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Mercenaries; Messiahs of Terror

By Issa A. Mansaray, ExpoTime (Freetown), 8 June 2001

Vienna, Austria - The 'Mercs' as they are known for short, prefer to be called 'military consultants,' or 'military advisors' as in the case of the South African and United Kingdom 'Executive Outcomes' (EO). Even with all the colourful names they give to themselves, they are still considered as 'hired soldiers' or 'contract soldiers' that kill for gain in countries of conflicts out of their boundaries. The misgiving about mercenaries is that they sometimes help to fuel conflicts and can easily switch sides to the highest bidder in any war zone.

Reading magazines, newspapers, and watching TV news on conflicts, the word mercenary invokes terror and death. According to the 'Soldier of Fortune magazine', the mercenary profession is the second oldest job in the world. Mercenaries are considered as foreign soldiers helping to liberate countries in conflict. However, Mercenaries do not consider themselves as bloodthirsty soldiers. Many political observers describe them as 'Soldiers of fortune,' 'Messiahs of terror' and 'dogs of war'.

Mercenaries' operations in Africa started in the 1960s, with soldiers like Gilbert Bourgeaud, known as Colonel Bob Denard, 'Mad' Mike Hoare, 'Black' Jacques Schramme. These 'professional private soldiers' are known across Africa for their involvement in almost all the major battlefronts on the continent, from Angola to Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) to Sierra Leone or Mozambique.

Today's mercenaries want to be respected and called names like 'Contract soldiers,' 'military advisors', or 'military experts'. In 1977, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) adopted the OAU Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa. This measure was taken in response to the increasing rate at which mercenaries were deployed to destabilise the emerging African states at the time.


The only thing that seems to be continuous in the 20th and part of the 21st century has been war, mostly in developing countries. While the world powers tend to pay more attention to major conflicts such as in Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia, and others places around the world, there are plenty of low-key wars in Africa - Sierra Leone, Angola, Rwanda, Casamance, DRC, Somalia etc, and military freelancing is now widespread.

For the past years, mercenaries have been involved in almost all the conflicts and wars in Africa; the continent is still undermined and locked in Guerrilla warfare. The horrific images of 'soldiers of fortune' in conflicts and the aftermath of wars, followed by the countless number of refugees, does not encourage civilians to support them. It brings cold feelings to the hearts of many people. Many argue that their love for money and mining concessions, easily make them switch sides and unaccountable to any government.

The case of EO's involvement in Angola comes to mind. EO, a spill over of the South Africa Defense Force (SADF) fought on the side of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in Angola, because according to them, they were told then that communism was evil, but after the cold war, they realised the truth and fought on the side of the Angola army. They advised on how to recapture the diamond fields from Savimbi.

Mercenaries in Africa see themselves as messiahs of the people from colonialism, dictators and rebel factions. Their argument, according to Col. Rudolf Van Heerden, EO's Operations Commander in Sierra Leone in 1995, is that: "Africa should not depend on the United Nations to solve its security problems. Africans must solve their own problems themselves. Africa is being destabilised by rebel wars and external influences. Executive Outcomes was formed to neutralize their rebel wars and counter the influence of negative external forces."

Nevertheless, for the people in the eastern town of Kono in Sierra Leone, the point is not convincing. When one of its members, Robert Mackenzie was killed and others injured, EO countered by shooting on sight any one within their areas of operations (AO) in the diamond and rutile mining fields. Civilians where mistaken as rebels or 'rebel sympathizers'. The war became more confused. During the war in Uganda, the government hired a couple of troops and flight pilots from South Africa to flush the rebels in the north. They left three months after not been paid, and Joseph Koni's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) kidnapped 100s of children.


Today, mercenaries in Africa consider themselves businesspersons first. They make deals through well-established firms around the world. They undertake specialised services such as intelligence gathering, military training, personal protection and guarding mining fields. They are also willing to 'eliminate' enemies of states. In recent years, they operate as arms purchasing agents for third word countries. The business does not end there, they sign mining concessions for security: a task they consider more paramount in Africa where state security in many countries is fragile and political leaders can not afford the high cost in cash.

It is reported that the Executive Outcome made a profit of about $ 400 to $ 500 million in contracts and soldiering in war torn developing countries. It is also noted that with such huge annual turnovers, soldier of fortune clients are not only weak African regimes, but also multinational cooperation. It is anticipated that with the United Nation's failure in keeping the peace in many countries, it might consider taking 'hired guns' to the world's must dangerous places.

Mercenarism is now a growing business industry in Africa, but tarnished by media coverage and civilian doubts about their 'clouded activities' in many countries. It is also difficult to distinguish between 'private securities' and 'mercenaries,' as the Geneva Convention exclude the use of mercenaries in any counties.

