Friday, September 01, 2006

corporate raiders

I have met alot of fantastic Dutch-speaking natives of different countries here in the Netherlands. People from Suriname or Aruba in the carribean or from Indonesia. But the largest community of 'Dutch' -speaking people can be found in South Africa, another former Dutch colony. True, the South Africans speak Afrikaans, a variant of Dutch, but it is generally understandable by both parties. I have found the South Africans I have met to be far from the cartoon neo-nazis seen in Lethal Weapon 2, but intelligent and thoughtful people with a self-reflective understanding of the problems of race, ethnicity and class.

Bearing this in mind, several of their compatriots should not be considered as enlightened. In particular, South Africans have become the leading source of international mercenaries. In Iraq alone, between 2,00 and 4,00o mercenaries from South Africa are working, usually as armed guards. As they say in Iraq, you know you've been here too long when you aren't surprised to hear Afrikaans.

The government of South Africa has been pressing forward with legislation to ban its citizens from mercenary activity, the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity Bill. One large reason is the number of SA former soldiers under contract in Iraq. It should also be noted that humanitarian groups are worried about this bill unintentionally barring SAfricans from working for international aid groups.

"Mercenary" is often used loosely to mean any police, military, or paramilitary which the user dislikes. At the extremes, it is applied to ordinary private guards and security personnel and to any person who is paid for military-related services, including the paid professional armies of modern nation-states. Here we are using a more exact definition of mercenary: individuals or organizations who sell their military skills outside their country of origin and as an entrepreneur (particularly within a corporation) rather than as a member of a recognized national military force.

One of the biggest reasons for South Africa's anti-mercenary ban is the alleged plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, which may not be widely known except for the involvement of the son of former British PM Margaret Thatcher. To recap: in March of 2004, Zimbabwean authorities detained a plane full of South Africans. They claimed they were going to guard a mine in the Dem. Rep. of Congo (formerly Zaire), but soon after the Eq. Guinea government announced they were involved in a coup attempt against their President-for-Life Mbasogo.

Most domestic and international observers consider his regime to be one of the most corrupt, ethnocentric, oppressive and anti-democratic states in the world. Equatorial Guinea is now essentially a single-party state, dominated by Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE). Like his predecessor and other African dictators such as Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko, Obiang has assigned to himself several creative titles; the great major general Alifanfarón, gentleman of the great island of Bioko, Annobón and Río Muni, as well as referring to himself as El Jefe (the boss).

To ask why remove him now is to see yet again the dark and viscous hand of petropolitics: the alleged leader of this regime change sponsorship stood to gain one of the richest and untapped fields of oil and methane in Africa, if not the world. Oil reserves were discoved only 10 years ago, but have lead to Eq. Guinea having the 6th highest per capita GDP in the world ($30,000) even while it ranks 121st of hte 177 nations on the UN's Human Development Index. In July 2004, the U.S. Senate published an investigation into Riggs Bank, a Washington-based bank into which most of Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues were paid until recently. The Senate report showed that at least $35 million were siphoned off by Obiang, his family and senior officials of his regime. The country's production has reached 360,000 barrels/day as of 2004, making it the third-largest exporter of oil in Sub-Saharan Africa, an increase which had led to a doubling of the population of the capital city of Malabo.

The alleged mastermind, Simon Mann, was tied to Executive Outcomes, a PMC that did security for many war-torn locales such as Sierra Leone and Angola. Executive Outcomes, founded by veterans of the infamous South African Battalion 32, has been described as "the world's first fully-equipped corporate army." Educated at Eton and Sandhurst (the British West Point), the aristocratic Mann is said to have told his fellow plotters that they could combine Zimbabwean arms, a Boeing 727 and an exiled politician (Severo Moto Nsá) into a successful coup. Mann and his colleagues were put on trial in Zimbabwe and on August 27 Mann was found guilty of attempting to buy arms for an alleged coup plot and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in the maximum security Chikurubi Prison outside Harare, Zimbabwe. mark Thatcher was fined $500,000 and given a four-year suspended prison sentence. Sixty-six of the other men were acquitted. There is serious concern that some confessions were forcibly coerced from these defendants.

The most troubling aspect of PMCs is how outsourcing foreign policy to them allows their client governments to obscure their policies from examination by the public by layer after layer of secrecy and deniability. When soldiers purposefully kill a civilian in Iraq, they will probably get court-martialed. If a contractor were to kill a civilian in Iraq, they might get sent fired, but that just means they can work for a different company. Surely many of the contractors are doing their job with professionalism and restraint, but if a severe and inhumane incident by a PMC were to be exposed, there would be few legal avenues available to bring its perpetrators to justice.

From a far better article than this on the modern mercenary:
In a violent and often unfair world, it is certain that the demand for mercenaries will not go away soon. If the great powers, collectively or individually, are not willing to take up the role of global police in unlikely and unrewarding places, it is equally certain that others will fill that vacuum for good or for ill. In the end, the issue of mercenaries comes down to a question of deciding what kind of world we want and are willing to pay for, both in blood and money.

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