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Africa takes tough stand on coups
(Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 2004)
The cast list of the alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea reads as if straight out of a cold-war thriller: An aging mercenary determined to organize his last big job, the corrupt leader of a tiny oil-rich nation, and the playboy son of the former leader of a world power. . . . The titillating story, which first came to light with the detention of 70 men on the runway of a Zimbabwean airport on March 7, hit international headlines again last week with the arrest by South African police of Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He is accused of partially financing the overthrow of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the strongman of Equatorial Guinea, a small country on Africa's west coast. The plot allegedly planned the takeover of the continent's third-largest oil producer. . . . "We've entered a new era," says John Stremlau, head of the international relations department at the University of Witwatersrand here. "Around the region over the last few years, you've seen an increased willingness to be more assertive in the face of this kind of action." . . . Postcolonial Africa has been hobbled by illegitimate political takeovers. According to research by Patrick McGowan, a professor of political science at Arizona State University in Tempe, in sub-Saharan Africa between 1956 and 2001 there were 80 successful coups, 108 failed coup attempts, and 139 reported coup plots. There have been 11 attempted or successful coups since then. . . . "With the new activity we've seen from the African Union and other organizations, it's going to be increasingly difficult to topple a government and take its place," says Angela McIntyre, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, a South African think tank. . . . She points to several recent instances where the African community has intervened after attempted coups or other military takeovers. . . . Mr. Stremlau says there has been a genuine change in heart, led by South Africa. In particular, Stremlau says he is gratified to see that the old Organization of African Unity (OAU), long seen as a club for despots and dictators, did more than change its name when it became the AU. The OAU usually made little noise when its members were overthrown and simply welcomed new military leaders into its fold. Idi Amin of Uganda and Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, both of whom took power in coups, hosted OAU summits. . . . Still, the Equatorial Guinea plot shows that South Africa has much work to do to clean up the remnants of its old security forces, which remain a threat to African security. . . . With the end of apartheid, South Africa's surplus of out-of-work security forces became a major source of guns for hire. . . . Additionally, hundreds of South Africans are now working for private security firms in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . The Equatorial Guinea plot promises to be a major test case for the law and South Africa's commitment to cleaning up its former security sector. Many of the 89 men facing trial in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea could face charges in South Africa even if acquitted in their current trials. And it's the latest questionable chapter in the life of Mr. Thatcher, who has been dogged for years by allegations of shady deals and capitalizing on his famous name. . . . But as South African police spokesman Sipho Ngwema told media after Thatcher's arrest: "We refuse [to let] South Africa be a springboard for coups in Africa and elsewhere."

posted by Lorenzo 8:50 PM

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