Cry Havoc is an autobiography by Simon Mann. Mann takes the title from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar ”Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”. This line has been used by Frederick Forsyth for his novel The Dogs of War about a coup in a fictitious African country. Perhaps the title is an allusion to Forsyth’s novel. It also hints at a lack of imagination that pervades Mann’s book. This is not disparaging. Mann was an officer in the Scots Guards, he served in the SAS, he was an oil trader and then a mercenary. None of these are occupations where creativity is much valued.
Cry Havoc is a pacey and candid book. It is an enthralling insight into the world of guns for hire. There is intrigue, suspense and much suffering.
Havoc is what ensued when Mann and his chums attempted to topple the dictator of Equatorial Guinea. The autobiography begins with Mann being in Harare Airport in 2004. He and his confederates are en route to Equatorial Guinea (EG) when he is arrested by the Zimbabwean Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
The book jumps back and forth between his early life and his travails in prison. Mann gives a precis of his early life. He was born in London in 1952. He was brought up on Chelsea Square in one of the most exclusive areas of the British capital: Belgravia. His house had once been owned by the renowned poet Matthew Arnold. Simon’s father and grandfather had both played cricker for England and both had been officers in the Scots Guards. This regiment tended to draw its officers from the aristocracy. This did not necessarily mean they were titled. The Mann family made their lucre in brewing. Simon Mann did not inherit a title himself but was related to peers. His father had been to Cambridge and later captained the English cricket side. It was on a tour of South Africa just after the Second World War that Simon’s father met a South African lady whom he married. This woman was Simon’s mother. Hence Simon’s lifelong fascination with South Africa and her neighbours.
Mann went to Eton. It was touch and go as to whether he would make it to Eton. It was not easy for him, once there, to get enough O Levels and A levels to become and army officer but he did. He then proceeded to Sandhurst – the Royal Military Academy. He had no pretensions to scholarship. Improbably he won the Soviet Studies Prize. He did the two year course there. It is now a one year course. He was commissioned into the Scots Guards. Note that a man does not need to be Scots to serve in the Scots Guards.
Mann had a decent career in his regiment. The Scots Guards like the other Guards regiments spend most of their time in and around London. They are often in Windsor. Their role is as their name suggests; to guard. They guard Buckingham Palace, St James’ Palace, Windsor Castle and they used to guard the Bank of England. They spent much of their time on drill and doing public duties. They are among the Footguards who wear ceremonial dress which consists of red tunics and black bearskin hats. This is not to say that the Brigade of Guards is solely a show horse unit. They also served in Northern Ireland during Mann’s time.
Simon was no mere parade ground soldier. Mann also passed into the Special Air Service. This meant he was among the hardest of the hard. He married in his 20s and started having children. He eventually sired seven! In 1985 he left the army and went into oil.
Much of the oil traded came from Angola. This former Portuguese colony was in a civil war from the moment of its independence in 1975. The government was made up of the Marxists called the MPLA. Their foes were Unita. Unita was backed by South Africa and the USA. A peace accord followed in 1993 and internationally supervised elections. The MPLA narrowly won and was universally recognised as the rightful government. Unita restarted the civil war. Oil was not getting through via the MPLA Government. Unita controlled the oilfields and was profitting from it. Mann proposed retaking the oilfields. This seemed insane at first but he talked his colleagues around. SImon Mann proposed a plan to smash Unita. The Angolan Government listened. Mann was commissioned into the Angolan Army. He led his troops to victory. Was this him acting as a condittiero or not? Probably not since he was a serving member of the Angolan military.
Mann recruited some of his South African pals for that adventure in Angola. He pours scorn on Unita as outright brigands. There is much truth in this. Their leader Jonas Savimbi went from being a Maoist to being a right winger in one year. It seems that Savimbi was a sheer opportunist and a tribalist. Mann points out that his South African friends had been fighting on Unita’s side a couple of years earlier.
Mann was a mercenary or ”dog of war” as he sometimes calls it. This was fighting in Sierra Leone but for the government of that state.
This memoir focuses on the incident for which Simon Mann is best known. That is the failed coup against the President of Equatorial Guinea. Mann said that several governments knew all about the planned putsch. They tipped him the wink to go ahead. Sir Mark Thatcher financed the plot. Simon claimed that the plan was to overthrew the president but not kill him. They would install an Equatorial Guinean exile politician and then hold elections on an entirely fair basis. The trouble is what if the people voted in a crony of the old ruler? That was not considered. Many such plots have borne fruit before.
On this occasion the EQ intelligence service was apprised of it. South Africa knew all about it. According to Mann the South African Government was mad keen for the dictator of EG to be ousted. A new president of EG who owed his power to South Africa would be very valuable to Pretoria. But perhaps the ANC Government believed in pan African solidarity after all and tipped off EG or at least Zimbabwe. The coupsters followed a rule laid down by the IRA: arms and the man come together at the last possible moment and for the shortest possible time. The idea being that guns are the main evidence against the wouldbe putschists. If they are found without weapons then they can claim not to be launching a coup d’etat at all. But if they are taken under arms they will have a hard time explaining away all their assault rifles. It was conspicuous to have 69 ex soldier flying across Africa. The blind was a good one. They were on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide security at a mine.
