Friday, 20 January 2012
Cry Havoc - Simon Mann (Equatorial Guinea)
I downloaded this book shortly after Christmas as part of the 12 Days of Kindle offer that Amazon seem to feature each year, for the princely sum of 99 pence, as I felt that books based in this country would be comparitively rare, and it seemed a good opportunity to acquire one for a very good price. One of the best things about Kindle, for me at least, is how it inspires you to read so many different books that you would not have found, much less considered, in paper form, for books such as these are not to be found in the average bricks and mortar store, at least not the ones that I used to frequent.
This book though tells that tale of the infamous so called Mark Thatcher plot, to overthrow the President of that small African country and former Spanish colony known as Equatorial Guinea. I started the book knowing little about this country, and by the time I finished felt like somewhat of an expert.
I did not realise how much this book affected me until after I had finished reading, which to me came as somewhat of a surprise given its subject matter. I have noticed though over the previous few months that I am drawn more and more to books of this nature, set in war torn areas of the world that help me to understand a little more of how these things take form and the evil (I hesitate to use that word) that allows it to happen.
Along with most other people, I had a somewhat stereotyped and negative view of so-called mercenaries, for that is what Mann and his gang were, believing them to be hired thugs, who were only interested in cash, but this book in its opening chapters, helped to dispel all of those myths. It would be fair to say that although Mann did stand to make a lot of money from this plot, this was not his only or indeed primary motive, which was to make things better for the citizens of EG, which despite its massive oil revenue, remains one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Africa.
This could in fact have been two books, detailing as it did, Mann's involvement in several other African countries, Angola and Sierra Leone. I found this inclusion of this material irritating at times, as I did not buy the book to read about these wars, but I suppose it did provide valuable background information. For me though, the book did not really get going until halfway through, when it began to detail the effects that imprisonment had on him. That for me was the important bit, and the reason that I wanted to carry on reading.
The ironic thing is that during his five years incarcerated in Zimbabwe, Mann spent much of that time fearful of extradition to EG because of the President's alleged reputation for cannibalising his victims, yet when he arrived, his physical comforts at least were looked after far better than in Zim with access to running water, electric light and medical care. None of this of course detracts from what happened to him, and the fact that he was kept in solitary confinement for months, betrayed by his friends and colleagues, yet for me this remains an irony. Maybe as the prized Westerner he was given special treatment, but whatever it was he said to his interrogators, who reported directly back to the President, evidently hit home, for things have got far better for the citizens of EG since the attempted coup, and his trial took place. Not many could have survived what this man went through, and I suspect it was his training in both the Army and later the SS and the skills that he learnt during this time that got his through.
Now that I have finished the book, I am not sure how I feel about the whole thing - was it right for him to spend five and a half years in jail for a crime that he only plotted to do but did not actually carry out, and where exactly do you draw the line? One man's freedom fighter after all, is another man's (or woman's} terrorist, so which was and is Mann, is he either of these things or none at all? And what of Mark Thatcher's involvement, where does he come into all of this? The plot made headlines and is well known to people mostly because of his involvement.
To sum up then, I would say that this book was an interesting and for me at least, very different type of read, but it was also one that left more questions than answers. The answers I suspect will come not from the book itself, but from each readers own definition of morality and justice.