We should support African states by refusing to countenance mercenaries

Share
Related Topics

If there was one clear message yesterday from the conviction of former SAS officer Simon Mann for attempting to buy arms for an alleged coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, it was this: black Africa is no longer willing to accept the use of white mercenaries to upset governments, however repellent some of them may be. This is especially true of South Africa, which first alerted Zimbabwe to the visit of Simon Mann and his men. For so long the spawning ground of mercenaries in the days of apartheid, the ANC government wants to make absolutely clear to its neighbours, and to the West, that it won't tolerate their activities now.

If there was one clear message yesterday from the conviction of former SAS officer Simon Mann for attempting to buy arms for an alleged coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, it was this: black Africa is no longer willing to accept the use of white mercenaries to upset governments, however repellent some of them may be. This is especially true of South Africa, which first alerted Zimbabwe to the visit of Simon Mann and his men. For so long the spawning ground of mercenaries in the days of apartheid, the ANC government wants to make absolutely clear to its neighbours, and to the West, that it won't tolerate their activities now.

That is an important enough - and overdue - message for Western governments, the British and Americans in particular, who for too long have given ambiguous signals on the use of mercenaries. While disapproving of them in public, they have often, as in Sierra Leone, tacitly encouraged them, finding private armies useful to carry out actions which governments would find impossible and which could be readily disowned if the mercenaries were caught.

Nor is it just a matter for governments. Not the least disturbing aspect of the rise in the use of mercenaries has been the role of multinational companies. Under the guise of employing private troops for security reasons, companies have allowed, even encouraged, their use by government and/or rebel groups to act as local policemen and enforcers. The line between self-protection and becoming part of the political process has always been a narrow one. One has only to look to the difficulties of Shell in Nigeria and BP in Sudan to see that. But it is a line that has been increasingly crossed in the past decade.

Africa is often treated as an impoverished basket case in the media. Many of its problems arise from its possession of extremely valuable raw materials and energy sources in specific regions. This scattered wealth has brought about all the problems of political corruption and outside intervention which Africa knows so well today. Mercenaries are not always the cause, but they are all too often the effect of this cauldron of ambition and greed.

But in a wider sense, too, the embarrassment and scandal of the mercenaries and their backers should give the West some pause for thought. At the back of this suspected coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, just as in the invasion of Iraq, is the view that it is up to the West to decide where regime change is needed and to carry it out regardless of the law or the feelings of the region.

Far from being a thing of the past, intervention for regime change is actively discussed and countenanced in Washington, and London, as a perfectly respectable arm of foreign policy. The aims, the removal of despotic and corrupt regimes (many of them, it should be said, set up by the West), may be laudable. But the means are not.

With the very deliberate, and public, pursuit of this case, African leaders are saying they will no longer countenance such outside intervention. They are right and we should listen to them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada