1972 Macías Nguema was appointed president for life.

1973 A new constitution was adopted that abolished the nation's two semiautonomous provinces and created a unitary state.

1977 Equatorial Guinea severed its diplomatic ties with Spain.

1979 the military staged a coup, executing the president Macías Nguema and installing his nephew, Lt. Col. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, as head of the military and head of state. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo lifted restrictions on the Roman Catholic Church, freed political prisoners, encouraged refugees to return, and restored diplomatic ties with Western nations. Spain and France began to reinvest and the European Community helped rehabilitate the road system. These efforts all met with limited success.

1982 a new constitution was approved that called for a more democratic political structure, and a decade later legislation was passed providing for a multiparty democracy.

1993 First multiparty elections were held. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo's Democratic Party for Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) held significant power. However, the regime was widely denounced for its continued repression of opposition groups. The elections were condemned as fraudulent and were boycotted by the opposition.

February 1996 multiparty presidential elections were held,  but they were boycotted by major opposition parties. President Obiang Nguema won a landslide victory with 99% of the vote amid reports of widespread irregularities.

March 1996 the Mobil oil corporation announced it had discovered sizeable new oil and gas reserves.

In the late 1990s over 100,000 citizens lived in exile abroad, and there was wide dissatisfaction with the slow pace of reform.

January 1998 Amnesty International reported the arrest of scores of people, mostly from the Bubi minority, in the wake of attacks on military posts on Bioko Island.

June 1998 A Military tribunal sentenced 15 people to death for separatist attacks on Bioko Island.

March 1999 The Ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections condemned as fraudulent. Dozens of members of the main opposition party, the Popular Union were arrested.

2001 The country’s economy emerged as one of world's fastest-growing because of oil exploitation. The opposition accused the government that the trickle-down effect of growth was too slow, too small and too late.

March 2001 eight exiled opposition parties formed a coalition in Spain to overhaul politics at home, saying democracy under Obiang was a sham.

July 2001 exiled politician Florentino Ecomo Nsogo, head of the Party of Reconstruction and Social Well-Being (PRBS), returned home as the first opposition figure to respond to an appeal by President Obiang Nguema, who wanted opposition parties to register.

June 2002 a Court jailed 68 people for up to 20 years for alleged coup plots against President Obiang Nguema. They include the main opposition leader Placido Mico Abogo. The European Union was concerned that many of the confessions were obtained under duress. Amnesty International reported that many defendants showed signs of torture.

December 2002 President Obiang Nguema was re-elected unopposed. Authorities reported that he had won 100% of the vote. Opposition leaders had pulled out of the poll at the last moment, citing fraud and irregularities.

August 2003 exiled opposition leaders formed a self proclaimed government in exile in Madrid Spain. Opposition leader Placido Mico Abogo and 17 other political prisoners were released from prison.

March 2004 the government foiled a coup attempt involving mainly South African mercenaries. It was reported that 15 mercenaries were arrested as part of a group linked to suspected mercenaries detained in Zimbabwe. A crackdown on immigrants ensued with hundreds of foreigners being deported. Those involved in the coup attempt were convicted in 2004 and 2008. The national legislative elections two months later occurred in a climate of intimidation that assured a new total victory for the PDGE and its allies.

April 2004 President Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) and allied parties took control of 98 of 100 seats in parliament and all but seven of 244 municipal posts. Foreign observers criticised both poll and result.

August - November 2004 Foreigners accused of plotting the coup to overthrow President Obiang were tried in Malabo. Their South African leader was sentenced to 34 years in jail. Simon Mann the British leader of a group of mercenaries accused of involvement in the alleged coup plot and arrested in Zimbabwe, was tried in Harare and sentenced to seven years in jail there. His sentence was later reduced to four years on appeal.

From a memo found on the computer of Simon Mann, the alleged leader of a plot to overthrow Teodoro Obiang, the president of Equatorial Guinea, and replace him with the exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto. Mann is serving a four-year jail sentence in Zimbabwe for illegally trying to buy weapons; Equatorial Guinea is seeking his extradition and claims he and Moto signed a $15 million contract for the coup. Officials from Equatorial Guinea have accused the Spanish, British, and U.S. governments of being involved in the coup attempt, which they say was financed by several British businessmen including Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former prime minister. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted in Parliament to prior knowledge of the coup. Equatorial Guinea has an estimated 10 percent of global oil reserves. The memo was obtained by Guardian journalist David Pallister.

January 2005 Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former British PM Margaret Thatcher, told a South African court that he helped to finance the alleged 2004 coup plot, but did so unwittingly.

June 2005 President amnesties six Armenians convicted of taking part in the alleged 2004 coup plot.

September 2005 Military court jailed 23 defendants, most of them military officers, who were accused of plotting the 2004 coup.

December 2005 Spain withdrew the asylum status of exiled opposition leader Severo Moto saying he was involved in several coup attempts.

August 2006 the government resigned on masse. The president had accused it of corruption and poor leadership, but later key ministers were re-appointed.

November 2007 Four Equatorial Guinean's were sentenced for alleged roles in 2004 coup plot.

February 2008 British mercenary Simon Mann was extradited from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea to stand trial for his alleged role in the 2004 coup plot.

March 2008 Spain restored exiled opposition leader Severo Moto's asylum status.

April 2008 The Spanish police arrest Mr Moto on suspicion of trying to ship weapons to Equatorial Guinea.

July 2008 President Obiang accepted the resignation of the entire government, accusing it of corruption and mismanagement and appointed Ignacio Milam Tang as the new prime minister.

2008 British mercenary Simon Mann and four South Africans sentenced to 34 years in prison for taking part in the 2004 coup plot. They were later pardoned and released in November 2009.

October 2008  Cameroon charged two policemen with kidnapping rebel Colonel Cipriano Nguema Mba and returning him to Equatorial Guinea, although they strongly denied all knowledge of the incident.

February 2009 the Presidential palace allegedly came under attack. Seven Nigerians were later jailed over the incident.

November 2009 Presidential elections took place and once again President Obiang won.

2009 British mercenary Simon Mann and four South Africans sentenced to 34 years in prison for taking part in 2004 coup attempt were pardoned and released from Prison. There were reports and accusations that deals had been done behind closed doors, between several high profile governments who's citizens had been involved in the Coup attempt.

August 2010 four other alleged coup plotters were reportedly executed within hours of being found guilty.




Coups in Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea has the distinction of being the target of two failed coups involving foreign mercenaries. Coincidentally both plots were foiled well before a shot was fired on Equatorial Guinean soil.

The African nation of Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts. A mainland section known as Rio Muni is located in the northwest corner of Gabon, just below Cameroon. An adjacent island called Bioko (formerly known as Fernando Po), which hosts the capital Malabo, is located off the coast of Cameroon.

On 12th October 1968, Equatorial Guinea gained its Independence from Spain. Francisco Macias Nguemabe became the first president and proclaimed himself God’s "unique miracle."

In July 1970 Francisco Macias created a single-party state and by May 1971 all key portions of the constitution were cancelled.

In 1972 Macias took complete control of the government and assumed the title of President-for-Life. The Macias regime was characterised by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror.

This led to the death or exile of up to one-third of the country's population, mainly the Bubi ethnic minority. Due to pilferage, ignorance, and neglect; the country's infrastructure, electrical, water, road, transportation, and health services all fell into ruin. Religion was repressed and churches closed, and education ceased. At one time Francisco Macias, was described as deluded and vicious and that he made Idi Amin look moderate and Pol Pot sane.

In 1973 novelist Frederick Forsyth using the pretence of researching for a new book, put the wheels in motion for a small group of mercenaries to try and takeover Equatorial Guinea.

During the earlier part of his career Forsyth had been a journalist and had been to Biafra during the 1968/69 Nigerian-Biafran war as it became known, on two separate assignments. During this time he had made friends with some of the white mercenaries who were serving in the country at. Soldiers like Robert Faulques, Marc Goosens, Taffy Williams, Rolf Steiner, and Alexander Gay, to name a few. It’s also believed that while Forsyth was there and witnessed everything close up, he started taking notes for a later book.  It was no secret that he favoured the Biafran side of the war. In fact he was dismissed from the B.B.C. for altering reports that were being sent back to the news gather, making Nigeria the big bully aggressor backed by Britain, and that Biafra was the little guy trying to go it alone.

