About Me

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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.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Living in South Africa, I watch with morbid fascination at how the US and China are racing to recapture Africa – the US with AFRICOM and China with business development and investment. Africa, despite its many problems, is increasingly becoming of more strategic interest and importance to both the US and China.

Whereas the approaches these two nations are following differ vastly, their ultimate aim is the same: control over Africa’s strategic resources – especially oil reserves.

The U.S Africa Command (AFRICOM), established in October 2007, is described as being a Unified Combatant Command of the US Department of Defence and is responsible for U.S. military operations and military relations with 53 African nations. This overtly aggressive entrance into Africa has been criticised by many African governments.

The Chinese on the other hand are following a much more passive approach with business development and investment. This approach, too, has been subject to much criticism as some view it as the Chinese colonisation of Africa. Several African governments reject this allegation, claiming that the Chinese have never betrayed or destabilised African countries as the US has – and African governments have long memories.

Additionally, many African governments feel that the Chinese have been open about their desires: control over and exploitation of resources for the ever-hungry Chinese economy. On the other hand, the US is using the route of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) as their entrance key into Africa but underlying this is the need to control Africa’s oil.

To achieve this, the US African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) was transformed into a new programme called the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA). ACOTA’s aim is to “train military trainers and equip African national militaries to conduct peace support operations and humanitarian relief”. To achieve this, ACOTA is contracting US PMCs, some with little or no knowledge of Africa. This, in turn, is going to cause the US more problems in the long run than solutions or influence. But this approach is seen by others to attempt to detract from the US’s plans to militarise their foreign policy.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have financialised their foreign policy with regard to Africa. This includes the identification, procurement and exploitation of resources and strategic commodities. Included in this financial-driven foreign policy are massive credit lines, infrastructure development, export-development and so forth. The latest Chinese export to Africa is the massive Chinese weapons market.

As the war in Iraq winds down, more US PMCs are vying for a stake in ACOTA/AFRICOM. Whereas there is nothing wrong with such a shift in business development, the problem arises when some of these PMCs have no knowledge or experience of the continent. To illustrate this point, I mention some questions I have recently received from US PMCs:

1. Can I help them find someone who speaks “African”? Africa does not have a common language but literally hundreds of languages and dialects.
2. Can I introduce them to someone who has a licence to “carry and use arms” in Africa as they would like to “piggy-back” on such a licence? Africa is a continent with many countries, each with their own laws and regulations – there is no common licence to carry arms.
3. Can I suggest some “good” Third-Country nationals they can use in Africa? We who live in Africa take exception to being referred to as third-world nationals on our own continent…

Whereas questions such as these are very serious cause for concern, they also illustrate a complete lack of even basic geographical and linguistic knowledge of Africa. Furthermore, this is akin to a company with no engineering background or skills tendering for a massive engineering contract and then scrambling to find people who will carry out the contract if they are awarded it.

Whereas I understand something of business, I also understand something of Africa. It is PMCs such as these that will, more than likely, undermine the efficiency of African militaries as opposed to enhancing them. They will bring with them more chance of conflict than of peace and stability. Then of course, there is the concern that these PMCs will train African troops poorly – in case they ever have to face them on the battlefield.

These issues are not unknown to the Chinese who will, no doubt, exploit them to the hilt when the time comes. They suspect that AFRICOM and ACOTA will eventually create additional chaos and destabilisation and that this will give them free rein in Africa. Added to this volatile mix is the knowledge that the US military’s adventures in Africa have not been very successful.

Africa, however, ought to realise that it is the creator of many of its own problems and that these problems have given foreign governments an influence and power they ought never to have had.

But, whether we like it or not, the battle lines between the US and China have been drawn across the sand in Africa. We who live here must now just wait for the final battle for Africa to begin.


Alex said...

Hey Eeben,
Seems to be a another case of an endless cycle; Africa as the playground of more economically and militarily powerful nations. Too much to hope that was left behind with cases like Italy and Abyssinia in the thirties.

The US and China are bound to clash increasingly in the coming century, and since it is unlikely to take place on the home turf of either, Africa seems to make perfect sense for them. The different approaches they seem to be favouring is interesting; the pattern of economic dominance being established by China is, I assume, a serious concern for the US and a threat to their global hegemony. What exactly America plans to do with its AFRICOM could mutate as the situation dictates I suppose, but offering to 'train' African militaries seems a logical first step in order to keep the continent itself (since they seem to view it as a single, coherent entity) from offering much resistance.

Asking for an 'African speaker' is the sort of thing many jokes are based on regarding Americans and their lack of global awareness (and I can think of some other good examples concerning Britain itself). Rather worrying when it is genuinely asked by someone planning to undertake military action there. Referring, in a request to an African, to Africans as 'third-world nationals' does not bode well for the hearts-and-minds element either. What exactly these companies plan to do once they start working in Africa I cannot imagine, but reading some travel books would seem to be a good start.

If Africa and the countries it is comprised of can begin to form a more united front to outside interference then over time perhaps the continent will be seen as more than a convenient arena for competition and a 'neutral' source of resources for whoever can grab them quickest. A possible outcome could be a rough alignment of many African states to either the US or China for whatever reasons, but how likely this is I'm not in a position to speculate, although I imagine it would be severely damaging to Africa in the long run. From here, it seems the continent is divided enough in many places without outside help on that front.

Given all of this, it seems ironic it was EO itself which had charges of 'neocolonialism' leveled at it. This use of US PMCs to export American power seems to be an understated but important part of their foreign policy. If you're in a position to at least point out basics like 'Africa isn't a country', hopefully that will help a little, but their long-term plans will need to remain to be seen. I'll be interested to hear your take on events as they unfold.


UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 4/26/2009, at The Unreligious Right

Phil said...

This is a wonderful entry, Eeben. I never would have thought to have seen the day when the US has become more heavy-handed in its foreign policy than a communist state. The complete lack of knowledge regarding Africa on the PMC's part is astounding. Those questions that you were asked show that they truly are not up to the task if they do not understand even the basics of Africa.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

EO was accused of “neo-colonialism” by the SA/foreign media as part of their campaign against the company, Alex. It also went a long way to prove the stupidity of anyone thinking that a company comprising approx 500 men could colonise Africa. But, we all know that this was done to close EO so that foreign governments could establish their own versions of EO and use these companies to project influence and power – once EO was no longer on the scene.

Africa will become the battleground between the US and China (West vs East) and we already see countries that do not agree with the US under the hammer at the ICC and elsewhere. This will continue but then again, Africa can only blame itself for many of its problems.

I have no problem with a government offering to train African armies, but then at least do a decent job with people who know what they are doing. By giving poor training and weapons to people (I don’t consider them soldiers) can only lead to additional problems.

What will the US do if China establishes a PMC and sends it to Africa with Chinese military support? I think it will lead to a disaster on the continent – as if we don’t have enough disasters already.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks UNRR.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is of concern to me, Phillip. I see what is happening and read the emails sent me and am deeply concerned at what some unknowledgeable PMCs are really going to achieve – in a very negative sense. A question sent to me by one such company asked if I had any experience of working in Africa.

Whereas even those of us who live here have only some understanding, none of us can profess to know everything about this large, complicated continent. Much less so outsiders who think they can dictate solutions.



Robby said...

Eeben...There have been many examples of what happens when the balance of power shifts from one empire to another, after the financial collapse of 1873 the power shift went from England to the US what we are about to see is another power shift from the US to China.

The US much like the British Empire will find that domestic concerns out way international commitments and will be forced to retreat from the global stage leaving the door open to China to fill the void.

Southern Africa holds 90% of the worlds strategic minerals and has always been the prize for those with long term views of world domination,America's problem has always seemed to be seeking short term political solutions (mostly for domestic political gain) at the expense of world stability.

I don't have a time line but as the reality of Americas financial crises deepens we are that much closer to this shift.The time for me to leave America and return is getting closer by the day :-)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are very correct in stating that the balance of power plays a huge role on the longevity of empires. Robby. But, for an empire such as the US to maintain its position on the world stage, it needs to carefully consider its actions and associate them with long-term planning – not wishy-washy domestic policies.

Whereas the countless US betrayals of Africa in general and South Africa in particular does not make me anti-American, it does make me very wary of anything the US says and does in Africa. Like many others, I have lived through one betrayal too many. Trust then becomes increasingly difficult.

China is definitely on the rise and will pose a serious problem to the US’s plans in Africa. But, as we know, they are both approaching this in different manners. South Africa has always stood alone and, despite the many attempts to turn it into a failed State, my hope is that it will continue to stand and not allow itself to be bullied into selling its soul.

The US’s short-term plans re South Africa’s strategic minerals did not pay off in the long-term. But such is the result of bad planning and ignorance.



bulletbunny said...

the chinese seem to have a very simple, highly workable method of dealing with Africa: it gives Africa what it wants and then takes from Africa what it needs. there is a brutal honesty about it you just can't beat. perhaps that is what the americans have to learn: you can get a lot further with a smile and a chequebook than you can with pretend-we-give-a-shit projects behind which all levels of shameless destabilisation takes place. barlow understands africa. the americans would do well to heed his warnings. but,...a little bird tells me the chinese are already talking to barlow...once again they are a few steps ahead...

Robby said...

To critazise America does not make one Anti-American ergo I love my country but hate the government concept.Besides its only your best friends that tell you that you have bad breath.

This just crossed the news wires

US 'on track' to double aid to Sub-Saharan Africa

The United States is "on track" on its pledge to double development aid to Sub-Saharan Africa by next year, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told world finance officials Sunday.

"I want to affirm that the United States is on track to meet its Gleneagles Commitments to double Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to Sub-Saharan Africa by 2010," Geithner told the joint development committee of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

US overseas development aid reached 7.6 billion dollars in 2008, "putting us close to our goal of 8.7 billion dollars by 2010," he said in a statement.

The United States and other major economies of the Group of Eight pledged significant increases in aid to the developing world at a meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005.

The US proposed to double its aid to Sub-Saharan Africa between 2004 and 2010.

Geithner recalled that at the Group of 20 London summit in early April, US President Barack Obama had pledged to work with Congress to substantially boost US aid measures.

The Obama administration wants to "provide nearly half a billion dollars in immediate assistance to vulnerable populations and double support for agricultural development to more than one billion dollars in 2010 so that we can give people the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty," he said.

Robby said...

Forgot to add this .... talking about the new defined "domestic terrorists" in the US ...needless to say I fall into this broad brushed group

Napolitano: Veterans are Targets of Right-Wing Extremist Recruiters

The head of homeland security said Sunday she regrets that some people took offense over a report warning that right-wing extremist groups were trying to recruit disgruntled troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Secretary Janet Napolitano added that "a number of groups far too numerous to mention" want to commit domestic terrorism attacks and are looking for new recruits.

She told a cable news network the warning report that went out to American law enforcement agencies was consistent with reports that were issued before.

