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Review by Oliver Gover
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Mercenaries have never had a great press and Simon Mann, executor of the Wonga Coup of March 2004 in Equatorial Guinea, is unlikely to gain much from his autobiography, Cry Havoc, except perhaps some cash denied him by the abject failure of the doomed bid to depose the ruler of that unhappy African nation.
Firstly, and to get it out of the way without further ado; the style of the book is terrible. Lots of short sentences giving it the feel of a cod Andy McNab yarn, as Mann writes: ‘There are other horrors. This is March. We are close to the Equinox’.
This is a shame because Mann has written, with the help of a “creative editor” a striking book covering the seedier side of regime change, oil, money and Margaret Thatcher’s offspring, Mark. Adding to the murkiness, the structure of this story jumps about in an often confusing style, but not confusing enough to make one ditch the it in the same way as Mann was dropped in it by “the boss” and Mark Thatcher.
Mann refers to Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, Heart of Darkness as an inspiration and it easy to imagine the colonial nightmare of the Belgian Congo being transferred to the troubled country of Equatorial Guinea ruled over by a kleptomaniac despot, Teodoro Obiang.
It is difficult not to agree with a change of regime but there is an element of protesting too much in Mann’s account of his reasons for agreeing to the coup or “Assisted Regime Change” as he calls it.
The plan, cooked up by Mann, “the boss” and financed by Thatcher, was to fly to Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea and link up with an advance guard that would have carried out a palace coup never got beyond Harare airport. In Zimbabwe, Mann experienced the real fifth rate, insecure nature of Mugabe’s regime. Mann questions this state of affairs and receives an unsurprisingly servile answer, that Mugabe et al are heroes and “must be allowed to serve their time as heroes. One day, they’ll all be gone.”
The second part of the autobiography is an excellent piece of prison writing. The minor irony of languishing in Chikurubi prison with its so-called “white man’s machine age brutality” built by Australian contractors and now housing khaki clad prisoners is not lost on Mann. But he takes reassurance from the near British order he finds there, although he soon understands that ‘law in Zimbabwe is corrupt from top to bottom, left to right’. The metaphorical water running through the metaphorical plumbing is dirty. This may explain his lawyer’s nickname “Crock”.
As opposed to “Crock”, Mann is given the nickname “Shumba” meaning lion in the Shona language and is gradually looked upon with affection by the guards and other prisoners although this is helped by a ready supply of cigarettes which in Britain or Zimbabwe are the only real currency in prison. He also learns of some of the minutiae of prison life as well as the statistic that ‘five years is when many men become prison homosexual.’ Given Mugabe’s well known and bracing views on the topic, this is yet another risk. Mann is out of jail before his deadline arrives
Cry Havoc contains a strong sense of scores being settled by Mann. When captured he ponders “my brothers-in-arms, partners in crime …they know Africa…They know how to operate in a zoo like this”, That may explain why he heard nothing from his comrades upon his capture. But can a mercenary like Mann really be surprised that he was cut-off from the major players in the Wonga Coup when it went wrong, knowing the type of people they were up against and who he was in cahoots with.
Mann paints a vivid picture of regime change executed with hilarious ineptness. He paid big time for his grandiose part in that bid which was about as far away from the romantic notion of popular revolutions sweeping away hated dictators as can be pictured.
Simon Mann; Cry Havoc. John Blake Publishing. £19.99, pp.351.