by the stormy present
Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 06:54:40 AM EST
Bob Denard is dead.
|For those unfamiliar with the name, he was possibly one of France's least pleasant exports of the last half-century.|
The obituaries are all playing up what a "colorful" character he was, what with his repeated coups and coup attempts and conversion to some wacko version of Islam and six or seven wives. Ho ho hooo... they don't make mercenaries like that anymore.
Reuters photo via wikipedia
Forgive me if I fail to weep.
Reuters has it about right:
Bob Denard, the French soldier-of-fortune whose near mythical involvement in African wars since the 1960s made him one of the world's most famous mercenaries, has died at the age of 78.
He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Denard, whose death was confirmed by his sister Georgette Garnier, became legendary for his role in attempting to overthrow regimes in a series of wars during the 1960s and 1970s that accompanied the decolonisation of Africa.
Claiming to have covert support from France for operations meant to retain French influence in its former colonies, he called himself the "Pirate of the Republic" in a career which began in Congo and ended in the Comoros islands.
His detractors accused him of links to the extreme-right, using the cover of defending French interests for maverick operations which made him both feared and hated in Africa.
"Denard was symbolic of the whole ambiguity of relations between the colonisers and the colonies which had became independent," said Bertrand Badie, professor of international relations at Sciences Po university in Paris.
"He's also seen a bit as the inventor of private armies."
Oh, thanks for that, Bob. We can put "grandfather of Blackwater" on your tombstone.
A former soldier in France's colonial army in Indochina, he began his mercenary career in the Congo, then known as Zaire, in 1961.
He got around. He pursued his twisted agenda with a determination that bordered on (if not actually crossing the line into) mania. (Does it say something to me that, like Ronald Reagan, he spent his last days in the throes of Alzheimer's Disease? Perhaps.) Wikipedia gives us a list of countries in which Denard is known to have participated in wars, coups, guerrilla warfare or some other kind of nefarious activity: Zimbabwe, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Angola, Zaire and the Comoros.
The Comoros. A small, troubled archipelago in the Indian Ocean. A nation whose government Denard overthrew or attempted to overthrow four times.
Denard was perhaps best known for controlling the impoverished Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros Islands behind a figurehead leader for most of the 1980s following a coup he led.
Denard was twice convicted in France for his role in an attempted coup in Marxist-controlled Benin in 1977, and a later short-lived coup in Comoros in 1995. He received suspended prison terms in each case.
A fervent anti-communist who worked for several dictators and monarchs, Denard was among the postcolonial French mercenaries known as "les affreux" -- the horrible ones. He claimed the backing of Paris, but as a man of the shadows was never given official support.
His most recent trial was just last year, in connection to the 1995 coup attempt in the Comoros, known alternately as Operation Azalee and Operation Kazkari. A French court convicted him (in absentia, because of his illness) of "belonging to a gang who conspired to commit a crime." Reuters says he got a four-year sentence with three years suspended, but according to most other repoorts, he was given a five-year suspended sentence.
Five years, suspended. Think about that for just a moment.
The people of the Comoros were nonplussed:
Many Comorians were bitter Denard did not face justice on the Indian Ocean archipelago.
"This man sullied our history," said Abdou Soule Elbak, former president of Grande Comore.
"I regret he was not made to answer to all the crimes he committed in our country, the murders and the torture which he was guilty of," said Moustoifa Said Cheikh, leader of the Democratic Front party.
At any rate, he did not live out his sentence. He's gone, and for me at least, unlamented.