Mercenaries. Private armies in Africa and the risk of a new colonization


LOME', Togo - The world of private military companies (CMP), or "mercenaries", is invading Africa. While the international press continues to focus on Russian Wagner, numerous Western, Middle Eastern and Asian security companies

, much more powerful than Wagner, have managed to sign contracts with dozens of African states. A trend that, after the abandonment of Afghanistan and Iraq, can only intensify. PMCs in Africa provide the highest bidder with military, logistical, intelligence, cybersecurity capabilities, as well as propaganda tools. This is a complex sector where PMCs of different nationalities can clash by training the military forces of a specific African country, or fight side by side in another. The identity of a PMC can also be hidden by another company or investment fund, or with a simple change of name. This is the case of the notorious Blackwater, founded in 1996, which became Xe Services in 2009, and then Academi since 2011.

The so-called proxy wars are an ancient phenomenon, but in recent years they seem to aggravate already complicated scenarios instead of solving them. Due to the wave of violent extremism in the Sahel and the continuing conflicts over raw materials, several African states have requested or accepted the help of foreign PMCs which can be paid in cash or in mining concessions. «Amentum, a US defense contractor, will support Benin in the fight against Islamic terrorism – reported last December the Beninese press and the PMC itself which has begun to recruit potential employees all over the world -. Amentum will strengthen the response of the Beninese Armed Forces (FAB) by positioning itself not only in the south of the country, but also in the north". In the case of Benin, Islamic terrorist attacks increased tenfold between July and December 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. Many Beninese soldiers have been killed following these attacks in the northern territory, so the morale of the local army is at a loss land and the authorities appealed to Amentum. The latter has also earned another contract in Niger where, on behalf of the US administration, it will have the role of supplying the local army with 40 vehicles capable of withstanding the explosion of anti-personnel mines set by Islamic militants.

Last February Amentum bought Pacific architects and engineers (Pae), a well-known US PMC which in the past has had the American secret services as well as the United Nations and the British Ministry of Defense among its clients, last year instead it was discussing training of the Nigerian army busy fighting the Boko Haram militants. A similar process concerns the defunct Dyn-Corp, known for its history in Somalia and Angola and which in 2020 was completely absorbed by Amentum. Another American PMC conglomerate concerns the Constellis Group, founded in 2003 by former military or White House advisers such as Tom Katis, "father" of the PMC Triple Canopy, John Ashcroft, former US Attorney General, and Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, former director of the National Security Agency. The Constellis group originated from the merger of several PMCs including Triple Canopy, Academi, owned by the well-known Erik Prince, and the Olive Group, founded by Israeli generals.

All companies with experiences in states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), teeming with armed groups fighting for natural resources; Somalia, threatened by al Shabaab militants, various clan militias, and pirates in the Indian Ocean; Mozambique, where in 2017 Islamic terrorists occupied the north of the country beheading and killing thousands of Mozambican civilians and soldiers, as well as several mercenaries, especially Russians and South Africans. In September 2016, the Constellis Group passed under the control of the investment fund Apollo Global Management. Some foreign PMCs offer security guards and armored cars in countries at risk for embassies, non-governmental organizations, companies and private homes. This is the case of GardaWorld, based in Montreal, Canada, but whose 120,000 employees work in many African countries such as Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Uganda. However, in 2015, GardaWorld took over the British PMC Aegis Defense Services. The latter was founded by Tim Spicer, former CEO of Sandline International, a defunct PMC born together with the collaboration of Simon Mann, a British mercenary involved in the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004 and whose son, Jack Mann, he founded his PMC, Alma Risk. Mann-son was stopped in Malta late last year on his way to Libya with 15 of his colleagues.

These PMCs are known for their work first in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then in Libya, Somalia, Angola and Mozambique. But it is often difficult to follow their operations in Africa, where they are often called upon to operate by dictatorial regimes. “Most of the PMCs hide the true nature of their activities – says a report by Transparency International (TI) -. Their role in fueling corruption and conflicts in foreign countries is also less well known». Precisely for this reason, together with the presence of these companies in Africa, criticism against a highly controversial sector is also increasing, so much so that the Nigerian Bankole Adeoye, Commissioner of the African Union (AU) for political affairs, peace and security, launched an appeal for the "total exclusion of mercenaries from the African continent". Instead, the PMCs race towards Africa seems to have just begun. In Somalia, the US-based Bancroft global development has provided services to the national army, African Union forces and trained members of Danab, a Somali military unit tasked with assassinating al Shabaab militants with the help of the US Army.

Also in Somalia, France's Secopex has been discussing a contract with the political and military leadership in the north of the country after working for former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo before the 2010 violence and his subsequent arrest. The German companies Asgaard and Xeless are linked to countries such as Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, DRC, Nigeria, Somalia and Mauritania. Asgaard caused a scandal when she agreed to provide security, weapons and ammunitions to a Somali warlord and politician during the UN arms embargo against the country. The Spanish companies Mitra, Geoacenter, and Prosegur, have experience in the fight against terrorism in Niger and a base in South Africa. The Omega consulting group is Ukrainian and has worked in Mali and Burkina Faso, often providing security at mining sites or providing armed escort to private foreign companies.

In addition to the Western PMCs, there is the Turkish Sadat Defence, linked to President Recep Erdogan and apparently eager to sell its services to both governments and rebels, especially in the border areas of the Sahel. This PMC, capable of recruiting European and Asian mercenaries, has even been accused of "supporting Islamic armed groups against state terrorism" and of being in close contact with jihadists in Nigeria, Mali and Central Africa. For various Western governments, however, there are strong concerns about the PMCs that come from China. Until now they seem to have carried out operations mainly in the maritime sector, protecting crews and clashing with pirates, but many foresee their involvement in the conflicts of various African states where China has invested tens of billions of dollars in recent years. The figure of the mercenary is one of the oldest in the history of humanity. Despite some attempts to make it less popular, mercenaries seem to be a necessary evil in many of the world's wars. This controversial figure is therefore destined to be increasingly present due to the expansion of conflicts in various regions of Africa.

© Matteo Fraschini Koffi for AVVENIRE – January 13th, 2023

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Matteo Fraschini Koffi - Giornalista Freelance