CHAPTER 3: Private military and security companies and the nexus between natural resources and civil wars in Africa, Mpako H Foaleng

Private Military and Security Companies and the Nexus Between Natural Resources and Civil Wars in Africa


Mpako H Foaleng

Manifestation, Challenges and Regulation



Monograph No 139, November 2007


Edited by Sabelo Gumedze


According to a report (Special Rapporteur 1997, §21(h)) on the use of mercenaries:

There are the modern private security companies which provide many different kinds of service, economic advice and sophisticated military training but which are covers for former professional soldiers and mercenaries offering themselves as a solution, in exchange for large sums of money, to countries experiencing instability and armed conflicts and the consequent impossibility of developing their enormous natural resources. Such companies … today represent the biggest and most sophisticated threat to the peace, sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples of many countries.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa lead to the downsizing of the military in many countries. As a result, a substantial number of regular officers and soldiers sought employment in conflict-affected countries. As ‘Kayode Fayemi (2000:17) puts it, ‘in no time, a lot of these soldiers found themselves in wars in Angola, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Liberia, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa) and the Great Lakes region.’ There is an ongoing debate on how to categorise and distinguish between old mercenaries and new ones, or how to differentiate between mercenary groups and private military and security companies, a differentiation which would allow establishing their accountability through the regulation of their activities. It is considered that the majority of private military and security companies provide military training and security services. Using the term private military firms, Singer (2004:1) sees them as ‘business providers of professional services intricately linked to warfare’. Private security companies are supposed to be distinct from military companies in that they are limited to ‘provide armed protection, most often for other companies rather than States’ (Schreier & Caparini 2005:16) and in being restricted to specific areas and tasks. They are not supposed to provide military assistance. Given the paucity of information about the nature of their activities, it has proved difficult to differentiate between the role played by private military and private security companies. This difficulty is even more visible in situations of conflict where there is a nexus between the exploitation of natural resources and the war.   

The 1990s witnessed a change in the way in which wars were fought (Kaldor 1999: 2). The amount of available weaponry increased and the types of non-state actor engaged in conflicts multiplied (Ghebali 2001:32; Foaleng 2005:61–74). Non-state actors such as private military and private security companies are not new to world politics. Yet, during the last decade of the 20th century, they commanded unprecedented attention due to the increased interest in the role they play in internal conflicts and in the work of international institutions in peace maintenance.1 The nexus between natural resources and civil wars in Africa also became more visible during the 1990s and reshuffled the classical understanding of armed conflicts by opposing the political motive to the economic motives of non-state armed groups (Duffield 1995:56; Keen 1998:29–31; Collier & Hoeffer 2001:3). The exploitation of natural resources became a dynamic behind the inception and continuation of civil wars and the operational activities of private security and military companies (Foaleng 2007:23–106).

This chapter seeks to highlight the risk constituted by the use of military companies as security providers and the link between natural resources and civil wars.2 The goal of the chapter is to contribute further to the discussion on how the privatisation of public security constitutes an obstacle to the development of states’ capacity to control, regulate and manage their natural resources. The chapter is divided into four parts. The first part introduces the reader to the nexus between natural resources and civil wars in Africa, while the second looks into the historical relationship between this nexus and mercenarism. The third part tracks the growing role of private military and security companies since the end of the Cold War and how their activities are relevant to the nexus between civil wars and the exploitation of natural resources in Africa. The final part discusses the influence such a growth has on African states’ consolidation process including their full control of the exploitation and management of and trade in natural resources. The feature concludes by arguing that although there are certain positive aspects in the activities of private military and security companies and given the nature of many African states, the privatisation of public security in civil wars cannot be considered as an alternative to multilateral conflict management.

