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, August 11, 2013


Numerous people have asked me for my thoughts regarding revolutionary governments.

Indeed, Africa has seen numerous governments come to power through revolutions - some relatively peaceful, some very violent. Invariably, the scars of the revolution remain and left unattended can result in an uprising of the populace or even a counter-revolution.

Without exception, every revolutionary government I have come into contact with is already politically and economically fragile with growing security and stability challenges. Without acknowledging their fragility and taking the necessary actions to strengthen the Pillars of State, they find themselves on the road to failure.  

Some of these revolutions have been internally motivated and some inspired and motivated by foreign interests. Regardless of how they came to power, most African revolutionary governments have similar characteristics. Failure to manage these characteristics can result in the government becoming a failed state.

Many of these governments believe that stability and economic growth “will improve” over time. It seldom does.

As these governments tend to be caught up in the moment, they miss the numerous threats and challenges facing them – until it is almost too late.  This failure results in them ultimately being forced to fight several fires on numerous fronts with little if any significant impact.

The lack of substantial visible improvements to their lot is usually viewed by the populace as an inability of the government – or even a lack of interest - to provide them with much needed security and stability.  This is especially prevalent in the early days of a revolutionary government.

It is, however, the characteristics of a revolutionary government that define its initial weaknesses. I view these characteristics and weaknesses as follows:  

1.     An over optimistic view of the future

2.     A belief that the majority of the populace share their visions for the future

3.     A lack of strategic, operational and tactical intelligence

4.     Lack of – or a fractured grand strategy

5.     Lack of – or a fractured national security strategy

6.     Lack of an acceptable Constitution

7.     A weak central government

8.     Fragmented powerbases

9.     Fragmented popular support

10.  Porous borders

11.  A lack of basic services

12.  A breakdown of law and order coupled to an increase in general and organised crime

13.  The uncontrolled flow of weapons

14.  Strong militia groups, each with their own agenda

15.  Disunity of the security forces coupled to questionable loyalty

16.  The polarisation of popular support that can result in assassinations, bombings, protests etc.

17.  A lack of cohesion, communication and cooperation between the security forces

18.  An increase in Internally Displaced People (IDPs)

Left unattended, these characteristics/weaknesses will result in an increase in negative media reporting, both locally and internationally as both the mainstream and social media exploit the situation. This negative perception results in a lack of inward investments, depriving the new government of much needed foreign investment and economic growth. This creates a ripple-effect across the population and often results in the populace becoming poorer than they were before the revolution.

Additionally, this creates the climate for a counter-revolution to be planned and launched by disgruntled militia groups and sectors of the previous regimes supporters. The counter-revolution will often manifest itself through acts of terror such as assassinations, bombings, an increase in violent crime, attacks against the leadership of the security forces and threats against the political and business leadership.

This volatile situation “empowers Salesmen to impersonate Statesmen” (credit to “Lionberger”s comment on my posting “The Specialists”) who simply add fuel to the fire as these salesmen- with no track record of success - dispense their bad advice at great financial and political cost to the government.  Equally unforgivable is the selling of security equipment to these governments that will have little if any use to securing the State.

Until revolutionary governments acknowledge and manage/rectify their weaknesses and find the correct people to advise and assist them, they will remain fragile and position themselves on the cusp of failure.  


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I got a good comment from Jana but unfortunately she is unable to post it on the blog. Her comment read as follows:

Jana Helzel ‏@Jana_WOB
@EebenBarlow Added: Lack of basic economic understanding (for job creation) & of knowledge about international markets & their correlations.

Jana is quite correct in her comment. However, I explained to her that I regard basic economic understanding as part of education – a basic service a government ought to provide. In terms of a lack of knowledge about international markets, I lay that before the door of a lack of – or a fractured grand strategy. Perhaps I could have made my thoughts clearer.

She also added that it was her belief that a lack of job opportunities was one of the reasons for the failure of the MB government in Egypt.

Thanks for your input Jana.



Unknown said...

Welcome back Eeben.
Points 1 through 18 seem to describe South Africa to a T funnily enough?

We do naturally have a revolutionary government as they love to repeatedly talk of the struggle and even dear old man President loves to sing of his machine gun. Imagine for a moment if Obama broke out into "mshiniwam"? I suspect he would be impeached there and then.