Mann claims to have been beaten up by the CIO. The Zimbabwean secret police threatened to kill him. They carried out a mock execution. He is man enough to admit to being petrified. These claims are all very credible. The brutality of the CIO is very well attested. The author does not make melodramatic claims about electordes being applied to his pedundum and suchlike. There is no plea for pity. Being an SAS man he is better able to bear this than most. What seems to have got his goat is the crowdedness of the tank and the insanitary conditions. He gripes about this more than the beatings. He signed a confession in the presence of a lawyer. The lawyer attesting it was appointed by the CIO. Mann only signed this statement because another man was being tortured and the CIO promised to stop if Mann signed. The lawyer did not blink an eye and was totally on the side of his paymasters not his client.
After a few days the autobiographer was sent to a prison. He limns the awful conditions of the prison. As Mann had money he was able to bribe the miserably underpaid prison officers. Conditions became much more tolerable. The Zimbabwean press demanded the death penalty for Mann and his associates. Mann strove not to obsess on the rope but could not always avoid it. Life became more or less tolerable there. It was very dull. Exercises in his cell and writing a book kept him sane. The CIO kept confiscating his scribblings. Escape plans came to naught. What Simon Mann dreaded was being extradited to EG to face trial. There he really was sure he would face capital punishment.
The author was filmed going to court appearance. These images were broadcast on British news channels. He always appeared to be remarkable chipper for a man who was chained and in prison uniform.
Simon felt that someone whom he cryptically called ”London” should help him. But ”London” never so much as sent a postcard. This shadowy figure had very deep pockets and was the real power behind the coup. ”London” could easily have greased the right palms to get Simon released or at least given a paltry sentence. However, ”London” chose not to stick his neck out. In a later interview Simon Mann revealed that ”London” meant an enigmatic Nigerian-born Lebanese financier named Eli Calil. Calil stumped up much of the money for the coup. Once things went boss eyed he chose to distance himself from his accomplices and deny all knowledge of the plot.
Mann felt compassion for his fellow prisoners. Many were violent criminals. He described the starvation rations. Some prisoners deliberately withheld food from others. The aim was to compel these prisoners to consent to gay sex in return for comestibles. In a country with a terrifyingly AIDS infection rate the result was predictable. The horror and misery of this prison will remind readers how fortunate they are.
The author claimed to have borne to malice towards the Zimbabwean Prison Service. The guards were decent sorts. They tried to do their best in dreadful circumstances. They prison was woefully under-equipped. The prison officers were compelled to take this distasteful job due to penury. Honourable men were gulled by pro-government propaganda. Being fed a diet of nothing bu pro Mugabe publicity it is hard for people not to think that way. Even them some of them recognised that conditions in their country were dire. Some asked Mann about enlisting in the British Army or becoming mercenaries.
Simon fantasised about release after about 3 years. In fact after 4 years he was sent to EG. He claims it was extraordinary rendition rather than a lawful extradition He had been no respecter of law himself so it is hard to accord much respect to such mewlings. He landed in EG and was treated with exceptional compassion. He was not abused but only intensively questioned. He decided that the only way to get out of this was to sing like a canary. He spilled the beans. He was sentenced to 34 years in prison. AFter only 18 months on gaol there he was set free.
This book is written almost entirely in the present tense. That lends it an immediacy and a vividness that is lacking in other works. The book is peppered with serviceman’s slang. There is much casual vulgarity. He used some Shona words. He also introduced this reader to the word ‘shonky’ meaning ”low quality, dodgy and made in a shanty town.” Many characters are described in a terse yet vivid manner. The book is fast moving and never dull. The trouble is some exciting episodes are merely outlined such as his arrest.
The author has a distinctive no bullshit style. His prose is spare and devoid of frills. He dispenses with the rules of grammar. Many of his sentences have no verb. Often a sentence will be adjective and adjective. It makes for an engaging read. There is also the pleasing notion that this book was not ghosted. There is a military directness to his writing. It is full of humour and philosophising.
The CIO taunted Mann about sharing a cell with black men. They asked him if he thought his race was more valiant? Simon claimed not to dislike black people at all. He had many black colleagues. But then he does use the word ”kaffir”. He mixed with many white Saffas who had formerly been pro-apartheid. He may have absorbed their prejudices.
It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for Mann. Any well-written autobiography should induce the reader to feel this way. Should one feel sympathy for him? He was being paid to risk his life most of his adult life. He was doing something extremely illegal. He claims he wanted a bloodless coup but such a thing almost never transpires. If shooting started hundreds of people could be killed quite easily. There is no doubt that the man he sought to kick out was a savage tyrant. That does not make a coup d etat legal. However, several current presidents came to office through coups. A forcible seizure of power is by definition illegal. Yet such a thing can be moral. Mann claims to have been actuated by a wish to help the benighted people of EG and to have sunk millions of his own money into this project. He worked in oil where profit is the bottom line. It is possible to be motivated by both morality and money. But which was more important for him? He said he detested tyrants and wanted them gone. He was very selective about this. He was offered to try to push out Mugabe. Oddly, Mann was not game for that one. Partly because he knew it was a CIO set up. There are many tyrants in the world whom he did not advocate overthrowing. He was wise enough to mention that there are some benevolent dictators.
Simon Mann was a freebooter. He is perhaps the last of the breed. Given his age – 64 – he is too old for such filibusters. Will we see his like again? He lives quietly in the United Kingdom and makes the occasional media appearance.
The African Union has a grip on things. The AU is determined that the era of European military intervention – official or unofficial -in their continent is over. It is unlikely that whites will attempt to assist such a coup in the short or medium term.