VIDEO. When the French mercenary Bob Denard led repeated coups in the Comoros

“The difference between a mercenary and an army soldier is that we work in much more artisanal conditions.” This is the definition that Bob Denard, the most famous of French mercenaries, involved in multiple military operations and post-colonial conflicts in Africa, gave of his job. The craftsmanship of mercenaries: a representation that contrasts with the means now deployed by the men of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner who are fighting in Ukraine.

Broadcast Sunday June 11 on France 5, the documentary Bob Denard, the mercenary of the Republicaccurately describes the career and role of this man in the shadows, involved in illegal activities. Composed of personal archives, sound recordings and period images, the film directed by Gaël Mocaër relates the fate of this man who died in 2007.

Robert alias “Bob” Denard – a pseudonym that evokes adventure novels and films – became known during the period of decolonization and Françafrique, when France sought to preserve its influence in its former colonies. The mercenary is not idle. In his autobiography, he will call himself “the Corsair of the Republic”.

Two coups in three years

The documentary focuses on its activity in the Comoros. In 1975, the agronomist Ali Soilih, former deputy and former Comorian minister, overthrew Ahmed Abdallah Abdéremane, the first head of state of the independent Comoros. A year earlier, three of the islands wrested their independence from the France of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Upon his arrival on the archipelago, Bob Denard worked actively to consolidate Ali Soilih’s power. With five companions and a budget of $100,000, he trains a few hundred fighters who take control of the islands. “France not only lets things happen, but allows the mercenary Bob Denard to be made available to Ali Soilih”says historian Walter Bruyère-Ostells.

“The history of the Comoros came like a hair in the soup, as they say. (…) It was explained to me that to reunify the islands, it was necessary to create a small organization with the formation of an army.”

Bob Denard, mercenary

quoted in the documentary

Bob Denard is a “silent”who keeps his actions secret, including for those close to him, confides in the documentary his son, Philippe. “I did not know”, confirms in the film Marie-Elise Denard, widow of the mercenary. At the time, her husband had only said to her: “If you watch the news, don’t worry, everything is fine”she says.

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He reinstalls in power the one he had brought down

Barely three years after taking part in the installation in power of Ali Soilih, Bob Denard returns to the Comoros, after having participated in a failed coup in Benin. This time, the French mercenary works to overthrow the one who had his favors. “When we arrive near the Comoros, Denard tells us: ‘Guys, here we go to the Comoros. We need to take the island, free Ali Soilih and clean up this mess!'”book in the documentary Hugues de Tressac, former radio operator of the mercenary.

“His life was, for me, a succession of failures, of bad things. (…) When he arrived in the Comoros in 1978, he was, for once, the man who wanted to be king. There so far, it’s been successful.”

Philippe Denard, son of Bob Denard

in the documentary “Bob Denard, the mercenary of the Republic”

Thanks to the action of the man who ousted him from power three years earlier, Ahmed Abdallah Abdéremane takes over the reins of the state with cheers. Bob Denard sets up the presidential guard and plays a capital political role behind the scenes, to the point of inheriting the nickname of “Viceroy of the Comoros”. His state of grace lasts until the assassination of the Comorian president in 1989. Suspected of being linked to the murder, Bob Denard must then flee to South Africa.

The documentary "Bob Denard, mercenary of the republic" looks back on the journey of the most sulphurous and famous French mercenary, who carried arms from the 60s to the 90s mainly in Africa.
France Televisions

The mercenary returned to the Comoros in 1995… for a new coup. With about thirty men, he landed in a boat and tried to overthrow the new Comorian president, Saïd Mohamed Djohar, elected five years earlier. The French government of Jacques Chirac then triggers Operation Azalée to thwart the plans of the mercenary. Marine commandos, paratroopers and GIGN gendarmes intervene, forcing Bob Denard and his men to surrender.

Bob Denard died in 2007 in the suburbs of Paris. In an interview at World three years earlier, he claimed to retain no bitterness from his past actions. “Only idiots have it”, he let go. He claimed to have worked with “orange fire” from France. “We never give the green light in these cases”he slipped.

The documentary Bob Denard, the mercenary of the Republic, directed by Gaël Mocaër, is broadcast on Sunday June 11 at 10:35 p.m. on France 5 and on france.tv.

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