"Here is the important point. The report is not saying that veterans are extremists. Far from it. What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremist groups that are trying to recruit those to commit violent acts within the country. We want to do all we can to prevent that," she said.

The intelligence assessment released to law enforcement on April 7 claims news of recession, the election of an African American president, rumors of new gun restrictions and the inability of veterans to reintegrate create fertile ground for radicalizing and recruiting right-wing extremists

Of particular interest among radicals is possible recruitment of returning troops with "combat skills and experience" so as to boost their "violent capabilities," the report said.

It added that new restrictions on gun ownership and the difficulty of veterans to reintegrate into their communities "could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I like your comment “It gives Africa what it wants and takes from Africa what it needs”, Bulletbunny. That is exactly what is happening in Africa.

The US will never listen to us Third Country Nationals, no matter what. Instead, they will charge in and suffer the consequences of their actions – and then wonder where it all went wrong. That is the saddest thing to me, as young Americans will find themselves the victims of their own government’s mess.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Interesting, Robby. I wonder if the funds will only be available for US companies and what the political strings attached will be? Let’s wait and see before we pass judgement.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Old saying, “what you sow you will reap”, Robby. Unfortunately, governments do not care about their soldiers after the wars have been fought. Before going into battle, promises are made - only to be forgotten as quickly as possible. The soldiers are always victims of the politicians and their paranoia.

But, that is also social discrimination against men who have risked their lives for a flawed foreign policy. Truly sad.



JoExplorer said...


Many Thanks for addressing this issue



Robby said...

Been going on for a long time after WW1 Gen Douglas MacArthur lead a cavlary charge in DC against the so called "Bonus Marches" these vets just wanted the bonus promised (
Veterans up to the rank of major with at least 60 days service each promised a dollar for each day of domestic service up to $500 and $1.25 for each day of overseas service up to $625.)

Nam vets were given short shift over "agent orange" Vets from Gulf War1 are still fighting for health benefits from effects of depleted uranium,and in today's military vets are committing suicide in record numbers...truly sad

Sorry for straying off topic

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Truly sad, Robby. But it just proves my point.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are most welcome, Joe.



Anonymous said...

Hi Eeben,

This was an interesting read.

I believe that it will be hard to tell what the current US government will do when it comes to Africa as a continent. They may leave AFRICOM alone and let it continue its current strategy or they may remove it or reduce it and shift the money to US NGOs to work in Africa with no true military goal in mind. Depending on the current economic situation in the US it may let all aid to Africa dwindle both humanitarian and military. The current administration really loves the UN and “global cooperation”

I agree with Robby that China will fill in the gap where the US is leaving. The US may remain for another year or so in strength because the money has been spent, but there is a good chance that it will lesson it signature on the continent if the internal economic situation worsens. China is spending what use to be US money in Africa and Latin America on hard assets, such as, mines and oil wells. I really do not know if there will be a war in Africa between China and the US, but there is a good chance that China wins by default because of other US issues.

It does not totally shock me that PMCs from the US are acting like many high tech firms in the US, i.e., subcontracting. You’ll find that many people in the US these days, especial managers and politicians, know how to move people, but they don’t know the work. The key is they are always in a hurry, never plan, and then they do not understand why things did work. Here is a link to a story talking about contractors providing poor services to the US military in Iraq.


In the US, many people born after 1975 know a lot about a little and little about anything specific. I’m ratting out my generation (born 1978) because I’ve seen it many times and it is dangerous and discouraging. Things have been very good in the US and people are more “experiential” now. Let me use US missionaries as an example. Many of the missionary’s I knew that were my parents’ and grandparents’ age learned the language and culture of the countries they ministered to and stayed for 1 to 3 years. Now people do “short term” missions, so they can “feel” like they saw culture when they milked a goat with a black man and go home and talk about it passionately. Many politicians and business leaders are the same and it is dangerous for us regular Americans. We are getting the government we deserve in some way, but I do not feel I deserve it.

If you want a book that explains the foreign policy/interaction process better read, The Ugly American. It was written in the 1950s, but it is so applicable to what you’re talking about in this posting. The title sounds “Anti-American”, but it contains examples of good Americans and bad Americans.

Andrew - PDX

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Given the fact that AFRICOM is so far removed from Africa, I think your assumption may not be that far off the mark, Andrew and that it might one day morph into some giant US NGO controlled by the US government. (That will put an interesting slant on the term “NGO”). Obviously, that damp squib known as the UN would flourish if they could lay their hands on more money as they too would be able to give themselves salary increases for doing a lot more of nothing.

The military field is very different from other industries as a mistake can lead to the collapse of a government and the loss of many lives. That is where my concern lies when wannabe PMCs enter the playing field. They can cause massive damage that can never be recouped. For a PMC, a thorough understanding of warfare in all of its facets, skill, experience, leadership, planning and absolute control are paramount. Without that, they cannot function effectively.

Your point on “short term” experiences making people think they understand something – in this case Africa – is well taken.

“The Ugly American” was a great read. I agree that we get good and bad in all nations. Pity that our leadership don’t agree with that…



simon said...

Well, I finished reading a book by CIA station chief Larry Devlin on the Congo. Surely it was half truths and just a thumbnail sketch of what really went on. America has never been successful in Africa.

Its policy skips over basic premises of culture. American forays into Africa have always ended in betrayal and failure. Quite frankly, as I allude to in my second section of Americans in Rhodesia on my blog ( working on the third section, slow going )there is a disconnect on issues of race and self determination.