An ex-mercenary describes their job as 'the Circuit'. According to him, 'the circuit is a group of people who are employed by security companies. Nevertheless, these companies are not like the Group 4 in the UK. They are mainly just offices with skeleton staff and they recruit from a pool of talent, the circuit.' The British are said to top the list, seconded by South Africa for mercenary activities in general.

With eleven conflicts in Africa, arms sale is also on the increase. The continent is now an open market replacing the Middle East and Latin America buyers. Thus, adding to the economies of mercenary arms agents. The US State Department report titled Arms and Conflicts in Africa, reveals that "such is the influx of weapons into the continent that an AK-47 costs as little as $6 in the war-torn areas of Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia."

When the rebels in Sierra Leone nearly took over the whole country in 1992, EO was approached to guard the mining fields. They left around 1994 after series of problems. After the elections in 1996, the government in Sierra Leone approached them again to protect the mining fields, train the local Kamajor militias and to conclude the war. That did not work. The British government came under heavy criticism for deals involving the transportation of arms through Sandline International to Africa.


Military analysts explain that, the fall of the Berlin Wall seems to be a major reason for the increase of mercenary activities on the continent. The apartheid in South Africa also led to proxy-wars with its neighbouring countries. Thus, with the end of apartheid, a number of its military forces decrease, and demobilised soldiers find conducts to continue their profession. According to the New African Magazine, EO recruits and employs mercenaries from any part of the world to fight in conflicts in Africa.

About 2,500 are reported to be working for EO and Sandline International. The end of the cold war also added to the increase in mercenary figures in Africa. International Alert, the conflict resolution group in London described them as 'an assortment of former assassins, spies, saboteurs and scoundrels.'

Some mercenaries say they do their job for money when they start; but with time, they become convinced that they are doing a job to secure freedom for others. Many never count the 'body bags' of their colleagues sent home. Allan Hetherington an Ex-Grenadier Guard says he likes his job not because of killing people. He considered killing people, as he put it: an "occupational hazard, just like being killed is an occupational hazard". A soldier of fortune that had worked all over Africa told the Punch magazine "Real mercenary work is people dying every day."

In Britain, where the mercenary business is flourishing, the government is also said to be involved in making contacts for corrupt regimes. The Punch magazine of 13 December 1997 reported as follows:

If a country approaches the UK government for training teams from the British Army and it's politically dodgy, what the Foreign Office does is give out a list of Security companies that are competent to carry out the training to whatever standard; counter-terrorist work or just general military training. They give this list of firms and say: "These companies can carry it out. It's up to you who you choose." But to get on that list you have to be cleared by the Foreign Office.

It is a hot market and there is training throughout Africa. Unlike the mercenaries groups in Britain, the Executive Outcomes in South Africa operate with less attention from the government.

In the sixties, Bob Denard created a small island for himself in Comoros, but his friend Hoare who was paid to train and motivate a small group of African soldiers failed to take control of Seychelles after years of mercenary combat in Katanga (DRC).


When Charles Taylor started his rebellion on Christmas Eve in 1989, he crossed into Liberia from Ivory Coast with a group of about 100 fighters. Around 1991 the number increased to thousands of fighters. Taylor employed youths and mercenaries from neighbouring countries. Private securities from Libya and Burkina Faso were also employed to train his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels.

Taylor's war left approximately 200,000 people dead, about 65 percent of Liberia's population of 2.8 million displaced. Out of fear for his brutality, Liberians voted for Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Party (NPP) on 19 July 1997 in the presidential and congressional elections to end the seven years war in what was one of West Africa's most dangerous countries.

However, in recent months, the war started by Taylor's NPFL about a decade ago has resumed in Lofa in northern Liberia. Dissident factions had regrouped with the help of Private Military Companies (PMCs) to fight Taylor's government. In the early days of the war, it was reported that troops from the notorious group in Sierra Leone known as Internal Security Unit (ISU) were engaged in the war. The ISU joined the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (ULIMO) to fight the NPFL along the Sierra Leone - Liberia boundary. Taylor claimed that their aim was to control the country's timber and Rubber plantations.


The murderous campaign of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels over the past years had succeeded in making the country's government ineffective. Their terror tactics include amputations and arson. The RUF had brought the country to its knees, and all international efforts to stop them had ended in abject failure. The recent blow for the international community was the kidnapping of about 500 UN peacekeepers by the RUF.

