Western millionaires plotted Equatorial Guinea coup as a game

Salon reviews a fascinating-sounding book called The Wonga Coup, about a gang of rich western thugs who proposed a competition to hire mercenaries and topple the government of Equatorial Guinea and loot its treasuries — the winner got to keep the country's wealth.

"As it is a very lucrative game, we should expect bad behavior; disloyalty; rampant individual greed; irrational behavior (kids in toyshop style); back-stabbing; bum-fucking, and similar ungentlemanly activities." So reads a cautionary note in the prospectus for what's known as the "Wonga Coup." In March 2004, a group of men with a hired army of about 70 mercenary soldiers set out to topple the government of the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea and install a new one. Ostensibly led by a political opposition leader but actually controlled by the white mercenary officers, this new regime would plunder the recently discovered oil wealth of Equatorial Guinea, enriching the coup's architects by billions of dollars.

The Wonga Coup never came off, but not because of the kind of double-crossing anticipated in that early planning document. Adam Roberts, a correspondent for the Economist magazine and a journalist steeped in the skulduggery of modern Africa, describes just how this "improbable escapade" was born and ruined in his new book, "The Wonga Coup." One of the strangest aspects of the story is that the Wonga Coup nearly replicated an earlier failed attempt to take over Equatorial Guinea in 1973. And that coup had since been fictionalized in a bestselling book, popular with the mercenary crowd, by Frederick Forsyth, "The Dogs of War." A case of life imitating art imitating life? The truth is even more bizarrely convoluted: Roberts has found evidence that Forsyth himself financed the 1973 coup. (And Forsyth has more or less admitted as much.)