Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Coup plot in Eq. Guinea: a little perspective, please

Chippla, whose blog I enjoy reading, has written quite a bit about the alleged attempted coup against the dictatorship in Equatorial Guinea. The story has gained a bit of press attention because one of the accused is the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Equatorial Guinea is one of the world's worst human rights abuser [Human Rights Watch among others]. It's dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has been likened to Idi Amin, but without the charisma. Some comparison!

Even the trial of the alleged coup plotters was 'seriously flawed' [Amnesty Intl]

Ironic since Obiang himself came to power via a coup plot against none other than his uncle.

But none of this seems to trouble Chippla, who's more focused on allegations western involvement.

First, there were reports that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw knew of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot weeks before the mercenaries were arrested. Not that he was involved in the coup plot, only that he know and didn't mention it to the dictator.

Most recently, a BBC story was relayed by Chippla, who wrote:

The previous Spanish government of Jose-Maria Aznar was involved in the planning of the aborted coup! Well, that's according to the BBC, which interviewed the National Security Adviser of Equatorial Guinea

He really should've written: "That's according to the National Security Advisor of Equatorial Guinea, as interviewed by the BBC."

Obiang runs arguably the most repressive regime in Africa. While Chippla may disagree with the concept of overthrowing leaders just because they're bad guys (and he barely acknowledges this in the most passing way), it astonishes me that he would report comments from the regime unchallenged and without even the merest hint of skepticism.

For all he professed restraint ("Passing any judgment at this stage may be premature until the veracity of this claim is ascertained"), it's clear he believes Spanish involvement was likely ("all I'd like to say is that this was modern Spain at its best working... to protect its most selfish of interests in its former colony. Equatorial Guinea could likely have become just another client state had the coup been successful")

It's classic example of the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" paradox faced by Africaphiles in the west (yes, there are a few). If the west does something (Spain allegedly in Eq. Guinea, Britain in Sierra Leone), it's automatically accused of meddling exclusively for selfish interests. If the west does nothing, critics scream apoplectically that it's racist for abandoning poor Africans (Darfur, Rwanda).

If Chippla is willing to condemn repeatedly westerns for their alleged involvement in this apparent plot, perhaps he could spare a thought for the Equato-Guineans who are tortured, repressed or constrained to exile by Obiang's dicatorship. I'd imagine the coup plot is the least of their worries.


At 6:29 PM, Blogger Chippla Vandu said...

Thanks for your comments about my trail of articles on the Equatorial Guinea coup plot. While I try to be as objective as I can in my blog reports, I will not shy away from reporting things the way I see them, irrespective of where they occur on the globe.

I was rather harsh on Britain and Spain for obvious reasons. When countries choose to act as moral superiors, they have a right to lead by example. President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea may have cased power by a coup decades ago but that does not give any country the right under international law to take part in a coup to overthrow him.

The aborted coup has more to do with oil than Obiang. And that's my point. Nations exist to serve their citizens and when more powerful nations try to invade or attack them using such pretexts as bad governance, human rights abuses, WMDs (whether or not these are true), it almost always has more to do with resource control.

The recent failed coup in Equatorial Guinea will likely not have taken place had it not been for oil. A few decades ago, Equatorial Guinea was so dirt poor it literally pleaded with Cameroon and then Nigeria to accept it as a province, but both declined. Today it's bustling with oil and has seen its per capita income increase ten-fold in just about 15 years. And that's when Spain takes interest.

I stand by my articles and will condemn the previous Spanish government outwardly for such cowardly act if it happened to be involved in the affair. And note I use the word "Spanish government" and not "Western governments". Not just the Spanish government but also any other government involved be it in Africa, Europe or wherever.

Regime change is never the work of altruists but of selfish people and governments who so eagerly await the spoils of war. A spade should be called a spade.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Brian said...

My concern is that you seem to give almost unquestioned credence to the claims of the Equatorial Guinean regime. Just because something conforms to your pre-conceptions or conforms to what a power has done in the past doesn't automatically make it true this particular time. Just because it might be true, just because it could be true doesn't automatically make it actually true.

Just because Obiang's lackey says Spain was involved, doesn't make it so. Your indignation makes it clear you think Spain probably was. And as for the other, no one claims Britain was involved in planning the coup, only that their govt didn't notify the dictator's regime of the plan. I'm sorry but I do not find the latter greatly objectionable.

My other concern is that you speak like the demise of Obiang would be a great loss, as though he's a modern day Lumumba or something. There's no contradiction in saying that externally imposed coups shouldn't happen even though butcher Obiang is not a man who will be mourned. I wouldn't want a military coup to overthrow President Bush, but I still wish he weren't president.

I don't doubt that most externally imposed 'regime changes' are done for self-interest. That said, sometimes the effect can be ultimately positive despite the amoral (not immoral) intent. I do not wish to encourage externally made coups.

However, I see no contradiction in saying 'IF Britain/Spain was involved in the coup planning, they were wrong' and 'If Obiang ceased to be dictator, I would not shed any tears.' For example, I opposed the American invasion of Iraq, but I do not mourn at all the demise of dictator Saddam.

Think of it this way. Julius Nyerere invaded Uganda in 1979. Whatever his intent, the effect was to rid Uganda of Idi Amin. Tanzanian troops were welcomed by Ugandans as liberators; whatever Tanzania's actual intent, Ugandans recognized and appreciated the positive actual EFFECT on their lives.

It's fair enough to say you don't want this to become standard, to become widely accepted. It's another to say that amoral or self-interested intent can NEVER have a positive result. Be suspicious, but I'd never say never.


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