UN findings on PMCs in Africa “a bit rich”

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Criticism by a UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) working group on mercenaries of inter-operability between Russian private military contractors (PMCs) and UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) attracted the ire of a top South African defence analyst.

Putting it bluntly Helmoed Heitman said “The UN expressing concern is a bit rich”.

“If the world body had its act together and deployed peacekeeping or peace enforcement forces appropriate to the mission in strength, weaponry and rules of engagement, there would not be many openings for mercenaries of any kind. The UN does not, partly for lack of countries willing to provide force elements and partly because it has too many hand-wringing types who seem to have a quaint notion of a ‘fair fight’ – that is we only deploy forces commensurate with the forces they face. Apart from anything else that betrays the troops deployed and the people they are supposed to help.

“Peacekeeping and particularly peace enforcement are not some form of non-contact sport; they are a form of warfare and should be conducted on the basis of utterly overmatching the ‘spoilers’ being countered to the extent they either simply give up or are easily defeated, buying time and creating the opening for actual peacebuilding to take place.

“Events in Bosnia are a good example. The EU went in with lightly armed infantry and tight rules of engagement and got Srebrenica for their pains. Then the US went in with an armoured division and NATO went over to full air support with all involved becoming polite to each other. A gross over-simplification, I know, but it illustrates my argument. Similarly, had AMISOM been properly equipped, for instance with surveillance and attack aircraft, the Haskenita attack would never have happened.”

Heitman also points out “one has to accept some governments are less than legitimate and will employ thugs. It’s a difficult question for the UN and AU and I have no simple answer”.

“I suppose peacekeepers have to do their best and support any PMCs doing good work while ignoring the others but acting against them when they are clearly acting against civilian populations. Again, a gross over-simplification but there is no simple or ‘one size fits all’ answer.

As far as PMCs in Mozambique are concerned he maintains “years of under-funding security forces and fooling with promotions and appointments are now paying off with inability to do anything effective to counter the insurgency/terrorism”.

“Given the Mozambique government’s unwillingness to admit they are in a hole, there is not much others can do. That leaves PMCs when government is willing to hire them. In this case the behaviour of the insurgents/terrorists is so gross I certainly have no objection. The failure of the Wagner group was interesting but I do not have enough information to venture a comment regarding why they failed. It is not as if there are not enough competent soldiers in Russia from among whom they can recruit.”

Asked whether involvement by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its ACIRC (African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises) within the AU African Standby Force (ASF) would assist in ending violence in Mozambique, Heitman is not optimistic.

“Both the AU and SADC have proved adept at foot dragging and not at action.

“In Africa ECOWAS was once active but fell on its nose in Mali where it provided a good demonstration of a ‘stand by while others do the job’ force until the French did the difficult stuff; the Central African force in the CAR (FOMAC) was an excellent example of a ‘step aside force’ when they could have stopped Seleka in their tracks. Only in Darfur – albeit under-armed – and in Somalia have Africans managed to get their act together.



“A lesser example is perhaps the FIB (Force Intervention Brigade) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) essentially a SADC effort and largely driven by the South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans (Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula) – certainly when the UN wanted to drop the Rooivalk detachment on cost grounds. I gather she told them if Rooivalk went, so would the Oryx and the battalion, which quickly changed minds as the SANDF (SA National Defence Force) elements are the only really effective ones there.”