I was recently invited to partake in a discussion on the Privatisation of War at De Balie in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This discussion was the culmination of a series of talks on the battlefield that had been held at De Balie.
Prior to my departure, I was warned by several people to be wary of such a discussion. I must admit that my own thoughts on the matter also warned me that I was about to walk into an “ambush”. But, having done my appreciation of the situation, I packed my bags and duly flew out of Johannesburg to Amsterdam.
The day I left South Africa, temperatures at my home were in the mid-30 degrees Celsius and it was raining. When I arrived in Amsterdam, it was 2 degrees C – and it was raining.
I had hardly checked into the hotel when Jacob Derkx of De Balie arrived and the rest of my day was taken with media interviews. I must admit that the end result of these interviews was pleasantly surprising. I was even more surprised to be met on the street by strangers who wanted to shake my hand and congratulate me on the work EO did.
Jake Allen who runs the very popular The Combat Operator (http://combatoperator.com) and Private Military Herald (www.privatemilitaryherald.com) arrived the following day to meet me and we had a good time together. Not only was it great to finally Jake in person, we also had time to cover some important ground of mutual interest. Sadly though, it was very limited time but I am extremely grateful to Jake for making the trip from Norway just to meet and talk to me.
The discussion at De Balie, chaired by a very professional and competent Wilbur Perlot (the entire series of talks was also his brainchild) was indeed refreshing and fun. Not only was there a genuine desire to learn about Executive Outcomes and its work as a PMC but it was, in my opinion, very objectively handled. The audience was equally interested in the role of the PMC in support of operations and many very good and relevant questions were put to me. This was followed by a panel discussion which included Prof Avril Mcdonald who lectures on International Humanitarian Law and Dutch journalist Arnold Karskens, a war reporter.
Prof Mcdonald gave some extremely valuable input into the role of PMCs and she is of the belief that PMCs are here to stay but that there needs to be accountability – something I fully agree with.
Later, mingling with the audience, I was struck at just how very interested everyone was in EO and the work the men of that company did. This was confirmed by Adrian Miskelly, the creative director of Plug Creative (www.plugcreative.co.uk) who had flown in from the UK to film the discussion.
Wilbur then took me to The Hague where I addressed an audience of the Dutch Foreign Ministry and members of the Defence Ministry. Also in attendance was a journalist who had written his fair share of misinformation on both me and EO. His question was aimed at determining the “secret shareholding link” EO apparently had with multi-nationals – it appears that no time and effort will be spared at proving a lie to be fact. But, Dr Roel van der Veen who chaired this discussion was likewise professional and objective and there was great interest from the real audience in EO’s work in Africa and some very relevant questions were put to me on EO, PMCs and Africa. (By the way, Roel has written a contemporary history book on Africa titled: “What went wrong with Africa” and he gave me a signed copy of his work).
I left The Netherlands with the realisation that De Balie is certainly on the cutting-edge when it comes to discussing PMCs and their role on the modern battlefield. I commend Wilbur and his team and thank them for the opportunity to give my views on this highly controversial subject. They were very professional in their actions and treated me incredibly well during my brief visit.
Whereas it will be impossible to thank everyone by name, I would like to make special mention of De Balie’s staff - Wilbur Perlot, Jacob Derkx, Jenneke den Bol and Dieuwertje Scheringa. Also to Prof Avril Mcdonald and Roel van der Veen (MFA), Jake Allen and Adrian Miskelly as well as the numerous people who attended my discussions and spoke to me afterwards. Please accept my sincerest thanks.
When I left The Netherlands, it was raining and the temperature was – cold. On arrival back home, it was also raining...
It is good to be back in Africa, even if I came back with a severe bout of flu.