Mercenary Report Card
A new study of private military firms takes on
by Stephen Mbogo
Toward Freedom magazine, February 2001
With considerable resources at its disposal, and despite its
best efforts, the UN has scored nearly zero in its ~ African peacekeeping
missions. This sad fact raises a thorny question: Is it the complexity
of resolving such armed conflicts, or the inherent weakness of
the UN, that has made efforts at re-stabilization fruitless?
While the 130-page paperback, The Privatization of Security
in Africa (South Africa Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)),
doesn't offer a direct answer, its analysis does suggest an unconventional
follow-up: Could there be an alternative to the UN handling of
internal and, to a lesser extent, external conflicts? In five
scholarly papers on the topic, the book not only provides insights
about the options, but also analyzes how effective, efficient,
and legally binding they can be. Basing their views on what has
already transpired, the authors specifically look at private military
companies (PMCs) and how they have impacted the security situation
PMCs are basically what used to be known as "mercenaries,"
or as Frederick Forsyth put it, the "Dogs of War." Sandline
International and Executive Outcomes (EO)-disbanded but allegedly
still operating unofficially-are among the leading firms that
have actively participated in both the de- and re-stabilization
of African countries. In an introduction, SAIIA director Greg
Mills and John Stremlau, professor at the University of Witwatersrand,
argue that as long as many African states hide behind the facade
of sovereignty and the international community prefers to accept
this delusion, there will be a strong market for such private
Alex Vines, a research associate at the University of Oxford,
looks specifically at the PMCs that have, at one time or another,
found work in Africa as "soldiers of fortune." EO's
operations are highly detailed, including adventures in Sierra
Leone, South Africa, and Angola, as well as Colombia. The company,
whose revenues between 1994 and 1998 are estimated at $55 million
(other sources put it slightly lower), closed up shop in January
1999 due to bad publicity and a too-high international profile.
But it appears that EO was actually absorbed into the Sandline
International corporate structure.
Sandline offers a wide range of products and services, from
systems procurement to combat operations. According to the authors,
it has undertaken at least six major-that is to say, publicized-international
assignments since 1993, including a debacle in Papua New Guinea
in 1997. That contract fell apart, causing a revolt and the administration's
resignation. A tribunal later awarded the firm $18 million.
"Sandline behavior in Papua New Guinea was aggressive,
pushing for business and advocating use of force," reports
Vines. "The prices it quoted were above market rates for
the equipment. The consultancy fees were high, such as $1165 an
hour, and $35,714 per mercenary per month." On a related
note, both Sandline and EO have strong links with Diamond Works,
a Vancouver-based mining firm founded in 1996 "that aspires
to be a major player in the international diamond market."
Another PMC, White Legio, led by Christian Tavernier, actively
participated in efforts to suppress the rebels in Zaire (now the
Democratic Republic of Congo) just before the late President Mobutu
Sese Seko was ousted. Stability Control Agencies (Stabilco), based
in South Africa, also played a role in that conflict, contracted
in 1997 to help stop the rebels for $300,000 by Kpama Borromidto
Kata, at the time the chief of staff of the nation's army. Since
then, Stabilco has closed down, but some of its personnel are
allegedly working for Sandline in Sierra Leone and the Economic
Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), a regional peacekeeping body.
Vines concludes that PMCs haven't enhanced stability or encouraged
business confidence. "Indeed, their poor human rights records,
their lack of transparency, their engagement in arms transfers,
their training in psychological warfare against civilians, their
erosion of self-determination and sovereignty in situations of
crisis, and their use of people with track records of human rights
abuses does not bode well for the upholding of international law."
At least one expert appears to disagree. Writing in the International
Herald Tribune last December, William Shawcross, author of Deliver
Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflicts,
argued, "Many Sierra Leonians yearn for the mid-1990s when
a small mercenary force from South Africa, Executive Outcomes,
drove the rebels out of much of the country. Even one senior UN
official said to me last week, 'If Executive Outcomes had been
allowed to stay, we would never have had the present crisis.'
Unlike Executive Outcomes, the UN force is neither equipped nor
mandated to attack let alone defeat the rebels."
According to Garth Abraham, senior lecturer in the School
of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, regardless of whether
legislation might be effective, a thorough reassessment of mercenaries
is needed. "It is important to differentiate between varieties
of mercenaries and mercenarism, not all of which are deserving
of condemnation and moral opprobrium," he adds.
Yet, the prospects for regulating PMCs are extremely limited,
notes Jeffrey Herbst, associate professor of politics and international
affairs at Princeton University. On the other hand, he thinks
that the market itself will probably shape the industry profoundly
as more companies enter the field. "Ironically," he
concluded, "those who want to regulate private security forces
do not have to worry because they will, due to their own strategic
considerations, probably seek to legitimate themselves by working
less for African governments and more for international organizations
who can actually pay."
Stephen Mbogo is a Kenya-based freelance journalist specializing
in development and technology issues in Africa. He can be reached