Natural resources and civil wars in Africa3

A number of countries that experienced armed conflicts during the 1990s, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo (Kinshasa) and Angola saw their natural resources-mainly mineral ones-at the heart of the dynamic behind these conflicts. The nexus between the exploitation of natural resources and wars is established by the use-by different actors involved-of revenues obtained from such exploitation to wage war and/or, conversely, the use of war to access and exploit natural resources and other wealth, in order to get rich. The nexus is also a sum of connections between the unbridled political and economic ambitions of the different types of actor and a variety of trades, for example in weapons, natural resources and other kinds of wealth, which finance civil war. It is a vicious circle. From within the country, actors using violence can capitalise on predation, pillage, extortion, robbery and the control of trade. The wealth thus collected, including natural resources in the form of minerals like diamonds, gold, timber, cobalt, coltan and other commodities, can then play a role in the inception and continuation of war.

The nexus under consideration can be divided into two phases, which do not necessarily follow one another. One is the exploitation of natural resources in order to acquire arms and a military arsenal. In this case, natural resources in the form of diamonds, timber, gold, or any other commodity that can be extracted, are used as a means to barter for military training, equipment and assistance. Natural resources can also be used to gain financial revenues necessary for such acquisitions. Access to the international black market, arms and military equipment and the building up of financial assets abroad all call for the maintenance of a set of internal and international connections and contacts. In the other phase, actors use the acquired military equipment and professional paid soldiers (in kind or cash) to wage war.

The link between the exploitation of natural resources and civil wars was brought to the attention of the international community by the work of the United Nations (UN) sanctions committees and a number of NGOs at the end of the 20th Century. The economic dimension of civil wars became an important factor in all attempts at conflict management and resolution, especially on the African continent.4 A wide spectrum of non-state actors have been involved in civil wars, building the channels and networks that nurture the nexus between wars and the mainly illegal exploitation of natural resources. Internal actors, states and non-state armed groups rely on external actors to be able to wage their wars. The external non-state actors include mercenaries, both in their old and in their contemporary form.

The evolution of mercenarism and the nexus between natural resources and civil wars

A myriad of organisations are involved in the supply of military and security services in their country of origin and in many countries around the world, mostly in Africa. Originally, they were all referred to as mercenaries and defined as ‘soldiers of fortune’ or ‘dogs of war’. A more recent definition considers mercenaries as ‘individuals who fight for financial gain in foreign wars … [and who are] primarily used by armed groups and occasionally by governments’ (Center for Humanitarian Dialogue 2004:2). According to Goddard, who has a broader view, a mercenary is ‘an individual or organization financed to act for a foreign entity within a military style framework, including conduct of military-style operations, without regard for ideals, legal, or moral commitments, and domestic and international law’ (Goddard 2001:8). International law bans mercenary activities even though there is no one commonly accepted definition of what a mercenary is. Considered non-exhaustive, Article 47 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 gives a definition of a mercenary (Goddard 2001:8)5 which is repeated almost verbatim by the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.6 However, the attempt to find a consensual legal definition has proven to be difficult. The current definition is considered approximate because it no longer reflects the historical evolution of mercenary activities.

Mercenarism is not historically new in Africa. It is as old as colonialism and dates back to the late 18th Century when ‘many served as advance guards in the colonial scramble for Africa’s trade and territories’ (‘Kayode Fayemi 2000:17). During the 1960s and 1970s (‘the golden age of mercenaries in Africa’)7 mercenaries were known across the continent for their involvement in almost all the major battlefronts, coups d’état, and human rights abuses associated with the fight against communism, instability, white supremacy, secessionist movements, and attempts to preserve quasi-colonial structures (Schreier & Caparini 2005:16).

