Africa's new-look dogs of war
Executive Outcomes is the world’s first corporate army and - some argue - an effective peacekeeping force, report Khareen Pech and David Beresford
EXECUTIVE OUTCOMES has fought many gun battles in Africa. Today the controversial company, having brought new meaning to the concept of the “corporate state” by mustering what is arguably the world’s first corporate army, is again at war, only this one is of words, fought in the arena of public opinion.
It is six years since Executive Outcomes emerged as a mercenary force to be reckoned with in Africa.
Even now, as Zaire threatens to implode, there is speculation (denied by the company) that their mercenaries are moving in to shore up the crumbling rule of President Mobutu.
“Feared” mercenaries, one is tempted to say. There is no doubt that Executive Outcomes’s dogs of war are feared by some. But for others the name has come to mean security and stability - a private Pan- African peace-keeping force of a kind which the international community has long promised, but failed to deliver.
And therein lies the puzzle of this army without a country. Does it represent the privatisation of peace-keeping ? Or the privatisation of war? Is it a means of bandaging Africa’s wounds and exploiting its massive mineral resources for Africa’s own benefit? Or is it a latter day version of 18th century adventurism, ruthless privateers with murder in their blood, ripping off a continent’s wealth?
The origins of Executive Outcomes are shrouded in some mystery, not surprising when one considers the circumstances of its creation and those involved. A “UK Eyes Alpha” (“top secret”) British intelligence report records that “Executive Outcomes was registered in the UK on September 1993 by Anthony (Tony) Buckingham, a British businessman and Simon Mann, a former British officer”.
Buckingham has been at pains to deny any “corporate link”. A veteran of the Special Air Service (SAS), a close friend and business associate of former Liberal Party leader Sir David Steel, Buckingham is chief executive of the oil firm, Heritage Oil and Gas, which has drilling interests in Angola and elsewhere. Heritage - originally British, now incorporated in the Bahamas - was also linked with Ranger Oil, a Canadian corporation.
Mann, a former troop commander in 22 SAS regiment specialising in intelligence, has served in a dozen countries, from Cyprus to Central America, Saudi Arabia to Nigeria.
It was in 1993 that Buckingham and Mann first met Eeben Barlow, a veteran of the Angolan war and former officer in the South African Defence Force (SADF). Barlow’s last job in the SADF was in the Civil Co- operation Bureau (CCB) in foreign operations. He claims he ran Region 6, Western Europe. Among his tasks was leaking damaging information to friendly European journalists falsely linking the African National Congress with the Irish Republican Army.
In January 1993, Buckingham and Mann commissioned Barlow to recruit a force of South African veterans with combat experience in Angola to capture Soyo, one of the centres of the oil industry, which was in the hands of Unita. A small force of less than 100 men succeeded, though Unita recaptured Soyo when the South Africans left. Luanda then put out a request for a larger mercenary force, offering oil concessions in return.
According to the British intelligence document, “Ranger allocated $30-million for the operation and placed the contract with Buckingham and Mann.” They in turn appointed Barlow and Lafras Luitingh - a former CCB colleague of Barlow who had led the first attack on Soyo - as commanders- in-chief of the mercenary force. The two recruited 500 men, most of them from the old South African Defence Force. And effectively turned the course of the war.
>From Angola, they moved on to Sierra Leone, shoring up the regime of Valentine Strasser against the Revolutionary United Front of Foday Sankoh.
They are now reported to be in Kenya, where they have gone into partnership with Raymond Moi, a son of President Daniel arap Moi. They are said to have provided personnel to protect Canadian oil interests in the Sudan. They are believed to be providing protection for gold and oil prospecting operations in Uganda and are rumoured to have a training contract with the government. They have been accused of supplying arms to Burundi. It has been reported that Executive Outcomes has links with more than 30 countries, most of them in Africa.
Africa has long experience with mercenary armies, but Executive Outcomes’ soldiers are not just “guns for hire”. They are the advance guard for major business interests in a latter-day scramble for the mineral wealth of Africa.
On the second floor of Plaza 107, a modern building at 535 King’s Road, London, a single receptionist handles incoming calls to more than 18 companies. There are no name-plates, but from the plush offices that branch off from a long corridor - access to which is closely monitored by closed-circuit cameras - Buckingham, Mann and others run businesses which include international oil, gold and diamond mining ventures, a chartered accountancy practice, an airline, foreign security services and off-shore financial management services.
A list of company and staff names, dated September 1994, includes Executive Outcomes Limited, Ibis Air International, Heritage Oil & Gas, Branch International Limited, Branch Mining Limited and Capricorn Systems Limited. Among the directors and staff are Buckingham, Mann, Sir David Steel, and the South African director of Ibis Air, Crause Steyl.
