Monday, July 31, 2006

African governance, a Borgesian house of cards

In what looks to be a tale well-told, a former Africa writer for The Economist, Adam Roberts, just published his account of the thwarted coup attempt in March 2004 of Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president-for-life of Equatorial Guinea, the microscopic oil-rich nation in West Africa. Margaret Thatcher's son Mark, a South Africa resident close to founders of the now defunct private security firm Executive Outcomes, helped bankroll the effort and was fined but not indicted. A number of veteran African mercenaries involved with the plot were captured and sentenced in Zimbabwe, from where the coup was organized.

The Wonga Coup was favorably reviewed last week in WSJ. Like many book reviews, it may prove a more interesting read than the book itself. Robert Kaplan opens the review with the question that has crossed anyone's mind who has ever wondered how modern-day Africa has sunk to its current depths:

"The question is perennial: What is wrong with Africa? Why does a continent rich in natural resources, blessed with plenty of space, populated by plenty of young people, and positioned at the confluence of Asian and European trade routes fail so abysmally to "take off" and provide something better than a dollar a day for its inhabitants?"

I'll be reading this one at some point, regardless, as it appears to offer a close account of an abiding aspect of contemporary African failure, governance and its persistant undermining by short-term greed. Kaplan concludes,

"The most encouraging aspect of "The Wonga Coup" is its portrait of South Africa and Zimbabwe (notwithstanding the Mugabe regime's own arbitrary abuses at home) coming down hard on Mr. Mann and his coup-plotting cronies. Perhaps such a leap into action, thwarting nearby wrongdoing, is a harbinger of change for Africa. Still, it says something about Africa's wobbly governance that the conspirators felt confident enough to take their plan beyond a barstool daydream."


Adam Roberts said...

I came across your blog and thoughts about my book, The Wonga Coup, which is about to be published in the United States.

Adam Roberts said...

for some other reviews, in the British press, you could take a look at