The involvement of this category of non-state actors in the nexus between civil wars and the exploitation of natural resources is not a new phenomenon, either. The first famous example goes back to the period of 1960 to 1965 when the Congo recruited the Belgian company Union Minière. With the blessing of the Belgian government, the Katangese secessionists and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Western mercenaries fought against the Congolese armed forces and the UN peacekeeping force. Their involvement in the war was clearly related to the maintenance of control over the natural resources of Katanga by Western companies which found it difficult to accept the independent status of the Congo. Since then, mercenaries have been a permanent presence throughout the difficult evolution of many African countries. These have themselves outlawed the use of mercenaries although many regimes have resorted to mercenaries to fight internal rebellions and to maintain control.8 Moreover, multinational companies have used mercenaries to ‘protect’ their extractive activities, insecure regimes have used them to squash internal rebellions and former colonial powers have used mercenaries as ‘foreign policy proxy’ (Frances 1999:333–334), to fight ‘unfriendly regimes’ or rebellions, and to defend their national interest abroad-in other words, to maintain control over the resources of the countries concerned.9

Mercenary activities underwent gradual changes during the 1990s. These changes came about in parallel with and as a result of transformations of civil wars and the growing importance of the conflicts’ economic dimension-represented by the use of natural resources. Traditional mercenaries started to disappear: ‘The misfit professional soldier who acted on his own initiative to form a gang to do dirty work on behalf of a third party’ became more sophisticated in his actions and was ‘channelled back through the façade of modern management and service companies’ (Special Rapporteur 1997, §21(h)). However, the activities of many of these ‘new’ management companies, categorised as military and security enterprises, remained very much linked to the exploitation of the natural resources for which many African territories have been coveted for centuries.

The growth of private security companies/private military companies

With the end of the Cold War and the subsequent restructuring of intra-state systems on the African continent, a number of non-state actors came to occupy the scene, especially in situations of armed conflict characterised by the nexus under consideration. Among the non-state actors involved in and taking advantage of the networks underlying this nexus were private security companies (PSCs) and private military companies (PMCs). PSCs provide protection services for individuals and property and are used by extractive national or multinational companies, humanitarian organisations and individuals, mainly in situations of armed conflict, violence or instability. Since the 1990s, PSCs have undergone a rapid growth, providing guards and police-type security services and eventually outnumbering national police forces. Theoretically, the activities of such companies are not supposed to have an impact on the course of the conflict, but this is not always the case.

The activities of PMCs, on the other hand, do have a major impact on the course of armed conflict. PMCs provide military services designed to significantly influence a given situation for the benefit of one or the other protagonist. They are generally contracted by governments. Unlike PSCs, the activities of which may not be aimed openly at influencing the course of warfare, PMCs are a direct protagonist in conflict. Both the security and military sectors underwent significant transformation in the 1990s, becoming privatised and business-oriented. To refer to Schreier and Caparini (2005:7), ‘representing the evolution of private actors in warfare and of the mercenary trade, this new industry is different from the classical type of mercenaries. The critical factor is their modern corporate business form. In other words, the activities of private actors in warfare and the mercenary trade evolved in the sense that they increasingly took on a corporate form. Companies of this type, which began to operate in Africa and elsewhere, are often led by former military officers and soldiers of fortune, be they national or foreign, and they build their activities on close ties with diplomatic and intelligence services.

Activities of private security companies/private military companies relevant to the nexus

In many conflict situations in Africa, the activities of private military and private security companies have been linked to the presence of multinational or national extractive companies. Extractive companies are actors based in or outside the conflict zone. They may be involved in conflict by supporting some parties through economic interaction. Their participation in war is not politically motivated; private economic gain is their main interest. Hardly ever do they appear on the scene of war as protagonists, but they bargain their position with each belligerent. Consequently, they appear to be one of main actors in the networks that sustain the nexus.