In the 70's/80-90's, the battle wasnt against al qaeda, it was grappling with its own issues of race and civil rights and black/white issues. This country cant seem to ever get over comparing its own self to others.

I have a friend who watched Blood Diamond with me and have heard comments from people who have served in africa on it. The most telling part of the movie for my friend who doesnt know much about africa or its issues is that the black and white were in the mess together. There wasnt too many steps in between them.

America has pursued policies in Rhodesia and South Africa based on our own problems between black and white. We tried to force civil rights American style in Africa.

Its egotistical and naive to tell a young rhodesian who grew up on a farm there and had his family raped and slaughtered or a young man drafted or volunteered to spill his blood in angola that he isnt african and that the source of problems is him and his 'people'.

We dont know the policies of the new administration on Africa. It isnt going to be something discussed in prime time press conferences. I fear that under the guise of GWOT the US might end up installing the wrong people in power and arming people who go bad because of their political agenda and what is politically correct.

China...I wont go on. It's a revival of the cold war with a new player.

Unknown said...

Bush got Africa right, he successfully pushed out Charles Taylor, treated each country and region individually, rather than addressing the continent as a whole, and focused on providing solutions when asked to do so, rather than interventionism. Security Sector Reform in Liberia has worked astonishingly well, and AFRICOM's purpose of developing military-to-military ties in the name of stabilization is not much different than what EO did.

Obama continued the Clinton-era policy of intervention to preserve the status quo, and will have similar results--Clinton backed Museveni, Kaibila, and Kagame, and kept a lid on Central Africa. When he left for a while, the second congo war was an explosion of the tensions that had simmered in an environment not unlike the 'Ceasefire' you railed against in an earlier post.

The Chinese pay bribes without protest, spread corruption, import their own unskilled labor for many tasks, and bribe the locals to keep the media out. When a poverty-striken village in Cameroon is told 'we want to build you a football stadium and give you jobs cutting trees, but if journalists find out about the standards you're working in, we will have to leave', what do you think happens?

Obama policy so far is neocolonial and does not give Africans the respect they deserve. At least Bush believed in African solutions for African problems, and treated each individual country as a separate entity. China, if allowed to take hold, will do as much, or more evil than colonialism.

ken borr said...

Dear Eeben,

Unfortunately, this sounds to me like a repeat of history. I would
hope that AFRICOM can do a better service for africa than our CIA did
in the 50's and 60's. However, it
puzzles me that the world sits back
and does nothing about the chaos in
the sudan. Nor can they comprehend
what makes a teenager get in a
rickety boat with an ak to take on
a cargo ship. There are more than
a few uninformed pmc's out there.
It's more like whole governments,
companies, and NGO's. If you ask
me a commie is a commie. Africa is
just facing one with a different name playing the same game the russians used to play. I wish
my fellow americans can wake up. And I am sure that some of them are
but my government is playing this game with the wrong play book.
On the other hand, I also disagree
with the movement of one africa, one nation (under Islam). I do believe that it is up to all african countries to sit down and find common ground, goals,
and solutions to the problems that
they face on the continent without
any or limited outside help. Thus,
the best solution to the problem
of east or west? Is to have a strong Africa. One that can develop itself without any outside
intervention and can stand up to
any outside influence.

regards ken

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Blogging can be a tedious slog, Simon, but keep it up – I look forward to reading your next post.

Whereas there is a lot of negativity in Africa towards the US, it is not a lost cause. But as long as the US helps on one hand and betrays with the other, the situation will not improve. That said, democracy as it is known in the West can never really be applied with great success in Africa due to deep-rooted tribal customs, leadership and culture. White and black who live in Africa are aware of that – and we all find ourselves having to live with one another. I wish others would realise that.

My heart bleeds when I see the mess that Africa causes for itself. But, the continent has to learn to stand on its own without hand-outs with strings attached, no matter from whom. But, backing the “wrong horse” will lead to an even longer-term disaster as far as I am concerned.

Let’s see what the new administration does in Africa.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There are many things about the Bush administration regarding Africa that were good, Sigurdur. There was a lot of aid and support. As regards AFRICOM, we have yet to see what it will really do and achieve. I know that I criticise a lot but then I think I have seen enough to have my doubts.

I still believe that the US has militarised it foreign policy towards Africa and the Chinese have financialised theirs. That is going to lead to a clash – and Africa will become victim again as it has not learnt how to utilise its resources to its advantage.

That said, I agree that there are unscrupulous Chinese companies doing business in Africa – but there are likewise unscrupulous Western companies doing business in Africa. Corruption comes from both East and West.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I realise that One Africa, One Nation is a pipe-dream, Ken, as this is a very diverse continent. But I see myself as an Africa, albeit a white African, and am deeply concerned about what is happening in Africa. Despite being a very wealthy continent, it wallows in poverty and continually needs to prostitute itself to get aid. That aid, regardless from where it comes, has political strings attached to it. In turn, those strings negate any influence it could have on its own destiny.

History continues to repeat itself in Africa but there is a lot of nudging from outside to ensure it does so. The conflict brings many advantages to those who watch from foreign shores. Maybe one day, Africa will realise that it can fend for itself. I hope this happens in my lifetime.



Anton de Winter said...

Hi Eeben,

I have two questions:
1) Should we (Africa) embrace what the Chinese are attempting to do? Surely all this foreign investment can only help African nations develop into 'first world' countries?
2)Is there any hope for the African Union? I never really hear anything about what they're doing...

Africa has so much potential as continent. We have so many natural and human resources going to waste. I wish there was something I could do to help bring a positive change but, being a white South African, it would seem that chances of that are slim. Do you have any advice?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Those are good questions, Anton. I certainly don’t profess to have most of the answers but I do know that Africa had better find them rather quickly.

I think that governments ought to weigh up the pros and cons of all investments, regardless from where they come. Insofar as Chinese investments go, they have done a lot of good for Africa and several African countries are much better off now than they were before the Chinese arrived.

The AU is in my opinion a good idea but is fraught with problems, especially on the military front. Yes, not too much is written about the AU but then again, when one investigates the behaviour of SANDF troops detached to the AU, one soon realises that all is definitely not well and that in such an instance “no publicity is better than any publicity”.

Africa is the continent with the most potential. As you rightly point out, we have huge resources – yet we remain in a state of chaos and poverty – something that suits everyone beyond our shores. Africa's riches are also its curse. When Africa tries to help itself, it draws international criticism and condemnation – in order to allow the foreign critics to rather do in Africa what Africa wants to do for itself. As Africans, we are even thought of as Third Country Nationals – on our own continent. Such discrimination against us beggars belief.

I can understand your frustration at being unable to do much in order to bring about positive change but the majority of our problems are our own fault. My only advice is to remain positive and try to make the best of what we can.



Alan said...

Eeben: I thought this article out of today's Pak Daily Times might be of interest.

Regards, Alan

Taliban moving from Pak-Afghan border to Africa

* US officials say Somalia on path to becoming next Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: Evidence is growing that Taliban are filtering out of havens along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and into East Africa, bringing sophisticated terror tactics including suicide attacks.

The alarming shift, according to US military and counterterror officials, fuels worries that Somalia increasingly is on a path to become the next Afghanistan, a sanctuary where Al Qaeda-linked groups could train and plan their attacks against the West.

So far, officials say the number of foreign fighters who had moved from southwest Asia and the Pak-Afghan border region to the Horn of Africa was small, perhaps two to three dozen.

A similarly small cell of plotters was responsible for the devastating 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And the cluster of extremists now believed to be operating inside East Africa could pass on sophisticated training and attack techniques gleaned after seven years at war against the US and allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, US officials said.

“There is a level of activity that is troubling, disturbing,” US Gen William “Kip” Ward, head of US Africa Command, told AP, adding that American officials already were seeing extremist factions in East Africa sharing information and techniques.

Several military and counterterror officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters, cautioned that the movements of Al Qaeda does not suggest an abandonment of the ungoverned Pakistan border region as a haven.

Instead, the shift is viewed by the officials more as an expansion of Al Qaeda’s influence, and a campaign to gather and train more recruits in a region already rife with militants.

Last month, Osama Bin Laden had made it clear in an audiotape that Al Qaeda had set its sights on Somalia, an impoverished and largely lawless country in the Horn of Africa. In the 11-minute tape released on the Internet, Bin Laden is heard urging Somalis to overthrow their new president and to support their jihadist “brothers” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and Iraq. Officials said in recent years they had seen occasional signs that sophisticated Al Qaeda terror techniques were gaining ground in East Africa.


Unknown said...

Hi Eeben

I do agree that Africa is to be blame for its own problems. Of course the interference from the East and the West with motives of their own wont help this continent.
You are right though to say that China has done more for this continent so far than the West ever did, unfortunately.
It is still sad though that most of the African leaders will rather pocket most of the money than helping its hungry, starving and uneducated peoples, but at the moment I guess that it will take a lot to change that mindset.
My biggest fear for the intervention of the West in Africa through all their programs – Africom, Acota etc. is that they will make the same mistakes as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They knew nothing of the people and their cultures and came in with no plan. Dissolving military and police and making the situation even worse than it was before they came.
Then after toppling “the bad people” and putting the “good people” in power, they later switched sides again, arming and paying the “bad people” who they toppled in the first place to fight the even “worst people” who emerged as a result of their own mistakes and shortcomings and lack of proper planning.

Now imagine a continent with lots of different people, languages and cultures. How on earth will they mange this if they could not do this in two countries?

How do they want to train police and armies if they had totally failed in Iraq? I recall the total failure of DynCorp training the Iraqi police, yet they got the same contract in Afghanistan worth $318 mil.
I suppose companies like that will get these sought after African contracts, because it seems like the only criteria for them to win a new contract is to have failed on all other previous contracts.

Then of course you are right again looking at the perspective of the East and West in entering Africa. The East with its economic drive and the West with its military vision. This I read on the MSNBC news – “Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward, head of U.S. Africa Command, says there is growing evidence that extremists are filtering out of safe havens along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and into East Africa.”

I guess this little paragraph says it all.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very interesting article, Alan. Many thanks. When I read it I must confess that I was initially a bit taken aback as I have been telling my friends that something like this was going to happen. No one believed me...



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are quite correct in saying that there is corruption in Africa, John. However, some of the corruption recently exposed beyond Africa makes corruption in Africa look small at times…But, as you rightly point out, poverty and hunger will be with us for a long time to come – or at least until there is a shift in mind-set or until we learn to stand on our own. Something that isn’t impossible but will not happen in the short- to medium-term.

I too am concerned about all of these “aid” programmes as again, I have seen some of the resultant chaos that stemmed from them. Whereas we all make mistakes, not learning from them borders on the criminal when lives and countries are at stake. When this is followed up with the betrayal of people and the backing of the “bad guys” to overthrow those who were put in power by whatever means (and acknowledged as the legitimate government), it all becomes a bit sick.

A continent as diverse as Africa will present many obstacles. If one knows how to overcome those obstacles, all good and well. It is when one doesn’t even know that there is an obstacle looming that the problems begin.

Regarding the performance (or lack thereof by certain PMCs in Iraq) I am equally astonished. It would appear that nothing breeds success as well as failure does in the awarding of contracts. But, as you say, these are the companies that are earmarked to “do Africa”.

As regards the shifting of terror networks: This is something I said to some people a while ago. As the indications were there for all to see, this doesn’t come as any surprise to me.



He of difficult days said...

If the USA loses its grip on Africa, will the USA come crawling back to whiteys in SA? Jan Lamprecht once claimed that the USA could come back to Africa seeking whitey's assitance.

If they do, we deserve to kick em in the teeth and shove the writings of Dr Richard Cummings down the their throats.

It disgusted me to read how the the Americans, who are fighting this socalled war on terror, yet they have blatantly admitted to sponsoring terrorism in SA.

The CIA admitted in Dr Cummins' writings that the CIA sponsored the PAC. The PAC and others were responsible for blowing up a movie theatre in down town JHB where members of my family were victims.

The USA comes across as selfish and I cab believe your claims that the USA and the West dicredited you in order to pave the way for your removal and EOs removal.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I doubt if the US will ever ask white Africans for any help HoDD. Instead, it would rather forget such people existed and do their own thing, regardless of the outcome.

The US, through some of its agencies, sponsored terrorism for a long time in Africa, especially against SA. Ultimately, the aim was to remove all hope of a peaceful solution in SA and additionally destabilise Southern Africa. Their support, especially in the initial years, to the PAC is well documented. It was also the US that worked at spreading terrorism in South Africa making use of bombs in restaurants, churches, streets, etc as well as landmines. What goes around, comes around…Unfortunately, most Americans are blissfully unaware of that exactly their government is up to and how these covert actions impact on their existence.



Jake said...

I am not convinced that either the U.S. nor the Chinese method will be effective in the long term.

Certainly the U.S. approach is doomed. The Chinese approach is perhaps more ideal but simply trading with African nations is not likely to dramatically improve the lives of most Africans since the governments with which the Chinese are trading (or the large Corps which control resource rights) do not have the capacity or the willingness in some cases to use those revenues to help the citizenry in any substantial way.

Despite the fact that the ACOTA program has U.S. State Department ties this effort is disconnected from political/diplomatic capacity building.

I approach this from the initial standpoint that African are human beings and as such are no less smart/capable than any other anywhere else. If you accept that premise then it seems to me that after nearly 50 years of active donorship and countless billions (if not trillions at this stage) has done little to significantly improve the quality of life for millions of Africans. So if the student (the African) is just as capable of learning as an Asian or a European or anyone else then we have consider that there is a problem with 'the teacher' or the 'curriculum'.

I still believe we need a completely different model for African countries given the plunder that the U.S. and Europe have committed against them. We need country-to-country joint-ventures where an African country seeks out a more developed nation and signs a multi-decade accord where-by in exchange for African resources the partner country will deliver infrastructure and capacity for self-governance. But this must be done on African terms and conditions.

Just one man's opinion.


He of difficult days said...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...
I doubt if the US will ever ask white Africans for any help HoDD.


What you say is hard core. Do you know of any literature where this is all documented?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I wrote that “I doubt if…” – I did not write that “I read if…”, HoDD.

I base that comment on what I have seen and experienced. Nothing more, nothing less.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Well argued, Jake.



Jeff ( Va. Rebel ) said...

Regrettably, I have not had the time to keep up lately. But I have been told a post was done or mention was made of the AWB ... I would be interested in reading if anyone could direct me there. Thanks.

matt said...


I laughed when I read those questions some PMC asked you. Amazing. They are lucky you didn't name their company, just to shame them on an open forum. I am all about guys talking to the experts if they are itching for an answer they can't find, but at least knock out some basic research before wasting people's time. Better yet, they could just read the book and this blog before saying anything. Phew. -matt

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There wasn’t a posting on the AWB, Jeff. I must admit that I also cannot recall anyone commenting on it but perhaps I am mistaken?



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I will never purposely try to embarrass a PMC Matt, unless they are actually working on a contract and fluff it up or are incompetent.

We all work at taking a shortcut somewhere along the line and I assume I was seen as that shortcut to give an immediate answer. But I too had to laugh when I read the questions. But, I have had even worse which I didn’t even bother responding to or answering. To some, basic geography is totally lacking.



Alan said...


To those who have said the "US will do nothing to assist the White African," you are entirely, and most regretfully correct. I must qualify the statement however by saying it is our "elected" politicians and acadamia over much of the last 35 years who have created and nutured the mind-set of "old white men" as evil colonialists and capitalists, and everyone else a victim. They firmly believe the only route to the very poplular theme of "setting the captives free" is through Black Economic Empowerment or essentially total Black Empowerment. We call it Affirmative Action here, but it's a perd of the same colour. This transformation has taken place not because our leaders actually believe in it, it exists due to political epediency and the need to lock-in dedicated voting blocks. Until most recently, it has been about power and money, not colour. Now at last, colour is a full fledged member of the power and money team.

Needless to say, there exists and has existed for many years, a great schism in the US between the left and the right, the North and the South, the believer and the non-beleiver. It is a complex problem with very deep roots. A problem of which we here are keenly aware, and one from which there may be no soon recovery. The groot olifant in the living room is the question of what we here in the US will do about it.