Branch International is believed to be the holding corporation for a string of subsidiaries engaged in the hunt for oil, gold, diamonds and other precious minerals.
Capricorn Systems is believed to be a descendent of the “Capricorn Africa Society”, established by the eccentric military hero who founded the SAS, Sir David Stirling - himself involved in mercenary operations before his death in 1990 at 74.
Executive Outcomes flew into Angola in 1993 on two Beechcraft King Airs operating from Lanseria, courtesy of Capricorn Air.
Later registered as Ibis Air in both Angola and South Africa, it is Executive Outcomes’ air force, with a fleet that includes three Boeing 727s, at least two MI-17 helicopters, two “Hind” MI-24 gunships, several small fixed-wings - one of which has surveillance capabilities - at least two fighter jets and several private jets. For the last two years, Ibis has been operating from the Johannesburg International Airport, from the quarters of Simera, the aviation division of Denel.
Plaza 107 has its twin in Strategic Resources Corporation, based in Lynnwood, Pretoria. Bank documents dated March 1995 showed this to be the holding corporation for another string of companies including Saracen, a security company specialising in “VIP protection, strategic point protection and business security protection”; Falconer Systems, set up as a front for Executive Outcomes in providing logistical supplies to “United Nations-related organisations”; and Bridge International, specialising in construction and civil engineering.
How far Executive Outcomes has spread its wings is spelled out in the British Intelligence document: “The indications are that Executive Outcomes is acquiring a wide reputation in sub-Saharan Africa for reliability and efficiency. It has a particular appeal to smaller countries desperate for rapid assistance. UN operations are cumbersome and slow and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has hitherto shown itself to be generally ineffective except as a talking shop. There is every likelihood that Executive Outcomes’s services, which are already extending beyond the field of security into import/export and administration, will continue increasingly to be sought.
There are even indications, according to the document, that the OAU could be “forced to offer Executive Outcomes a contract for the management of peace-keeping continent- wide”.
Its successes “are a cause for concern. It appears that the company and its associates are able to barter their services for large shares of an employing nation’s natural resources and commodities. On present showing Executive Outcomes will become ever richer and more potent, capable of exercising real power, even to the extent of keeping military regimes in being. If it continues to expand at the present rate, its influence in sub-Saharan Africa could become crucial.”
It may be stopped where it started, however, in South Africa. Early recruitment by Executive Outcomes appeared to be, if not facilitated, then tolerated by senior leaders of the ANC who - as the British intelligence report puts it - believed “it would remove from South Africa a number of personnel who might have had a destabilising effect on the forthcoming multi-racial elections.”
But the ANC government has had second thoughts about Executive Outcomes. Last month the national conventional arms control committee announced it would ask Parliament to pass legislation to curtail the involvement of South Africans in mercenary activities. The strategy is to subject the sale of military, or intelligence services, including training, to the same licensing process as dealing in military hardware - even to the extent of requiring end-user certificates. The legislation would also apply to South African citizens operating extra- territorially.
Barlow makes light of the proposed legislation. “I doubt very much whether Prof Kadar Asmal’s legislation is aimed at us and we have no fears for that,” he said. “We are not going to help anyone that is not a legitimate government, or which poses a threat to South Africa, or that is involved in activities which are really frowned upon by the outside world ... We have had a major impact on Africa. We have brought peace to two countries which were almost totally destroyed by civil wars.”
Barlow claims that his company is the target of a “smear” campaign by the South African military, and accuses his former comrades of jealousy at the success of his private army.
Asmal will not discuss Executive Outcomes specifically, but there is little doubt that his intention is to use licensing to control Executive Outcomes. It is legitimate for one government to ask for the assistance of another government, Asmal argues, but there is no room for free enterprise. Asmal dismisses the argument that Executive Outcomes has brought a modicum of stability to Africa - playing a peace-keeping role lamentably neglected by the international community, including the South African government. “There is no case to be made - even to stop genocide,” he says bluntly.
Whether Asmal can assume the control he seeks is another matter. The new Constitution protects citizens’ rights to sell their labour. Extra-territorial legislation is notoriously difficult to implement. And Executive Outcomes’s personnel are likely to have little trouble juggling citizenship with the help of grateful client-states.
The major Western powers could squash Executive Outcomes, but it is difficult to see their motive. Africa, to the rest of the world, is a troubled continent, a plague on the conscience and a trap for the unwary - as Somalia taught the United States. The world needs its mineral wealth. But it is far safer for elected leaders of Western democracies to leave responsibility for murky dealings with Africa’s despots to those enjoying the limited liability of the corporate world. And if in the process they have given birth to the world’s first corporate army, so be it?