The presence of multinational or national corporations is welcomed by rebel armed forces. Corporations, paying for the possibility of exploiting natural resources, constitute one of rebels’ main financial resources. Security for the companies in conflict situations is essential for securing and thus enabling their activities. In situations of armed conflict, national private security companies called-depending on the circumstances-private guard services, protection forces or protection companies, can easily be transformed into militia groups (Liberia Report 2005, §21). In the case of Liberia, for instance, during the Taylor regime and the country’s civil war, the permanent state of insecurity made timber companies seek to provide their own protection forces. These forces soon became militia groups engaging in the conflict itself and adding to the number of armed non-state actors already involved. It should be recalled that militias represented one of the largest sources of violent conflict in rural Liberia (Liberia Report 2004b, §18). Sometimes former combatants took advantage of their experience to become business persons. During the lull in the conflict, a number of former generals ran timber companies and used company funds to pay the wages of the security companies that provided protection for their activities. Some of the timber companies were implicated in smuggling arms and ammunitions not only for their security forces, but for government forces as well (Liberia Report 2004a, §124). Arrangements between timber companies and security companies included the latter providing security to the former, which ensured a steady supply of revenue for Taylor, gave employment to a number of combatants who had fought with Taylor’s forces and ensured a loyal security force at the major ports which, if necessary, could be used to control the regular army. Similarly, timber companies paid the wages of soldiers and managers of protection companies. The protection forces, which participated in activities falling far beyond protection, were accused of human rights violations and of intimidating local people and owners of other companies in order to gain access to forests and to make sure that their logging company had better access to the ports. Moreover, they looted and recruited fighters in neighbouring countries such as Côte d’Ivoire (Liberia Report 2004a, §115).

Armed groups also use natural resources as a means of attracting PMCs or, vice versa, PMCs are attracted by natural resources controlled by non-state armed groups. For instance, in the case of the Angolan conflict, the rebel group União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (Unita) followed the strategy of using rough diamonds rather than cash or bank deposits as the primary and preferred means of stockpiling wealth. Unita’s ability to exchange rough diamonds and to sell them was a means of sustaining its political and military activities (UN Security Council 10 March 2000, §15-17, 46). Indeed, the rebel group used diamonds exploited in the area under its control to purchase arms, weapons and military equipment as well as to fund military training from foreign actors and from neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Namibia. Whether all the providers of military training, arms and weapons acted on behalf of PMCs or were freelancers is not clear. The UN panel of experts on sanctions against UNITA was could not confirm the presence of mercenary companies, but only that of foreign military personnel assisting the rebel group. At the same time, however, a report of the Special Rapporteur on mercenaries’ activities mentioned the presence of mercenaries in UNITA’s control area and in the government forces, which at the beginning of the 1990s only exercised control over the coastal areas of Angola. According to the Special Rapporteur, there was a profusion of sophisticated weapons in Angola and mercenaries were involved in training troops and fighting (Special Rapporteur 1994, §39). The control UNITA exercised in the eastern part of the country allowed it to facilitate the arrival of mercenaries from Zaire. The government of Angola resorted to companies like the now defunct Executive Outcomes, which had previously fought alongside UNITA, to fight against the rebel group (Special Rapporteur 1994, §40).

In situations of civil war, governments generally welcome the presence of multinationals when the states’ natural resources can be used as the main source of revenue to fund the crisis. Governments use natural resources, be it in nature or as revenues derived from their exploitation, as a mode of payment to companies whose activities are in reality of a military nature. Multinationals bargain their access to and concessions for the exploitation of natural resources and participate in the nexus as intermediaries that facilitate contact among the different actors taking advantage of the nexus. Most of the time, individuals (nationals or foreigners) working for these companies are businesspersons who often supply arms to all sides of the conflict in exchange for access to the revenue from the exploitation of natural resources or who facilitate the transformation of natural resources into financial revenue. The role of these individuals is not always well elucidated because it is not clear if they act as individuals or as employees of those companies.

There is yet another category of non-state actors that has become increasingly important in triggering and perpetuating armed conflicts, defining protagonists’ strategies and coups d’état. In this chapter they are called African ‘independent soldiers’. They become involved in conflicts abroad operating individually, through military or security companies, or through rebel group affiliations at the sub-regional level. ‘Independent soldiers’ engage in armed conflict purely for economic interest. Sometimes they are not-yet-demobilised former combatants from neighbouring countries, for example Liberians in Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire.

