Posted on October 6, 2004

Heart of Darkness

Taki, American Conservative, Oct. 11

Here’s a tip to those young whippersnappers Sam Francis calls post-Buckley geniuses. (You know the kind. They call for non-stop war in order to gain non-stop peace.) There’s a very nice place by the name of Equatorial Guinea, somewhere below the Sahara, where most of the dirty work has already been done. Couple of thousand Marines can do the trick, and we’ll get more oil out of the place than we ever hope to get from Iraq. No, I have not been drinking.

It’s the fiefdom run by that nice guy Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who came to power by overthrowing his uncle back in 1979. In order to ensure that the wicked uncle did not in turn pull a number on him, Teodoro had him killed and then devoured his testicles. I kid you not. Teodoro is reputed to eat a lot of testicles (he believes that he absorbs their power) because he’s killed a hell of a lot of people. In fact, Teodoro is the African equivalent of Pol Pot, the Cambodian folk hero who murdered more than a third of his countrymen but had the decency not to eat their balls.

The good news about Equatorial Guinea is that it’s the third-largest oil exporter in Africa and has only 500,000 inhabitants, the rest having been driven out or murdered by Teodoro and his uncle, the first president, Francisco Macias. This is a kind of country whose heart of darkness Joseph Conrad could not do justice to. Macias, who was elected numero uno upon independence in 1968, used to get nervous among educated folk, so he killed everyone who wore spectacles, a sure sign in his mind of superior educational accomplishment. Books, too, were a no-no, and under him forced labor was re-introduced. Papa Macias used to keep the treasury under his bed. The country’s electricity was turned off when he traveled outside the capital, and the only imported goods available in the market were tinned sardines and pink champagne.

Foreign aid during Macias’s time was 90 percent of the gross national product, but pink champagne, left over from a summit of West African potentates, was always available. So far so bad. Then Teodoro decided he had had enough. Macias had not been paying the National Guard, which Teodoro commanded, so Teodoro knocked him off and feasted on his you-know-what. Thirteen years later, in 1992, oil was discovered offshore, and suddenly Equatorial Guinea was rich. Actually, the only ones who got rich were Teodoro and his family. Equatorial Guinea now produces more than a barrel of oil per day per inhabitant, but you wouldn’t know it judging by their standard of living.

The civilized world, of course, sat up and took notice. It demanded that Teodoro hold elections, which he duly did and does rather regularly. Surprisingly, he wins every time by gaining 99.99 percent of the votes. The majority of what’s left of the population lives in extreme poverty, even by African standards. There is no clean water, no sanitation or medicine. There are malaria-infested mangrove swamps, dense forests, and small clearings for mud-hut villages. The peoples’ diet consists mostly of monkeys, porcupines, and rats.

This, then, is the paradise that has been in the news lately, the one Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the Iron Lady, is supposed to have plotted to overthrow six months ago. Well, as luck would have it, I dined with Lady Thatcher recently, and it’s all poppycock. There was a plot to overthrow Teodoro, and mercenaries led by an Old Etonian, Simon Mann, were arrested in Zimbabwe trying to buy arms. Mann was a friend and neighbor of Mark Thatcher’s in South Africa, which means the British popular press put two and two together and, as usual, got five. Such are the joys of conspiracy theories or celebrity or whatever you want to call it.

Here are the facts: Teodoro, like most bloodthirsty African dictators, should have been overthrown long ago. Teodoro’s opposition in Spanish exile contacted Mann, who then put bids out. A rich Lebanese, Ely Calil, and other businessmen came up with the “wonga.” Obviously they were not solely motivated by a burning ambition to bring democracy to that hellhole. I don’t know many businessmen who are, but backing the right horse in an oil-rich country like EG can come up trumps.

What I’d like to know is why the outrage from some. If Uncle Sam can do it, why can’t Calil or Mann? Where do you think Teodoro stashes his loot, having learned from his uncle not to keep it under the bed? In our very own Washington, D.C. Riggs bank. Despite the billions Teodoro has squirreled away in D.C., his country still receives foreign aid, mainly from China, Cuba, France, and Spain. A senior Pentagon official was tipped off that Teodoro might be in trouble, and American firms such as Amerada Hess and Exxon might have their oil flow disrupted, so they blew the whistle on the plotters. Mann is most likely to die in a Zimbabwe prison, as are others caught in EG, but in the meantime Riggs bank is doing fine. Perhaps there will even be a dinner soon for Teodoro. I only hope they don’t serve his favorite dish.