RUF rebels humiliated the British troop sent to save the country on several occasions at the warfront. The Nigerian and Guinean troops, who are mostly interested in controlling the mining fields, also lost some of their field commanders to the RUF. With all this embarrassment, President Tejan Kabbah turned to the British government for military support. The British in turn, made the necessary contacts with Sandline International and Executive Outcomes for Kabbah's government. Yet, with a bankrupt economy, the mercenary groups were offered mining concessions to the sum of about $100 million to fight the rebels. The involvement of the British government with Sandline International in the 'Arms to Africa' episode, ended in court battles for government officials as well as the mercenary groups.

To date, with no end in sight to the terror, it has been reported that British soldiers are discretely working with pockets of Executive Outcomes and other mercenaries, hurriedly training the Kamajohs, the ethnically based pro-government militias in Sierra Leone. Other mercenary groups like Southern Cross Security are also training and guarding the titanium mining company Sierra Rutile Limited in southern Sierra Leone. The fear of many Sierra Leoneans abroad is that with British and EO mercenary well trained ethnic militias in the country, the images of Rwanda will soon come to thedoorsteps of Sierra Leone.


Guinea is now 'tasting the bitterness of war' according to President Charles Taylor of Liberia. Over the past years, Guinea has been the safe heaven for Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees, but this is no more. Rebels from neighbouring countries have invaded the country on many counts.

Guinean troops have been engaged in Sierra Leone and Liberia as peacekeepers, but unable to bring peace in both countries. Now, President Lansana Conté is accusing Sierra Leone and Liberia rebel mercenaries of invading his country. Reportedly, Russian, Bosnian and Burkenabe mercenaries are said to be piloting a gunship and training Guinean dissidents. The Mano River Union that was formed to avoid such wars is now in tatters and the whole region is submerging into an unspeakable arm conflicts.

Even some diplomats observing the dilemmas in Guinea have faith in employing mercenaries. Their argument after the kidnapping of the 500 peacekeepers is that, "if the United Nations cannot supply first world soldiers with combat mandate, perhaps the only viable alternative is to contract mercenaries to do the job for them."

Although it is considered as a controversial issue, the former UNAMSIL commander in Sierra Leone at one time said, "Well yes, I think in some counties perhaps a smaller, well equipped, well trained mercenary force would probably be the answer."

In other parts of Africa, commercial armies are busy not only in combating rebel forces, but actively involved in protecting and mining natural resources. Mr. Eeben Barlow the head of Executive Outcomes, whose troops are involved in Angola, talks about "cost-effectiveness" and in an interview he once said "We are selling the business of surviving." Moreover, this is the case in Angola, a country locked in war for over 30 years. EO establishes a kind of security for oil or diamond contract in 1993. EO was first hired to protect Ranger Oil and Chevron installations and to clear the area off UNITA rebels. The job was done with 100 Mercs from EO. EO impressed both Ranger and the Angolan government. Then the government asked Heritage Oil to hire more troops from EO for a sum of $40m.

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (former Zaire) dictator Mobutu Sese-Seko provided a budget of about $25m to pay Serbian mercenaries recruited by Christian Tavernier. Their salaries ranger from 10,000 to $25,000 for top officers, yet they fail to save him from Kabila. According to other sources, Tavernier also recruited about 40 troops mostly some former French Foreign Legionnaires. It is also reported that they knew Africa better than they knew Europe. Nevertheless, most of the ex-Romanian police, Serbian and Croat fighters had hoped to earn more dollars in Africa than fighting back home, but fled when Kabila emerged with his 'contract fighters' from the neighbouring countries.

Today DRC is plunged in a war supported by its neighbours and mercenaries from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and others in the region. The war is not going away, DRC is rich in resources classified as strategic minerals.

In Congo-Brazzaville, former President Pascal Lissouba was accused of hiring Russian and Croat pilots. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso complained that they were trying to attack him from neighbouring countries. While in Cabinda former American serve officers with the US army and US Marines were hired to protect the oil fields owned by Gulf Oil Company. The oil field pumps about $1.5bn worth of oil a year. The Air Scan headed by Brig-Gen (Ret) Joe Stringham, also train troops to guard the oil installations in Cabinda. The lowest pay for a mercenary in the Cabinda coast is $225 per day, but the Front for the Liberation of Cabinda (FLEC) continues to be a source of threat.

Freelance soldiering is also a big business in Cameroon. A company called Africa Security created by Patrick Turpin a former French military officer employed an estimated number of 2,500 men in 1996. It is also reported that some PMCs also recruit and operate as militias on behalf of President Biya's political party Rassemblement Democratique du Peuple Camerounis (RDPC).

In other African countries such as Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Nigeria and Casamance region in Senegal, the endless wars are contributing to the increasing numbers of refugees and poverty. The irony is that most of these counties are rich in both mineral and marine resources. Recent findings indicate that the continent is top in 'strategic resources' needed for information technology. With these, the security business will continue to boom in Africa.

Copyright 2001 ExpoTimes. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).