In summary, the presence of PSCs and PMCs securing the exploitation of natural resources in situations of armed conflict poses a risk as it contributes to the militarisation of society. In addition, these companies facilitate arms proliferation and, by influencing the balance of military power, exacerbate tensions among protagonists. Furthermore, the dividing line between trading in arms and military training is difficult to determine. During the last decade of the 20th Century, the world discovered the phenomenon of proliferation of weapons-on the African continent mainly small arms. This proliferation was brought about in part by major weapon producing countries’ decision to sell off their stockpiles. A number of actors, including PMCs, got involved in the traffic surrounding arms trading. In many cases, PMCs were involved in trading arms trade alongside many other sellers and buyers, which gave easier access to weaponry to a broader variety of non-state actors directly involved in the conflict. This, in turn, made it easier for PMCs to profit from the nexus between civil wars and the exploitation of natural resources:10 ‘Confident that most of the groups in desperate need of their services are not in a position to pay in cash, “security firms” demand payments in the form of mining concessions and oil contracts’ (‘Kayode Fayemi 2000:23).

Impact on states’ consolidation process

At this stage of the analysis, the question arises about the impact of PSCs and PMCs on the state consolidation process. The wide spectrum of non-state actors involved in civil wars and in the nexus as such leads us beyond the motives of these actors to the question on the nature of the state in which private security and military companies are able to operate.

The nature of African States

The realist school of thought, which is based on a state-centric paradigm of international relations, has always been applied with difficulty to the African continent. ‘Failed states’ (Rotberg 2004), ‘weak states’ (Jackson & Rosberg 1986:259–282), ‘collapsed states’ (Zartman 1995:301), ‘shadow states’ (Reno 2000:45), ‘quasi states’ (Jackson 1990:13–48)-these are some of the labels used to describe the nature of post-colonial African countries. The term ‘collapsed state’ describes an exceptional situation where the state as a functioning institution ceases to exist and its territory is left without any recognised political structure, as in the case of Somalia. It is in this sense that the concept ‘failed state’ has been regularly used. Liberia and Sierra Leone have often been cited as examples of failing or failed states which ‘ceased for at least a time to function as states’ (Pham 2004:272). It is, however, very subjective to use the adjective ‘failed’ to qualify a state. The concept of a failed state is a negative one. It means that the state has failed to keep the Weberian characteristic which is that the state holds the monopoly on the use of violence on its territory. The following characteristics constitute the monopoly on violence:

African countries have often been qualified on the basis of structural, political and socio-economic factors, which can also be used to explain why civil wars in some countries have an important economic dimension. When one talks about the breakdown of state cohesion in some African countries it is based on the assumption that right after gaining independence these states were well consolidated from the Western or Weberian point of view. This view ignores the fact that many African states are still in the initial phase of the process of their formation. The first African power holders were left with territories (which, in most cases, no longer reflected the political entities that existed before colonisation and with an economy based on the extraction of natural resources to be exported to the colonial power) to be transformed into viable states.

From the theoretical point of view, a state is an independent and internationally recognised entity that has at its disposal a territory within which it enjoys sovereignty and an organised political authority exercised over a population.11 From the Western point of view, the features of the international system are traced back to the Westphalian framework which entailed a set of sovereign political entities ruled by leaders who of necessity exercised total control over the territory recognised as belonging to those states. In addition, ‘the Westphalian system was grafted on the strict recognition of the legal equality of each and every State’ (African Studies Centre 2003:3). Thus, three main elements characterise the Western state: population, territory and effectiveness.