In the mean time, we are kith in kin. Like us or not, we are your brothers. You have stood bravely and suffered greatly with us in many conflicts. We salute you. Bid vir ons asseblief, en ons vir u.

Groete, Alan

Alan said...

A "helpless" UN...? Who knew?

UN helpless as armed groups recruit child soldiers
By Inter Press Service

Friday, May 01, 2009

UNITED NATIONS: The UN remains virtually helpless as an increasing number of armed groups - described as "non-state actors" - continue to exploit, abuse and deliberately harm children in battle zones in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

A particularly gruesome incident took place last November when Taliban militants in Afghanistan attacked a group of girls en route to school by throwing acid on their faces. According to a UN report, the militants were reportedly paid 100,000 Pakistani rupees ($1,246) for each girl they were able to burn.

In May last year, insurgents in Iraq apparently strapped explosives to a young girl and remotely detonated her as she approached an Iraqi Army command post in Yousifiyah, according to the UN study.

In September, a 15-year-old boy blew himself up among pro-government militia members in northern Baghdad, and in November, a 13-year-old girl blew herself up at a checkpoint in Baquba.

The study, which was the subject of a debate in the

The study, which was the subject of a debate in the Security Council Wednesday, also criticizes the recruitment and use of child soldiers, mostly by non-state actors in countries such as Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burma (Myanmar), Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Uganda. Recruitment of child soldiers by government forces occurs mostly in Myanmar, Chad and DRC, the report said.

The armed groups that deploy child soldiers include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the National Liberation Army in Colombia, and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

Asked how the United Nations could remedy the situation, or rein in non-state armed groups, Joost R. Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group told IPS there is "no easy answer" to the question.

"I doubt the United Nations could do anything about it other than highlighting the issue and reinforcing the ban on the use of children in conflict, especially for such nefarious purposes," he said.

In a statement released Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Security Council to impose sanctions on governments and armed groups for variety of crimes, including the use of child soldiers, sexual violence against children and attacking schools. The council should also promote effective prosecution of the commanders responsible for such abuse, HRW said.

In his report to the Security Council, UN chief Ban Ki-moon identified some 56 governments and armed groups from 14 countries who are accused of violating international laws prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

For example, she said, the UN secretary general announced last year that several non-state actors in Ivory Coast had signed and implemented action plans to end their use of child soldiers. This year, the secretary general's report notes that two non-state actors in Myanmar had signed voluntary deeds of commitment to end their use of child soldiers and had sought to complete action plans with the UN (but were blocked from doing so by the Burmese government). Two years ago, Becker said, recorded cases of child recruitment by the LTTE also noticeably dropped after the Security Council said that it would consider further action if the Sri Lanka-based group did not show improvement during a six-month period.

"Many non-state actors desire legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, and may be persuaded that recruiting and using child soldiers undermines their credibility," she added. The fact that the recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 is now considered a "war crime" may also influence some commanders who do not want to risk criminal prosecution to stop using child soldiers. "To be sure," said Becker, "some non-state actors do not care about international legitimacy or criminal prosecution, but for others, these can be effective arguments for changing their practices." In its report, the UN also points out that in Iraq non-state armed groups are allegedly using children to support operations such as transporting improvised explosive devices, acting as lookouts for other armed actors and as suicide bombers.

The study cites the case of a 15-year-old girl, a would-be suicide bomber in Iraq, who was arrested while still wearing an explosive vest. She was apparently married to an alleged Al-Qaeda militant at the age of 14, after leaving school at the age of 11. Both her father and her brother had allegedly been suicide bombers.

At a press conference last week, Undersecretary General Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, told reporters her office continued to face obstacles in negotiating action plans with some non-state actors because the countries concerned were denying access. This was particularly true in Burma, she added. Among the significant developments last year, she said, was the "de-listing" of the Ugandan government, after it successfully embarked on an action plan with the United Nations country team on the removal of children from its armed forces.

Coomaraswamy said "some positive progress" had also been reported among the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal in Sri Lanka, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, and the Forces Nationales de Liberation in Burundi.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Their incompetence, inefficiency and plain uselessness defies all belief, Alan. No wonder they are feared wherever they deploy – as they are sure to bring even more misery and suffering to those they so loudly claim to be assisting.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is a sad fact that successive US administrations have betrayed Africans of all races, colours and creeds, Alan. Whereas many of us recognise the fact that it is not the American people but the American governments who are doing this, we remain cautious when we hear the next great US plan for Africa.

When South African answered the call to duty in previous wars, we came and fought alongside those we considered to be our brothers. But sadly, those were always very one-sided relationships. We realise that such is the game of foreign interests and international politics but we in Africa need to realise what we are faced with and take every measure to ensure that Africa does not again suffer a US betrayal.

I hope that one day that will happen.



Jeff ( Va. Rebel ) said...

Eeben - my mistake and apologies. I took the word of an uninformed youngster evidently trying to stir the pot. Thank you sir.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No need to apologise, Jeff. Besides, we all make mistakes – me more than most probably.



Aethyr said...

Hello Eeben,

its been a while since I last visited your blog. Like always I appreciate your precise analysis, but I have on question regarding this new oncoming conflict between the US and China on african soil.

Where does France fit in this picture. I figure the French are still interested to keep their influence in Africa. Do you think they will become insignificant in the coming years?


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good to know you still visit us, David.

