According to newsreports, "King" Donatien Koagne, Cameroon's most notorious conman and the "father of Feymania" died in Yemen a couple of weeks ago. In the 1990s he conned many African Heads of State such as Mobutu and Eyadema out of millions of dollars before finally falling into the dragnet of Yemeni authorities who threw him in jail. In a fantastic twist to this already incredible story of crime, greed and duplicity, the French secret service tried unsuccessfully to rescue him from his Yemeni hell hole ostensibly in a bid to lay hands on his famous "black book".
One of the most definitive works on Feymania in Cameroon and on Donatien Koagne was written by Domique Malaquais titled "Anatomie d'une arnaque" Feymen et Feymania au Cameroun". An abridged english version titled "Death, Douala Style" is available online. (See excerpt below)
The King's New Clothes
Pretoria, 1994. Cameroonian journalist Pius Njawe is in South Africa to interview members of Nelson Mandela's fledgling cabinet. First stop, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Njawe is no novice: he expects little assistance; a secretary, an aide to an aide perhaps, will present him with a general interest press release, answer a question or two, then send him on his way. So it is with some surprise that he finds himself ushered in to see the Minister himself.
The Minister has a problem. He has just received a fax from one of the poshest hotels in Sandton. A guest is announced, the hotel's manager writes, whose rank poses questions of diplomatic protocol: the King of Cameroon. Who, the Minister inquires of Njawe, might this monarch be? The journalist explains that there is no such thing as "the king of Cameroon." Puzzlement all around.
Njawe decides to investigate. Countless calls later, he is granted an interview with the alleged king. At the latter's hotel, he is directed to the presidential suite. He is greeted at the door by a stunning young woman, "covered," he recalls, "in gold." Entering the suite, he sinks into four inches of plush rose carpet. Ahead is cavernous room furnished in gold and pink and white. Young men in dark suits lie about. One wrestles with a remote control, attempting to open at a distance a set of floor-to-ceiling drapes. Success: the drapes part, revealing a mezzanine. On this, a man stands, covered also in gold – slippers and robe of gold silk, gold chains, bracelets, rings.
The man on the mezzanine is not a king. He is, however, le king, one of Cameroon's most notorious gangsters. Donatien Koagne is his name. Njawe has never met him, but like most of his countrymen has heard much about him. He is a multimillionaire, his fortune born of illegal activity.
Forty-five minutes of questioning lead nowhere; Njawe leaves knowing little more than he did coming in about what Koagne is doing in South Africa. Further research proves more fruitful. The journalist learns that his fellow-Cameroonian has established close ties with members of the Mandela team. The great man himself may have been taken in: one of the gangster's proudest possessions is a series of photographs of himself posing side by side with Mandela. Worse, Koagne, it seems, was a guest of honor at Mandela's inauguration …
Mandela was not the only head of state taken in by Koagne. In a photo album he took great relish in showing acquaintances, le king kept snapshots of himself with many a man of power, among them Mobutu Sese Seko and Denis Sassou Nguesso. There is no evidence that his relations with Mandela, whatever they were, became at any point unpleasant. Not so his ties to Mobutu and Sassou. And with good reason: Koagne did both men, and others too, gloriously wrong. He took Marshal Mobutu for fifteen million dollars. Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso lost forty million dollars to him. Sassou, Etienne Eyadéma of Togo, several high officials of Gabon, Tanzania and Kenya, a member of the Spanish government and an ex-operative of the Israeli Mossad were bamboozled as well.
Koagne has been linked to a wide range of illicit practices – drug dealing, money laundering and trade in controlled substances (blood diamonds, uranium), among others. The means he used to defraud Mobutu and his colleagues, however, were something else altogether. The modus operandi was a fabulous con job, a sham money-multiplicatio n scheme involving a top-secret potion allegedly concocted by the United States Department of Treasury for use in the manufacture of dollar bills.
Eventually, Donatien was caught. He fell prey to the Yemeni police, following yet another con in which he took a high-ranking member of the local police for two million dollars. While the story of his arrest is an extraordinary one, the tale of manifold attempts made to extract him from Yemen is still more remarkable. The identity of his would-be rescuers is telling. First among them were the French secret service, which, at one point, devised a plan oddly reminiscent of the Rainbow Warrior affair: a high-speed boat disguised as a tourist's yacht, from which frogmen would emerge and make their way, surreptitiously, to Donatien's gaol. Paris, it seems, was interested not so much in Donatien himself as in a little black book he kept, in which were listed the names of all the prominent men he had bilked, the amounts he had taken them for and the dates on which he had done so. The Quai d'Orsay had been contacted by representatives of several African governments – clients, all, of the infamous Réseau Foccart, by way of which France in the 1980s and '90s maintained its stranglehold on the Francophone sub-continent. Some of the petitioners wanted the book out of circulation, lest it fall into the hands of opponents who might make use of its contents to ridicule their regimes; others hoped it would provide them with evidence, should they seek redress from banks in which Donatien was known to keep accounts. There was much to be gained, Paris concluded, in assisting in the con man's release.
The rescue attempts failed. Donatien apparently remains in Yemen. Of his little black book, there is no news. Enough time has passed, however, for it to be of little concern anymore. Why then this overview of the man's career in crime? Because Donatien was one of many, the standard-bearer for a generation that played a key role in Cameroonian and Franco-African politics at the dawn of the twenty-first century – a generation whose existence paved the way for the Operational Command.
And here is an excerpt of a French TV report on Donatien's modus operandi.