Although many postcolonial countries in Africa did not necessarily fulfil these criteria, they have been considered states and accepted as part of the international community. Theoretically and pragmatically, the functioning state should have control over its territory including its natural resources and citizens. As such, the functioning state is able to exploit its resources and to deliver a full range of public goods and services to its citizens. These goods and services include security, justice, confidence and rule of law, and citizens are people who identify themselves as those represented by the state. If, from the UN12 and a legal point of view, African countries were undoubtedly states,13 in reality few of them ever completely fit into this definition. Therefore, the problem is not so much in these countries but in the definition of the state. The attributes of the state are still an objective to attain at least in Africa understood as a geographical area. Those who are of the view that African states have failed have misunderstood the fact that these countries are actually struggling-be it consciously or not-to consolidate their institutions and that war is part of this process.

Some are of the view that ‘several other members of the Westphalian system located in the former Third World relapsed or now threaten to relapse into what might be deemed a “premodern” phase of State evolution in which there is no question of sovereign control or an effective monopoly of violence but many parallel and competitive manifestations of exercising power over people and territory’ (African Studies Centre 2003:4). Rather than accepting this view with respect to newly independent African states, we argue that many of them have always been part of the premodern phase of western state model construction. Far from being part of an already consolidated state-system that is now supposedly decaying, several African countries were awarded ‘full statehood’ status too soon. They are actually struggling to acquire it now, including control over their resources and wealth. In Africa, the prerequisite for recognition and integration within the Western state system is the adoption of the formal structure of a state (Tilly 1990:195).

The nature of African states is questioned here since it is at the centre of the reality of and struggle for state consolidation, which involve a multitude of non-state actors and violence. The interests of non-state actors, such as PMCs and PSCs, do not always coincide with the state’s need for survival and consolidation.

The impact

The idea persists that many African countries have lost the ideal Weberian attributes of the state which, by definition, include the monopoly on violence. This argument assumes that if African states had enjoyed these attributes before losing them. In reality, some of them, for instance Angola and Mobutu’s Zaire, have never had the monopoly on the use of violence since other non-state armed groups have been continuously active, despite the states’ efforts to gain full control. In addition, as pointed out before, in many cases governments have themselves resorted to mercenaries to secure their regimes. Consequently, states have not been able to monopolise the use of violence. The variety of activities undertaken by private military and private security companies in some countries have helped fuel ‘the privatisation of political violence which undermines-or makes more difficult-the reestablishment of the state monopoly on legitimate violence’ (Schreier & Caparini 2005:5).

It has been argued that the privatisation of security in many African countries can help to prevent or defend civilians from being subject to widespread violence by uncontrolled armed groups during armed conflicts. This argument stems from the understanding that a government unable to fight the rebels on its own calls PSScs or PMCs to assume some of its responsibilities and provide security for the state and protection for civilians. Private companies provide weapons, serve as military trainers, or plan and conduct small-scale military operations. However, in reality, private military and security companies often provide security for the rulers so that these can secure the resources for themselves and prevent their opponents from accessing them. It usually happens in countries with high levels of corruption. For instance, during the 1960s the regimes of Strasser in Sierra Leone and Mobutu in the Congo adopted the strategy of giving foreign firms independent sources of income in return for military security. PSCs are engaged to protect diplomats and other foreign workers in some countries as if there were no forces and no need to train and form a national army, national security service or police forces capable of defending the state and provide protection and safety for its residents. In some cases, state security is limited to the security of foreign firms that extract the natural resources that constitute the main source of revenue for the state. The revenue is needed to maintain internal ties and patrimonial system networks during the war. Furthermore, state security in many cases is limited to the mining operations and the security of the elite in power. An example is the Taylor regime in Liberia between 1997 and 2003.

