In June, AFJN staff member Beth Tuckey presented information on private security contractors in Africa to staffers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Her presentation was part of a larger briefing by the Resist AFRICOM coalition, to familiarize staffers with our position on the new military command for Africa.
With AFRICOM’s focus now on training and equipping African militaries, the prevention of terrorism, and the need to get Africa’s oil resources, we expect to see an influx in the use of private military contractors (PMC’s) in Africa. Currently, the State Department spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on hiring contractors – money that is often inefficiently or inappropriately used.
The ‘train and equip’ idea is not new. In fact, it has a very bad history in Africa – a history that harkens back to the proxy wars of the Cold War and U.S. support for illegitimate or corrupt regimes.
In the 1980’s, the U.S. spent $500 million to train and equip Samuel Doe in Liberia. According to a report from the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, “every armed group that plundered Liberia over the past 25 years had its core in these U.S.-trained Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers. There is thus a fear that when the United States withdraws support for its security sector reform program and funding for the AFL, Liberia will be sitting on a time bomb; a well-trained and armed force of elite soldiers who are used to good pay and conditions of service, which may be impossible for the government of Liberia to sustain on its own.”
AFRICOM’s value as a structure for legitimizing African armies should therefore be called into serious question. The long-term ramifications of irresponsible training and equipping should be taken into consideration before the U.S. military is awarded more power in Africa. PMC’s should be debated and scrutinized by the African people and parliamentary bodies in every country should be encouraged to enact legislation against their operations. Propping up and arming corrupt leaders is no path to stability in Africa. The U.S. must act as a credible force for peace, not an overzealous superpower that employs private contractors to conduct military operations in Africa.