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Volume 9 Number 4
1 August 2000

A crisis in the response to African conflicts has highlighted the possible benefits of private security companies exploiting a niche market in the absence of the international will to intervene decisively. After several failed UN missions in Africa, alternate solutions for stabilising fractured states have risen to the fore. Debates over the potentially positive nature of corporate contract soldiers reached a peak in 1997 after two operations by Executive Outcomes (EO) in Angola (1994-1995) and Sierra Leone (1995-1997). Although EO was closed in December 1998, the private security debate continued. The recent crisis in Sierra Leone has further invigorated the debate over the functionality of private companies providing soldiers to Africa`s hot spots at a price.

Contract soldiers can sustain more casualties than UN peacekeepers which are drawn from the lowest common political denominator, but less than national armies which are deployed in situations of national interest. Militaries in developed countries may have moved toward a more corporate ethic based upon a career orientation, but are still capable of advancing the enshrined ethic of the military as more than just a job. Casualty aversion by the public has been touted by those in favour of private security, citing the obvious fact that few would care if ‘mercenaries` die in combat. But, public perception is a flawed angle of analysis. Instead, it must be asked whether the individual mercenary cares if he dies, and what financial reward can offset this natural aversion. A high probability of mutilation or death will deter freelance soldiers from even becoming involved in certain battles. Moreover, the risk versus reward ratio can be applied to a private security company`s corporate executives: since market principles dictate engagement, profit must outweigh business risk. As no armed private security company has filled the vacuum left by EO, the question must be asked whether such a niche exists at all.

Corporate armies appear to be losing market share to national militaries due to a greater willingness by developed countries to train African soldiers. For example, the British have embarked upon a programme of training the Sierra Leone army; Portuguese officers train their Angolan counterparts in Luanda; and the United States has promoted the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) which trains battalion-sized units of African militaries in order to support ‘African solutions to African problems`.

Sometimes training is abandoned and foreign soldiers fight a weak sovereign`s war. For example, Nigerian soldiers defended Sierra Leone`s president and population from the Revolutionary United Front, with the late Nigerian general Maxwell Kobe being appointed as the national army`s chief of staff. More indicative of this trend is military support of the Kabila regime in DR Congo provided by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. In June 2000, President Mugabe admitted that both Zimbabwe and Namibia would receive diamond mines from Kabila in partial payment for their military services, and ranking Zimbabwe Defence Force members have apparently been active in diamond mining joint ventures with Kabila`s cronies for almost two years. While a private security company needs to be paid in cash and presents a high cost to weak governments, national militaries from neighbouring states could internalise the costs of warfare. It may therefore be that the high profile role of mercenary armies fighting the wars of embattled regimes has been replaced by a new trend: the commercial employment of armed forces in neighbouring countries.

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