Severo Moto, Equatorial Guinea’s exiled opposition leader was back in the news this week. You’d think he’d be laying low after getting caught up in a highly publicized and ill-fated coup attempt in 2004, but apparently not. The Associated Press reports that Mr. Moto was arrested in Toledo, Spain after police found weapons stashed in a car trunk. The weapons were set to be shipped to Equatorial Guinea, and Moto was arrested pending trial on arms trafficking charges.

A fellow member of the banned opposition group Progress Party of Equatorial Guinea, Saturnino Ncogo Mbomio, died in custody of a scull fracture earlier this week at Equatorial Guinea’s notorious Black Beach prison. Supposedly he was injured after falling from his bed (This seems to be happening a lot lately). Mbomio was arrested after the discovery of weapons in the boot of a car that had been exported from Spain (The PPEG needs to find a new method of transport for their weapons, I think). Equatorial Guinean authorities contended that the arms were to be used in a coup attempt planned in conjunction with Moto. 

Although Spain has provided a haven for Severo Moto, his time of residence there has not been without some controversy. Granted political asylum in 1986, his protected status was revoked in 2005, when Spanish authorities claimed he was using the country as a base for coup attempts on Equatorial Guinea. Moto appealed that decision, and the ruling was overturned last month by Spain’s Supreme Court. With his recent arrest, perhaps Moto will finally find himself out in the cold. 

Severo Moto’s personal history and his relationship with Spain merit a mention. Although Moto currently leads what he terms the “Government of Equatorial Guinea in Exile,” he was a former member of that country’s repressive Macias regime during the 1970s. He served as director of television and radio programming, handling official propaganda. Later he worked in the ministry of information under the current dictator, Brigadier General Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. His rift with the government occurred when he and Obiang had a falling out over a woman. She was the face that launched a thousand coups. 

Moto left Equatorial Guinea after extreme animosity developed between himself and Obiang. He has since has been involved in a series of coup attempts. The government of Equatorial Guinea sentenced him to ninety-six years in prison, in absentia, after his first attempt from Angola failed. After taking up residence in Spain, Moto got swept up in a plot backed by British and South African financiers. It was planned that hired mercenaries would depose the government, Moto would assume the presidency, and the financial backers would be rewarded with a share of the country’s oil wealth. The scheme was thwarted when their jet landed in Harare to load up on weapons, and was discovered. For more information on the incredibly convoluted but highly intriguing coup attempt, read The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa by Adam Roberts (This book gets the prize for cramming so many provoking words into one title. It’s a pity the author couldn’t include “gun-running,” “child soldier” or “George Clooney”). 

Severo Moto: This picture is from his personal website. I can’t read Spanish, but I bet it’s pretty interesting.

It remains to be seen what action Spain will take against Moto. In the past the country seems to have had little problem providing a base for Moto’s opposition efforts, that is until his actions became too embarrassing to ignore. It has been alleged that Spain may have been complicit in the “wonga coup.”* In fact, it appears that Britain, Spain and America all had advanced knowledge of the 2004 plot against Equatorial Guinea, and did nothing to prevent it. Still, it’s not like booting out Obiang would be something to cry over, the Nguema family’s legacy is almost too horrific to believe. 

*wonga is slang for money. It is a term bandied about at the elite prep school Eton, which was attended by several of the coup plotters.