Far from writing a novel, Forsyth was in fact drawing up a set of plans to actually invade Equatorial Guinea. Something he has never admitted too, but many believe that was his intention. Luckily the plot was foiled by a Special Branch informant in Gibraltar.

It’s reported that Alexandra Gay was only too happy to train and equip a small group of men who would set up a homeland for the defeated Biafrans. It is reputed that Gay was able to purchase automatic weapons, bazookas and mortars from a Hamburg arms dealer, and hire 13 other mercenaries along with 50 black soldiers from Biafra. They then chartered a boat called the 'Albatross' out of the Spanish port of Fuengirola, and set sail for the Island of Fernando Po, from which President Francisco Macias Nguemabe ran Equatorial Guinea.

However, the coup failed because a Spanish official who was helping with the gun smuggling side of things baulked when he learned that the 'Albatross' was just a wooden tub, and not a proper freighter. He then refused to carry out his side of the deal.

The mercs were already en route when this happened. Gay tried to organise an alternative source of firearms without success. He told the mercs who were waiting in the Canary Islands that the operation was off for now. At the same time the Spanish police moved on the mercs, and arrested then deported all of them.

At the time none of this information was available to the public, but five years later in 1978, Forsyth’s research material became the subject of a feature story published in the London Times that suggested he had in fact commissioned the whole operation to the tune of $US250,000. The whole operation came to light while author Adam Roberts was researching for his book, “The Wonga Coup”. Roberts found a previously classified Foreign Office cable in the National Archives that described the 1973 coup attempt.

Roberts then sought an interview with Forsyth and asked him outright if he was involved “I took part in the plot in as much as I was chewing the fat and shooting the breeze with the others involved,” Forsyth said. “But as far as I was concerned any money I gave them was for information, and I pulled out before the plan was put into practice.“

“Aerial photos of the island of Fernando Po were brought to my flat, but I was not on the boat and did not know it had set sail. Luckily they never reached the island or they would have been slaughtered.”

However, Frederick Forsyth went on to write his book that became known as ‘Dogs of War’ and was published in 1974 and it went on to be a best seller around the world.

Four years later and by a strange twist of fate a merc called Alan Murphy accidentally shot himself in the foot after a brief siege with police in London. In his flat they discovered he'd kept a diary and documents which referred to Forsyth's involvement.

On 3rd August 1979 President Macias Nguemabe was overthrown by a coup that was backed by Moroccan soldiers, but executed by Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the Presidents nephew, security chief and right-hand man. Nguema proclaimed himself as President, and like his predecessor showed little tolerance for opposition during the three decades of his rule. While the country is nominally a multiparty democracy, elections have generally been considered a sham.

According to Human Rights Watch, the ''dictatorship under President Obiang Nguema has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich himself further at the expense of the country's people''. The corruption watchdog Transparency International has put Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of most corrupt states. Resisting calls for more transparency, President Obiang Nguema has always declared that oil revenues are a state secret.

Roll the clock forward to 2004 and Equatorial Guinea has become very rich after the discovery and development of massive oil fields within the country. Suddenly Forsyth’s original plan he devised way back in 1973 is once again about to be put into place as another group tried to take over the country, in what is believed to have been a means of placing a president into power who was sympathetic to the west, when it comes to selling oil.

This plot was under the command of Simon Mann, an old Etonian, heir to a brewery fortune, and veteran of the elite Special Air Service unit of the British Army.

In March 2004  Mann’s escapade fell apart on the runway at Manyame military airbase just outside the Zimbabwean capital Harare. He was arrested, along with a group of South African ex-soldiers, traveling in a Boeing 727 that had landed in Harare to pick up weapons on route to Equatorial Guinea.

The plot itself is well documented – how in March 2004 Mann, Nick du Toit and three other South African mercenaries with wealthy international backers and the tacit approval of at least three governments, most notably the Spanish along with Britain and the USA, attempted a coup. The plan involved flying into the former Spanish colony in a plane loaded with arms and more than 50 black Buffalo soldiers,  former members of the now disbanded South African defence forces' elite 32 battalion,  to replace President Obiang with an exiled opposition activist called Severo Moto.