The French, in my opinion, have always been a “dark horse” in terms of their plans and actions in Africa. However, we saw the hand of the French in Madagascar recently so they will certainly do what they can to maintain their hold on matters, especially in their old colonies. They have also been rather active in Central Africa albeit sometimes at a semi-covert manner. Because of that, I doubt that they will ever become insignificant in Africa.

My guess is that they will, when the dice is thrown, side with the US and the West. Not because they want to but because circumstance may force them to do so.



oalee said...

Hello Eeben:

I have recently found your blog and have been reading your archives with interest. I am a US national, although by circumstance I have spent most of my life in East Asia. I am a layman in these issues, and I would be interested to hear what you think of my opinion.

From my observation, US foreign policy is enslaved by domestic politics. The anti-war left is crippled by political correctness, which skews their reality, makes them unwilling to countenance military force, and generally submissive to predations from any non-white group. The warhawk-right is overly confident in the morality of American power, unquestioning in its strategic and tactical application, and too willing to shrug off the unintended consequences. This creates a schizophrenic situation where the US is needlessly aggressive in creating an AFRICOM, yet spineless and ineffective in meeting African security needs, such as fighting pirates.

US foreign policy is most effective when the domestic political factions remain unaware, giving the government freedom to act in a pragmatic, un-ideological way. The use of PMCs is part of that shift. Unfortunately, with the growing numbers of “public-policy” graduates from elite American institutions, a cadre of highly-intelligent, ideologically-motivated, yet hopelessly naïve technocrats are slowly extending their domestic political feuds into foreign policy. Witness the recent storm over CIA drones operating in Pakistan.

In contrast, China is morally untroubled about her African involvement. As an ethnic Chinese, I feel I can speak freely about the Chinese. Chinese are deeply racist, and will never treat black Africans as equals. However, the Chinese seek to deal with Africans on a purely quid pro quo, self-interested basis, and this is less humiliating than the paternalistic condescension of the “compassionate” West. Further, Chinese are adept at hiding contempt and building easy rapport – this is the lifeblood of Chinese business. Lastly, and this cannot be underestimated, the Chinese have a living memory of hardship. The average Chinese businessman grew up in poverty unimaginable to Americans. This creates a laconic, unsentimental nature that is appealing to African leaders who are themselves no strangers to hardship.

It is hard to know what the future may hold, but I believe the Chinese will follow their Burmese model for creating client states. The Chinese are more patient and subtle than the Russians, so I don’t really expect a repeat of the Middle-East proxy war. Rather, I expect that the Chinese will expand their influence in a fairly uninhibited manner. PACOM watched the increasing reach of China in SE Asia without response, and I expect AFRICOM to be similarly ineffective. The demands of US domestic politics are simply too constricting. When the American Left wakes up to fact that America no longer has the luxury of playing politically correct games, and the American Right sees that US power has limits, then perhaps we will see a new realism in US foreign policy.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your very insightful assessment of the situation, Originally Altoids. I am sure that many of our readers will find your view fascinating.

Insofar as the US is concerned, it is difficult for me to comment. However, from what I read, hear and see, I think you are correct in your summation. Domestic politics drives foreign policy to the extent that it is hampering the US – especially in Africa. I had the pleasure of spending some time with a very senior officer of an African army a few weeks ago and he said to me that he is so sick of political correctness – as he is often a victim of PC. He believes that they are told what the teller (either American or European) “thinks” they want to hear and the end result is that it comes across as both arrogant and condescending. Of course, with all of this “touchy-feely” stuff from the US and Europe, rebel forces now have human rights that exceed the human rights of those they victimise. Added to that is a total misunderstanding of the very diverse cultures, traditions and beliefs in Africa where this is not only seen as naive but also as a sign of great weakness. Being an African, albeit a Paleface, I agree entirely with them.

Prior to the Olympics, I spent some time in China with Chinese military officers and found them charming and engaging. To their credit, they were very direct about how they view the world and particularly Africa – which is where I live and where my interest and concern lies. China needs resources. Africa has resources. “Let’s strike a deal we can all live with”. Africa leaders, who as you say, are no strangers to hardships, accept this kind of straight-talking. Given the current economic muscle of China, China is able to buy what it wants in Africa without any public oversight committees hampering the process or slowing it down. This brings me to the point: there are certain things the public should not always be fully aware of. China has that luxury – the West doesn’t. Who is actually then being disadvantaged? I think that the sentiments that exist in the West are hampering their progress in Africa.

I had to smile when I read your comment “growing numbers of “public-policy” graduates from elite American institutions, a cadre of highly-intelligent, ideologically-motivated, yet hopelessly naïve technocrats are slowly extending their domestic political feuds into foreign policy”. Although I can only speak from the point-of-view of my old company, the naivety was at times shocking as the main concerns were always “what about the poor rebels – they are fighting for democracy” – when in fact, they were nothing but armed criminal gangs roaming the countryside causing death and destruction wherever they went.

AFRICOM, on the other hand, does have a positive role to play on the continent. But, again it is hampered by the domestic politics of the US which directly upsets any well-intentioned foreign policies. What few people seem to realise that Africa itself is fighting a battle against failed policies – and will continue to fight these battles until a line is drawn in the sand. In turn, this brings the concept of Western-style “democracy” into the equation. It is a foreign concept in Africa and has resulted in numerous problems in Africa. Of course, any rebel group that claims to be democratic is immediately loved in the West, regardless of their actions. Anyone who opposes the rebels is viewed as “anti-West”. This attitude has created a large amount of suspicion towards the West in particular in Africa.

That is just how I view things from my little perch.