International appeal for the intervention of PMCs and PSCs is also based on the supposed strategic impact they may have on a conflict situation. The argument is that the superior military capability of these companies has a strong impact on the political and security environment of the countries in which they operate, which can stabilise a crisis and coerce a negotiated settlement (Shearer 1998:9). The use of military companies is considered as an alternative for peace enforcement, especially in cases where international institutions, such as the UN, the AU or sub-regional organisations, are not willing or are taking time to act and intervene to protect civilians. The examples often cited by way of illustration are Sierra Leone and Angola where the governments relied on corporate military companies to fight rebellions and to regain control over diamond-rich areas. This permitted the governments to maintain a certain level of ‘development’ although the countries were at war (Shearer 1998:9). However, it should be remembered that PMCs are not the only military forces at scenes of war. Thus, the impact of their activities should be evaluated in relation to the whole scene and put into the broad context of the conflict management process. Indeed, in the case of Sierra Leone, the defunct Executive Outcomes’ claim to have returned stability was short lived because in May 1997 the newly elected government was overthrown in a military coup d’état staged by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (ARFC). When Sandline International intervened on behalf of the government in exile to fight against the unrecognised ARFC/Revolutionary United Front military regime, other elements on the scene included forces of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), different militia groups and the UN arms embargo that had been put in place. The embargo did not prove effective. However, the fact that it was in place eliminated some potential arm dealers from engaging in the traffic.

‘Old’ mercenaries have a long history of helping unpopular and dictatorial regimes in Africa. That is why African states and the UN insist that mercenary activities be condemned. It is difficult to believe the claim by the ‘new’ corporate companies that they want to assist and help legitimate governments. At the basis of their interest in African countries are money, resources and business. Their involvement falsifies the internal endogenous evolution of the state in its consolidation process.


There are certain legitimate and acceptable roles for PMCs and PSCs acting in accordance with national and international law. Various initiatives, such as that of the Swiss, will certainly help to broaden existing knowledge and highlight gaps in terms of such firms’ accountability. However, it should be kept in mind that there have been situations in which certain services performed by these companies have increased, prolonged or exacerbated conflicts, facilitated human rights abuses and contributed to slowing down of the consolidation process of African states. In many cases, rather than empowering the state, the engagement of these companies has been an obstacle to the development the state’s capacity to control and manage its national natural resources. It is not a secret that some of these corporate companies ‘fight their battles not only for cash but for strategic minerals on behalf of a corporate establishment’ (Schreier & Caparini 2005:i).

The privatisation of public security cannot be considered an alternative to multilateral conflict management. The private nature of PMCs and PSCs and the fact that their very existence is based on clod financial calculations are in contradiction to multilateral efforts to resolve conflict (Musah & ‘Kayode Fayemi 2000:260). Many of these companies are involved in armed conflict situations because of natural resources. They do not contribute to the re-establishment and/or the consolidation of the power of the state. The transfer of public security to the private sector is ‘at best the manifestation of the failure of common security and at worst the avant-garde of attempts at corporate recolonisation. Controlled by mining multinationals, the major private companies ensure that beleaguered African leaders have guns pointed at their heads while signing away the cheap mineral concessions to mercenary-backed mining concerns’ (Musah & ‘Kayode Fayemi, 2000: 261). That is how ‘private military security shields become more expensive to the weak States if considered against the fact that the cost of multilateral peace enforcement is not borne by the State in conflict’ (ibid). The whole point is that the privatisation of public security has always been part of the network of commercial alliances directly related to the exploitation of natural resources of African states. Instead of trying to promote the use of PSCs and PMCs as an alternative in conflict management, one should use the resources needed for such promotion to empower the UN and regional14 and sub-regional institutions of conflict resolution which are progressively put in place by African countries themselves.


  1. See, for instance, Full Proceedings of the Conference on Engaging Non-State Actors in a Landmine Ban: A Pioneering Conference, held on 24 and 25 March 2000 at the International Conference Centre of Geneva. The Proceedings were published by the Conference Organisers in Quezon City in 2001 and comprise 186 pages.

  2. Civil war in this chapter is considered as a conflict that mainly opposes one or more internal actors of and in the territory of a country, with at least one of them aiming at overthrowing and replacing the power holder. It is a conflict of mixed character since in many cases it has an international dimension owing to the implication of a number of external actors.

