Wagner’s recent rebellion against the Russian government drew attention to the problem of the proliferation of private security and military companies in Africa and the Middle East and the extent of their dangers, especially if these companies were separated from their governments, as happened with Wagner’s forces. This is where these security companies turn into just a group of mercenaries who can work for any counterforce. This, of course, would increase the risks, especially in such a continent that is full of natural resources, crises, political disputes, and international conflicts.
Indeed, the past two decades have seen an increase in the outsourcing of security and military training jobs to private professionals, which were previously the exclusive privilege of government military or law enforcement personnel. These private companies and trained militias have grown around the world with mandates from states and non-state actors alike. And it took various forms, from mercenaries, through local tribes and militias, to legal contracts with international companies that include many retired military personnel. Many reports and studies define these private military and security companies as “any company that provides a set of services that were performed by the army, traditionally or contemporary, to support and implement combat operations, and which can and should be carried out by the army if the contractor is not present.” Accordingly, the outsourcing of military and security jobs in the form of legal contracts for the services of security and military companies has become a natural matter since the end of the Cold War around the world, such as contracts with “MPRI” and “Brown & Root” companies during the Kosovo war.
However, the use of these companies is concentrated mainly in Africa and the Middle East, in light of the growing tensions in the region. This is because the success of the Executive Output Company in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa opened the door for further privatization. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also accelerated this trend through the extensive use of private military and security company clients. In these two conflicts in particular, the United States and its allies have expanded their reliance on PMSCs, creating an opportunity for new actors. Today, there are foreign private security companies in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Central Africa, Mali, Sudan, Mozambique, and many, many other countries that have become at the mercy of these companies.
Currently, Western private security companies top the list of private security companies in Africa and the Middle East, such as the American private company “Cassie”, which is active in various military bases affiliated to the “US Africa Command” (AFRICOM). The French company “Sycopex” also operates in Africa, the British companies “Aegis Defense Services” and “G4S” and the Canadian company “GardaWorld”, in addition to the Ukrainian “Omega” consulting group, the “Dyck” group, and the German “Excelles”. This is in addition to the Russian “Wagner” company, as well as a group of Chinese companies that have increased since 2013, coinciding with the Belt and Road project.
The tasks of these companies range between military and security. While military companies carry out combat missions, recruit mercenaries, and support armed armies and militias on the ground, security companies focus on protecting personalities and facilities, training, security advice, intelligence, and cyber warfare. The tasks of military companies may overlap with security and sometimes integrate.
However, despite the spread and success of these companies, there are many reasons and even risks that drive us to demand the departure of all security companies and mercenaries from Africa and the Middle East. The first and most important of these risks is that these security companies have common denominators with terrorist groups, as both are “paid soldiers”. The spread of these private security companies also reinforces the culture of mercenaries. This is especially since these companies often employ mercenary soldiers from the locals, which further fuels conflict in the region and provokes internal wars.
There is also no doubt that the transfer of security and military tasks to foreign security companies leads to the violation of human rights and the commission of war crimes against civilians in an increasing manner. This is especially since these private companies exempt their affiliated countries from legal accountability, especially when war crimes occur, as these countries seek to evade their responsibility by holding private companies responsible for uncontrolled fighting, which actually leads to a violation of state sovereignty and human rights without accountability. For example, the American company “Blackwater”, which is currently operating under the name “Academic”, was involved in killing Iraqi civilians, and 4 of its members were convicted of imprisonment between life and 30 years, for killing 14 Iraqi civilians, including two children, in Baghdad in 2007, in a massacre that sparked international outrage over the use of mercenaries in wars. However, US President Donald Trump pardoned the four Blackwater agents involved, which sparked Iraqi discontent. A group of reports was also issued accusing the Russian Wagner Group in Mali and Syria of being involved in acts of violence and numerous human rights violations, including premeditated murder and demolishing mosques.
More importantly, the use of these private security companies as a geopolitical tool to enhance the military influence of its affiliated countries leads to the involvement of the region in hidden side conflicts between the great powers, such as the conflict between the United States of America and the Wagner Group in Africa to limit the Russian presence. This is where this hidden conflict is fueling conflicts in Sudan, Mali, and Central Africa, which are the main headquarters of the Wagner Group in Africa. For example, according to research, the United States and European countries put increasing pressure on the president of the Central African Republic, Faustin Touadera, to cut ties with Wagner. This is where France cut off its financial support to Bangui, and Paris and Washington pressured the World Bank and the European Union to impose strict control on all funds allocated to Central Africa. This is to increase the pressure on the latter and prevent it from providing the necessary funding for its contract with Wagner, especially since the budget of Central Africa depends by more than 45% on allocations and foreign support, and Bangui has failed, so far, to persuade international institutions to disburse the necessary funds to finance the agreed projects.
In addition to the aforementioned risks involved in contracting with private security companies, there is a clear fact that cannot be denied, which is that these security companies, no matter how successful they are, in the end, do not lead to finding radical solutions to the existing problems in the region. This is where the problems aggravate again once these special security forces are absent, due to the state’s inability to suppress the rebels through its armies.
More importantly, the presence of these security companies on the African continent and the Middle East is certainly a form of violation of the sovereignty of states. This is because the concept of sovereignty essentially means the state’s ability to monopolize the means of violence and form, support, and use military forces, and not seek help from a group of hired killers to achieve safety.
Dr. Marwa El-Shinawy:Academic and Writer
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