A British company ‘Logo Logistics’ owned the Boeing 727. It has since insisted that the team was headed for the Congo to guard a mine, but it wasn't divulged details about the mine. According to a publication called "Africa Confidential," the coup plot may also be connected to a wealthy Lebanese businessman named Ely Calil. Mr. Calil has ties to oil companies in the region. Several American firms, including Exxon Mobil and Halliburton also have operations in Equatorial Guinea.

The country's dictatorial president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is reportedly ailing and has apparently been grooming his son, Teodorin, to take over. But some observers see Teodorin as unstable. This may be one reason for outsiders to try to orchestrate a coup, and bring Severo Moto into power.

Mann served four years in prison in Zimbabwe after being convicted of a weapons violation, but was then extradited to Equatorial Guinea, which ordered that he be brought to trial. He was detained in the notorious Black Beach prison in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, facing coup plotting charges that carry the death penalty. Earlier Mann had tried to prevent his extradition, arguing that he would not get a fair trial in Equatorial Guinea.

On 17th June 2008 the trial finally got under way in Malabo and the prosecutors stated that they were not seeking the maximum penalty which at that time was death. Government officials read out statements that Mann had cooperated with the investigators and provided information about the people he worked with. Thus they would be seeking a 30-year jail term. Several other plotters had already been convicted and are serving sentences ranging from 14 to 34 years.

The case ultimately involved a few upper class Britons, including Mark Thatcher, the son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Mark Thatcher was arrested by the South African police for helping finance the plot and eventually pleaded guilty to avoid jail time, though he insisted that he was an unwitting participant.

At the trial the state public prosecutor, José Olo Obono, identified Thatcher as one of the purported organisers of the abortive conspiracy, Reuters reported, quoting a defense lawyer, José Pablo Nuo, as having said that Mann was a "mere instrument" of those who planned it.

Mann has been a founder of the two private military companies that became inextricably linked with some of Africa's bloodiest civil wars, ‘Sandline International’ and ‘Executive Outcomes’. Obiang gave an unusual joint interview to British reporters, filled with dark hints that in addition to the London-based Lebanese financier alleged to be behind the plot, he suspected that the governments of Britain, the United States and Spain, the former colonial ruler of Equatorial Guinea, were involved, though he offered no evidence to support his suspicions.

The Frederick Forsyth’s best-selling book, ‘Dogs of War’ published in 1974, describes in painstaking detail the organisation and successful execution of a coup by white mercenaries, led by a Briton, in “Zangaro”, a fictional West African state that bears a remarkable resemblance to the Equatorial Guinea. Forsyth’s description of the harbour at “Clarence”, the capital, matches that of Malabo, with two curving spits of land reaching out from the coast to form the anchorage. As in the novel, a white colonial governor’s mansion with a red-tiled roof, now the presidential palace, stands above and a little set back from the port. Even the surly soldiers at a nearby junction, blocking access to the road to the palace, are still there, with a tendency to bluntly demand money from passing visitors.

Forsyth has claimed he had no foreknowledge of the Mann plot and has never spoken to the ex-SAS officer.

Another later twist to the story is that some have claimed that the original coup might have been aimed against Robert Mugabe President of Zimbabwe. And that the mercenaries had a backup plan that if captured in Zimbabwe they all claim that the coup was to be in Equatorial Guinea which might allow them to be returned to South Africa safely. The only thing that is against this line of thought is that "The South African government had by that time instituted its anti-mercenary laws and has already had some successful prosecutions. That is hoped would act as a deterrent to others trying to use the country as a base for mercenaries, and also to convince other African states that South Africa has changed."

There is also documented evidence that a camera team were asked to join the Equatorial Guinea coup so it could be recorded for the world to see just how easy they believed it could be carried out.

However the ‘Dogs of War’ story does not end here. About three years after its publication Bob Denard did indeed capture the ‘Comoros Islands’ by boat. It’s also rumoured that some of his troop of mercenaries all had a French copy of the book  in their back pockets. They were referring to it almost page by page. If it’s true it proved that the plan did work!

Adam Roberts is a former Southern Africa correspondent of The Economist and further exposed Forsyth’s role in his book ‘The Wonga Coup’. Which focuses on the 2004 attempt by mercenaries to seize control of Equatorial Guinea.

Terry Aspinall 2010


'Dogs of War' by Frederick Forsyth published 1974 by Corgi Books




Newspaper and Magazine articles concerning mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea