The Wonga Coup

By Adam Roberts. Public Affairs, $26.

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Photo: Nick Himmel

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As one might infer from the misadventures in Iraq, potential oil riches can inspire some pretty bodacious behavior. In the case of Simon Mann, the disgraced, Eton-bred former officer at the center of Adam Roberts’s gripping expos The Wonga Coup, it becomes reason enough to plot a regime change in the tiny West African nation Equatorial Guinea: He personally staged a “rent-a-coup” that landed himself and dozens of would-be accomplices in a Zimbabwean prison in 2004. (Mann remains there today.) Roberts, a journalist for the Economist, examines the paper trail leading up to the arrest, and while it smacks of aristocratic hubris (former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son invested in the plot), it also reveals how modern business and intelligence practices have helped solidify the culture of mercenaries throughout resource-rich Africa. Factor in the centrality of old-guard apartheid types from South Africa and Western coddling of oil-wealthy African despots, and Mann’s tale begins to read like the white man’s revenge on postcolonial Africa.—K. Leander Williams

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