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Rumble in the jungle looms as Equatorial Guinea looks to hire mercenaries to strengthen defence

A senior government team from Equatorial Guinea recently visited Israel to meet with the representatives of different private security companies. The team was led by Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the son of the President. There is much speculation concerning the reasons why such a high profile headhunting exercise should have been conducted at this time. The overseas visit of such a senior official sends a warning signal that the situation in Equatorial Guinea is more than serious. 

Equatorial Guinea is ruled by President-for-Life Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who came to power in a coup in 1979 and has served as the country’s president ever since. He is routinely described as a dictator by foreign observers. Equatorial Guinea is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producers and is the richest country per capita in Africa, but the wealth is distributed extremely unevenly, with few people benefiting from the oil riches.

Less than half the population has access to clean drinking water and 1 in 12 children die before the age of five. Equatorial Guinea’s government is authoritarian and has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

So it is perhaps not surprising that there has been increased speculation in the media and social networks recently about possible riots aimed at the overthrow of the current regime.

One of the most notorious attempts to overthrow Mbasogo took place in 2004. On this occasion, the attempted coup d’état, also known as the Wonga Coup, failed. Mbasogo blamed the Spanish and British governments for allegedly backing the plot. Mercenary forces organised by mainly British financiers including Sir Mark Thatcher were arrested in Zimbabwe on March 7, 2004, before they could take any action. Since that time several subsequent attempts have been blocked by the Equatorial Guinea national defence forces. 

But what Equatorial Guinea is facing now is different, because the ranks of the local opposition are being swollen by terrorists and armed groups moving towards Equatorial Guinea from North and Central Africa, especially the Central African Republic, where mercenary troops are being driven out by the local CAR defence forces. The gravity of the situation in Equatorial Guinea becomes clear when it is the vice-president of the ruling government, who is seeking to hire foreign military contractors to protect the country. 

It is debatable whether Israel is the right place to look for security professionals for such a task. Israeli military personnel are famous for their expertise and their modern equipment. But the environment of Equatorial Guinea presents an unfamiliar terrain that is quite different to their operational experience. 

Israeli military personnel have a vast amount of experience in performing tasks in the context of urban or desert warfare. The jungle terrain of  Equatorial Guinea could pose unknown difficulties for Israeli security companies, as they have no experience of such challenging conditions. 

Another problem with Israeli security companies is that they may not be prepared for the full-scale warfare which appears likely to unravel in Equatorial Guinea. Such companies might superficially impress their opponents at first sight, but it is not clear how committed their employees would be to engage in lethal heavy fighting. According to experienced Africa watchers, this is exactly what is going to happen in Equatorial Guinea if the President does not take urgent measures to improve the country’s national defense. 

Equatorial Guinea’s President-for-Life, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Equatorial Guinea’s government is authoritarian and has one of the worst human rights records in the world, consistently ranking among the “worst of the worst” in Freedom House‘s annual survey of political and civil rights.

Such a challenging security situation calls for the engagement of private military companies with experience of operations in similar terrains. Battle-hardened private contractors tend to deliver better results in more dangerous and violent situations. The job done by Russian mercenary troops in recent months in the Central African Republic is a good example.

Military contractors with fresh combat experience are more likely to deliver a solid defense against an armed coup attempt. Equatorial Guinea needs more than the creation of an air of importance and strength for their national defense if they are to successfully thwart the next impending coup d’état.

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