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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. Until recently, I was a contributing editor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Friday, March 8, 2013

THE “SPECIALISTS”


It would almost be funny were it not so sad.

I come across many people on an almost-daily basis that have travelled from beyond the continent to Africa to witness “first-hand” the problems the continent has. Some are businessmen, some are academics, some are members of NGOs and some are from foreign government PMCs.

Almost to a man (or woman), they become “specialists” in African politics and security-related matters only a few days after having set foot on the continent. They firmly believe that they understand our problems better than we do, they have all the solutions and know exactly how our future will look if only we would listen to them. They question but then immediately disregard the answers they get as it does not match with their perceived reality – which is often totally removed from our reality. It is not uncommon to get a response to an answer to the effect that “No, you are wrong. I read on … (chose your search engine) what your problems are”

Many of these newly-born specialists may be well-meaning in their intentions but their actions often result in fuelling already volatile situations or they grossly miscalculate the diverse and complex environment they have entered. But being specialists, they believe they can solve the problem they themselves created and then make it even worse.

Apart from the many tourists that visit Africa, everyone else has one goal tied to their visit: to make money. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with that as we all work to make a profit. However, when they intend to make their money by manipulation, bad advice, acting with little or no integrity, promoting suspicion and even by blatantly lying, my hackles begin to rise. Sadly, some of these charlatans get appointed to serve as “specialist government advisors”. They develop hypothetical solutions to overcome imaginary problems and then implement their “solutions” regardless of reality.

These problems are very prevalent in the intelligence, military and law enforcement areas. Of course they are found in the other sectors as well but as we work in the listed fields, this is where I know I am treading on familiar ground.

As we have numerous ears on the ground as well as many friends across the continent, we regard ourselves as fairly well informed. It is, therefore, not unusual for us to be given advance warning of a potential conflict or problem brewing in or close to a certain country. If we can confirm the information we are given, we warn the targeted government that problems are marching towards their horizon. At times, this intelligence is acted on. On other occasions, this intelligence is discussed with foreign governments who then refute our warnings and claim that we are conducting a disinformation campaign in order to get a contract.  

The recent situation in Mali is a good example of intelligence being disregarded and bad advice from “specialists” heeded. Most everyone knows how that panned out. Were it not for the intervention of the French forces, the situation would be vastly different to what it currently is. But that conflict is not over yet.

We have been trying to warn another government of a pending coup but they have been advised by their “advisors” and “specialists” not to talk to us. Numerous other examples exist but I shall refrain from listing them in case the governments we warned are actually seriously considering our warnings.

Many will claim that we warn governments simply to get a contract. I know of several people and/or organisations that have made it their mission to make these claims and try to influence governments not to listen to what we have to say or to discredit us. These individuals and /or organisations are likewise “specialists” on both me and our company. They know more about me than I know about myself. But, truth be told, there is no way we could accept that many contracts from so many governments.

Back to reality: Much of the so-called specialist advice given to African governments is aimed at ensuring conflicts either start or escalate. Peace does not enter the equation although it is bandied about as a buzzword - yet it remains ever elusive. Attention is often diverted from existing problems by creating new problems. Conflict and war implies large profits – and the longer these conflicts continue, the longer the profits roll in. Sometimes these specialists even support both sides engaged in the conflict just to make sure they are covered, regardless the winner.

Many African governments are not masters of their own destiny. Through bad advice, manipulation, economic blackmail and the like, they have become the puppets that jump to their puppet masters’ strings. When they don’t jump at the appropriate time, they are branded as rogue governments. So, to maintain their positions, when asked to jump they then simply ask “How high?”

It can be argued that many African governments are to blame for the situations they find themselves in. Whereas that holds true in some instances, much of what we witness in Africa, especially in the security forces, has come about as a result of bad advice, poor training, incorrect structures, inadequate weapons, irrelevant doctrines and so forth. Co-join this situation to poor statecraft advice and we see what we see…To rectify this, new statecraft and defence approaches are planned and implemented – and fail.

Many of these so-called specialists that visit our shores may come with good intentions. However, given their “vast knowledge” of the continent and their deep “research” on Africa, it is no wonder that such a mess is created. Promises are easily made and then just as easily broken. But then, perhaps this is the aim all along – erode the Pillars of State and create chaos. Out of the chaos will come anger, civil disobedience, racial hatred and tensions, strikes, rebellions, religious intolerance, an increase in transnational crime, a collapse of law and order, distrust towards government agencies, armed conflict and insurgencies – and ultimately, a dysfunctional government or a government teetering on collapse.  This creates numerous problems on the security front but also abundant lucrative opportunities on the economic front.

The ultimate result of their “specialist advice” in terms of human suffering boggles the mind.

As I mentioned earlier, it would almost be funny were it were not so sad. 

24 comments:

Alan said...

Eeben:

Excellent disclosure of feckless roving "experts". Strange is it not, the San of the uKhahlamba were somehow able to quite skillfully hunt, paint, and create 'n taal without outside assistance some 8700 years before wide eyed Irishmen like myself uttered our first demanding yelps?

Regards, Alan :-)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks, Alan.

It remains of great concern to me as I watch how sound knowledge is discarded and replaced with hypothetical solutions to non-existent problems – and then, come hell-or-high-water – the made-to-fail option is implemented at enormous financial cost – not to mention the human fall-out. The results are obvious even prior to the implementation.

Rgds,

Eeben

michael b said...

Good day Eeben, great piece. What I see in short is that Peace does not sell and that having watched a National Geographic African edition does not make an outsider a specialist any more than me standing a garage makes me a car.

You are correct that we as humans work for profit and that is why we have capitalism and own stuff and why we are not “owned by Feudal lords” (although that may be questionable). It is time for the “do gooders” to go home and sort their back yards out before waltzing into Africa with grand plans that cannot and never will work here in Africa. Africa is not a first world continent and many seem to forget this valuable little knick knack.
Mike Da Silva

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks, Mike. True words spoken. I see so many of these one-week wonders that and it never ceases to amaze me how they bluff their way into misleading governments.

I guess you are correct: Peace does not sell. But, that is a rather silly option they choose as peace will result in a lot more development (money) for all.

I am not too sure about not being owned by “feudal lords” – I think some governments have inadvertently found themselves in that position and the longer they are there, the more difficult it is to extricate themselves.

Agree on those who masquerade as “do-gooders” but actually harbour a different objective.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the link Alan. It certainly makes one think, doesn't it? It also explains much of what we see on an almost daily basis.

Rgds,

Eeben

Danco Roux said...

Hi Eben. I'm interested in the influence governments have on operations in Africa an how general logistics should function in an high volatile environment. Your book on EO gave me great insight on what the reality is in this continent. I have great admiration for the way you find solutions and identify opportunities in Africa. I also think that a business similar to EO is one of the most effective solutions for the problems that this continent faces. I am currently studding accounting at tuks, first year. My father was in 7 med. I find your profession very interesting and would like to ask you a few questions regarding my studies and how I could apply them to a company similar company to EO. I am also working on business models (security and non-security) that operate in african environments and I would appreciate it if I could have your inputs on my model as you have first hand experience with the factors in my model. I would appreciate it if I could meet you so that you can broaden my perspective on the points raised in the above. If that is not possible can I mail you my thoughts? rouxdanco@gmail.com

John said...

Sir,

Typically experts, particularly political and economic experts have abysmal success rates with predications. Nassim Taleb has explored this topic in great detail in Fooled by Randomness, and The Black Swan. Yet, tragically, these same experts remain in their fields, and are still considered experts, as almost no one checks their success rates, except . Merely offering an opinion and a specious amount of experience are apparently enough to qualify. Sadly, as you point out, this phenomena is not limited to elections and financial speculation.

Very Respectfully,

John

michael b said...

You make mention of "one week wonders" and it reminded me of the very same thing we encountered in Rundu during my border tour (1988/89) where we received our "welcome" drink in the Air force bar on Friday. it was called a "greenie" and was naturally green in colour and very pepperminty, to show how "green" we were on the border, when we left Rundu after our tour we would recieve our "brownie" which was a stiff double shot of Stroh rum and Cape Velvet and was your going away drink to prove you had done your time on the border. It was a big deal back then when you were called up by the RSM and presented your Brownie. A weird sense of accomplishment washed over you for your time served..

However, it would irk us to the nth degree when some pencil pusher would rock up on the Friday Flossie (C13O Hercules) only to be booked to return to the "States" on Tuesday and be eligible to recieve his "GREENIE & BROWNIE" on the same evening.We actually protested this to the RSM but the rules were blurred and a loop hole existed for these weekend warriors to get their "border" time 5 days at a time. All they did was eat well ,lie by the Rundu pool and dop it up. We really did not like this practice as it cheapened our rite of passage from bos roof to bos ouman.

