Opinion: In The Business Of War, Mercenaries Are Responsible For Most African Conflicts

By Dana Sanchez Published: March 14, 2016, 1:47 pm
mercenaries are responsible for most African conflictsNigeria uses mercenaries against Boko Haram. Photo: AP

Nigeria has the most powerful military in West Africa but when it failed to control Boko Haram, the government hired mercenaries, aka private military companies, and they got the job done in a matter of weeks, at least temporarily, according to a report on Vice.

What do you get when you have industries invested in conflict going to the most conflict-prone regions in the world?

You get a lot more war in the future, says Sean McFate, a former mercenary who worked for private military companies in Liberia and Burundi, according to a Vice interview.

McFate is a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. and he teaches at the National Defense University, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

There was no public outrage when Nigeria brought in the mercenaries, McFate said. “Certainly not in the way that there would have been, say, 20 years ago. And that shows you what the U.S. and Great Britain have done in terms of normalizing the use of paid military companies.”

It took mercenaries just weeks to chase Boko Haram out of Nigeria into neighboring countries, which suggests they are “more powerful, or at least as powerful as, the most powerful military in West Africa,” McFate said.

Most conflicts in Africa are a result of private military companies, according to Anna Leander, a sociologist and political scientist at Copenhagen Business School. Leander said private military companies are accepted and increasingly present in Africa, and they’re likely to remain part of how violence is regulated in Africa in the future, but they are far from desirable, according to a report in SouthernTimes.

When countries rely on private military companies, they can lose control of their authority in military operations, Leander said. There is the risk that the private firms won’t fulfill their contracts or won’t complete them. Private military companies can turn against their employers if the other side offers more money.

In business to make a profit, there is the danger that private military companies can sell their services to other private organisations including rebel groups, mining firms, organized crime rings involved in drugs, human trafficking or illegally extracted diamonds.

Another reason private military companies are undesirable is that governments can act with impunity when using them, Leander said. The checks and balances provided by formal national armed forces won’t be available when the regulation of violence is depoliticized, she said.

Private military companies have often helped governments overpower rebel groups seeking to topple democratically elected presidents but they’re undesirable when it comes to maintaining peace and security in Africa, said Wesley Mutwara, chairman of the history department  and lecturer in war and strategic studies at the University of Zimbabwe.

“Usually, these mercenaries are viewed negatively, as they are often connected to some of the worst violence that this continent has faced,” Mutwara said, according to SouthernTimes.

There needs to be a differentiation between private security companies and the private armies led by warlords and criminal gangs, Mutwara said. Warlords and criminals lead private armies in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, DRC, Somalia and Rwanda, he said.

“It’s a case of supply and demand,” McFate told Vice. “My prediction is that we will see more of this, not necessarily private military companies taking over countries, but more of this sort of offensive action by private military companies hired to do the jobs we these days associate with state militaries.”





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