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Wide Angle: Once Upon a Coup

Airs Tuesday, September 1 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: President Teodoro Obiang (second from right) of Equatorial Guinea during his birthday celebration in the capital city, Malabo.

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A failed coup attempt … a British mercenary in a notorious African prison … a dictator suspicious of Western powers … and beneath it all, a spectacular underwater oil reserve that the world’s major powers would love to get their hands on. It may sound like the latest John LeCarré best-seller, but in fact it’s real-life intrigue.

WIDE ANGLE’s penetrating look at the mysterious goings-on in Equatorial Guinea, a tiny West African nation newly rich with oil and infamous for corruption, begins in 2004, when a group of mercenaries, including a British ex-special forces officer named Simon Mann, is arrested in Zimbabwe. Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, accuses them of plotting a coup against him. When Mann is sentenced to 34 years in Equatorial Guinea’s notorious Black Beach prison, he claims to be only one piece of an international plot to control the country’s vast oil resources.

WIDE ANGLE travels the globe to unravel that plot, which stretches from Africa to the U.K., from a prime minister’s son to Zimbabwean arms dealers, from South Africa to Spain. But as this all plays out, another actor is bidding for a share of the oil: China. The Chinese government has showered the country with glittering new buildings and a new administrative capital. If President Obiang has grown skeptical of Western intentions, he has welcomed China as a new business partner. Starting with a small West African nation and stretching around the globe, Once upon a Coup sheds light on the uncomfortable realities of oil politics in the 21st century.

Watch the full program online.

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