Just a silly side note and incosequential anecdote in life.
Mike.

Caboto said...

Dear Mr. Barlow, I am writing a book on "charlatans" who were and are involved in "saving Africa", in particular from its wars. Would you consent to come to know each other by e-mail in a way that allows you to check about me but it is more private than a blog? In case the answer is yes, please indicate a way.

Herbert said...

Eeben,

Unfortunately these parasitic bloodsuckers are worldwide, as you well know. They are skilled at locating the unwitting and regurgitating what their target wants to hear. Up front they talk to a few knowledgeable people like you primarily for credential effect on their target--and as you point out, uninterested in your answers, or only to the extent that it helps them more effectively compete with you later.

Our digital age has facilitated the technique. I'm reminded of the people who visit China (perhaps just on holiday) and after
"research" market themselves as an "old China hand," dropping phrases like "when I was in Beijing last month." Of course the Chinese won't give them the time of day; however, they find unsuspecting American companies hoping to invest in China in some way. When the company finally figures it out, it is too late.

I no longer give them the benefit of doubt of being perhaps well-intentioned. They are dishonest throughout.

Regards,
Herbert

Lionberger said...

Well said Sir!

The regretable effect of this Information Age is the perception that those with access to raw (and mostly unverified) information from the Internet somehow inherit situational understanding without the "labors" of critical thinking. The revolting extention of this issue is it empowers Salesmen to impersonate Statesmen.

V/R
BPL

bryan said...

Africa has had conflict my whole life...I live here,and africs has had the major "peace keeper" here the whole time,if "they"cannot achieve piece in sixty plus years,that means they dont really want peace,the majority of south africans who have lived through these many conflicts know this,but there is nothing mere mortals can do as to perpetuate this it means that all the worlds governments are in cahoots in one way or the other and saving lives doesn't really come into it.U that live outside of africa and silently watched our demise...look now at your situation,not good but worse to come,it appears that the betrayal of south africa opened a door for all that has quickly followed.

Anti-Poaching Intelligence Group Southern Africa said...

Thanks Eeben very interesting article, amazing that we find the same in the Wildlife Organizations, one visit instant experts from Eu and USA always not better and disregard any advice from us locals.

Kevin Bewick.

Anti-poaching Intelligence Group Southern Africa

reflexivefire.com said...

Well said Eeben. This applies to other regions of the world and other professional subjects as well. -Jack

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your comments, Danco.

Sadly though, if we look deeply into Africa’s problems, it is very apparent that there are those that wish to see an Africa burning – forever.

Your dad served with a good bunch. They saved many lives and did many incredible things with very little. You can be proud of him.

I am incredibly busy but will drop you a line sometime in the near future.

Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very true John. Unfortunately, wearing a good suit and being able to take a country from fragile to failed state is something these people are very good at. Ironically, they continue to pose as specialists and for some reason, seem to get ahead in their profession of conning governments.

Their record of successes amounts to zero, yet they remain in the loop and continue to dispense with bad advice at great financial and political cost to their clients.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

An important comment, Mike. Sadly there were many of these types. They usually had some political or familial tie that prevented them being exposed to danger.

I think these types are in all armies.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You can send your email address to the blog, Caboto. I won’t post it if you mark it as “private”.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A very true reflection of much of what we see on the ground, Herbert. Indeed, they are all around.

These “old hands” do more damage than anything else. We often discuss this amongst ourselves and have realised that many governments don’t really want to hear the truth as the truth can sometimes be less palatable than the lie. So, these clowns get hired and continue to mislead all and sundry.

As someone pointed out earlier, they have no record of success so they resort to name dropping.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I love the comment “this issue empowers Salesmen to impersonate Statesmen”, Lionberger. An absolute truth!!

With the information age, critical thinking seems to be something of the past. It appears quite okay to write any drivel and have it recorded as fact because the internet “says so”.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are correct Bryan and I have been saying this for years - they simply have no desire to achieve any peace as conflict suits them. We who have to navigate our lives around conflict know and understand this.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is something that never ceases to amaze me, Kevin.

As Herbert pointed out in an earlier comment, these people will spend a few days here – sometimes only in the transit lounge – and then are referred to as “Africa hands”. It is rather disturbing to say the least.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I suspect that you too have run into these types, Jack.

If we don't expose them, they will continue dispensing their version of advice and ruin many a government.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I would be very interested Caboto.

As soon as you are ready, please send me your message with an email address where I can reach you.

Rgds,

Eeben