  3. The link between natural resources and civil war is referred to in this chapter as the ‘nexus’.

  4. In the conflicts in Angola, Congo (Kinshasa), Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Security Council established panels of experts with the mandate to investigate the violation of its sanction measures, which targeted inter alia the economic dimension of the conflicts.

  5. Article 47 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 8 June 1977 states that:

    A mercenary is any person who:

    (a)       is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;

    (b)       does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;

    (c)        is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;

    (d)       is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;

    (e)       is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and

    (f)        has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

  6. See the definition given in article 1 of the Convention, A/Res/44/34 adopted by the General Assembly and the 27th Plenary Meeting on 4 December 1989. This definition does not include the provision of Article 47(b) of Additional Protocol I on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Indeed, the OAU Conventions for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa of 3 July 1977, states in article I that:

    1.  The crime of mercenarism is committed by the individual, group or association, representatives of a State and the State itself with the aim of opposing by armed violence a process of self-determination or the territorial integrity of another State that practices any of the following acts:

    a)         Shelters, organises, finances, assists, equips, trains, promotes, supports or in any manner employs armed forces partially or wholly consisting of persons who are not nationals of the country where they are going to act, for personal gain, material or otherwise;

    b)         Enlists, enrols or tries to enrol in the said forces;

    c)         Allows the activities mentioned in paragraph (a) to be carried out in any territory under its jurisdiction or in any place under its control or affords facilities for transit, transport or other operations of the above mentioned forces.

    2.  Any person, natural or juridical, who commits the crime of mercenarism as defined in paragraph 1 of this Article commits an offence considered as a crime against peace and security in Africa and shall be punished as such.

  9. One of the most notable agents of mercenary activities in Africa has been the French Foreign Legion which has operated in Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Morocco, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Somalia, Angola and Benin. Mercenaries also intervened in the Nigerian civil war (1967–1970). Most of the coups d’état in former French colonies were orchestrated by mercenaries. Individuals who won notoriety for their mercenary activities include Frenchman Gilbert Bourgeaud (known as Bob Denard), who was involved in the Comoros in 1975, 1978 and 1995; Irishman ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, who was involved in the Seychelles in 1977 and 1982; and the German Colonel ‘Black’ Jacques Schramme.

  10. About this connection see Special Rapporteur pursuant to Commission Resolution 2001/3, 10 January 2001, Report on the Question of the Use of Mercenaries as Means of Violating Human Rights and Impeding the Exercise of the Rights of People to Self Determination, Document E/CN.4/2001/19, § 60, 61.

  11. For a legal definition see for instance, J Crawford, 1976–1977.

  12. Immediately after their independence, African countries were given membership of the UN.

  13. Indeed, Jackson and Rosberg argue that ‘by enforcing juridical statehood, international society is in some cases also sustaining and perpetuating incompetent and corrupt governments. Perhaps the best example in sub-Saharan Africa is the international support that has gone into ensuring the survival of the corrupt government of Zaire’ (see Jackson & Rosberg 1982:22). We agree with this argument only if the idea is to question the fact that the international community of mainly non-African governments and multinationals have prevented endogenous attempts, either by rebel groups or by governments in power, to structure and consolidate state institutions, for instance by assassinating the independentist leader Patrice Lumumba, thereby disrupting the probable state building programme he may have put into place. Zaire is just one example among many others.

  14. At the continental level, those defined within the framework of the Constitutive Act of the AU. In order to enhance its role in maintaining peace and security, the AU established a Peace and Security Council that is tasked with identifying threats to and breaches of peace. To this end, the AU recommended the development of a common security policy and, by 2010, the establishment of an African Standby Force (ASF) capable of rapid deployment to keep (or enforce) peace. The ASF would comprise standby brigades in each of the five regions of the continent, and contain police and civilian expert capacity. See the Policy Framework for the Establishment of the African Standby Force and the Military Staff Committee, adopted by the African Chiefs of Defence Staff, Addis Ababa, 15–16 May 2003.


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