It seems to me that revolutionary governments cannot work, the revolutionaries may be necessary to topple corrupt governments but I do not think that those same revolutionaries should take the reins of power because they are in war mode and to swap from one mind set to another is a tall order.

Soldiers are soldiers and should not be politicians. It is just too easy to turn back to the gun to sort out squabbles with those in opposition parties.

Zimbabwe is a shining example of a failed revolutionary government.

My 2 cents.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the welcome, Mike.

I always enjoy your 2-cents worth – thanks for taking the time to put fingers to keyboard.

I do not agree that our government came to power through revolution, Yes, there was a severe Western- and Eastern -backed movement against South Africa but our current government came to power more through abdication than through revolution. Pointing out that Points 1 to 18 remind you of SA is something I didn’t consider when I wrote the piece. Now that you mention it…

I believe that we are currently on the cusp of a very fragile state and without too much pushing, will become a failed state. I also believe that all the government failures we hear of – and the many we don’t hear of – a revolution is slowly bubbling here as the populace were promised one thing and given another ie very little to nothing. Many townships are openly defiant towards government and they are becoming a powder keg waiting to explode. When anger and numbers tell, we will have a revolution and our country will then be government by a revolutionary government. We are already in the throes of a low-intensity conflict and it could get a lot worse unless government make a monumental effort to change the tide.

I doubt if Obama or any other world leader could spell "mshiniwam" let alone pronounce it.

I believe that revolutionary governments can govern on condition they seek and get the correct advice – and implement it. Too often though, they are misled into accepting and implementing the wrong advice but only realise it when it is too late and they have over-paid for it.

Maybe you are correct that soldiers should not be politicians. However, I would rather have an honourable soldier as a politician than have a politician who made his way up the ladder with bluster and bluff.

On Zimbabwe: No comment. It is after all what the world called for and supported.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You’re welcome, Dave. (Those who wondered what Dave wrote and what language it was – it meant “Thank you, Father/Daddy” in Zulu)

Of course, one can make numerous further deductions on these characteristics and weaknesses.

Whereas I cannot comment on the internal politics of the USA, things do seem to be creating a lot of tensions which may result problems. However, I can understand this as a colleague of mine (he is a South African) who recently returned to the US after babysitting US citizens of a US NGO near to a hostile environment was promptly detained and his laptop confiscated and returned 2 weeks later – having first downloaded everything that was on his laptop. This warped attitude certainly doesn’t win friends.

Governments that come to power through revolutions are certainly faced with numerous problems – and the populace faced with even more. Unless these governments take drastic action, they will simply be undermined and replaced through a counter-revolution.



Herbert said...


Having trouble getting my posting accepted. Hope this one makes it. At any rate, welcome back--missed your thoughtful reflections.

Regarding revolutionary warfare, it seems to me that we all too often end up just trading one tyrant for another--an old saw but it applies. I suspect most of these revolutionaries had that plan in mind all along. Others, having just been handed the reins of a country after a successful revolution, come face-to-face with the realization that they have a very difficult horse which they now must actually ride. They turn to the model they know: tyranny.

The problems and solutions you point out are on target. However, they are rendered meaningless if the revolutionary target was power (and I don't mean the "to the people" variety). The result is the rotating cycle of tyranny with which we are all too familiar. The tragedy is the price the poor people must pay into eternity.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A very true observation, Herbert. It is often the poor that suffer the consequences of a revolution.

I have seen first-hand some revolutionary governments having to grapple with the harsh realities of governance, security and the economy whilst foreign interference and pressures aimed at forcing them to failure or having to clamp-down so hard that ultimately, they find themselves having to govern by force. This can result in the “rotating cycle of tyranny” as you so well put it.

This can additionally (in my opinion) widen the fractures between secular movements and further increase the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

I have come to realise that Africa has become a target where revolution and counter-revolution are primarily driven by outside forces who exploit communities or groups that believe they are being marginalised. This belief is based on what I see and hear – on the ground.

If revolutionary governments do not immediately develop their grand strategy and accompanying security strategies as well as ensure the integrity of their borders/frontiers, they open themselves to being eroded. But with that comes a lot of additional government input such as basic services, job creation and so forth to prevent erosion from within.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Baba is a term of both respect and endearment, Dave. It depends how it is pronounced as many African words have similar spelling but different methods of pronouncement and hence have a different meaning.

If you pronounce it as “Baa-Baa” it is “Father”. If you pronounce it as a short word ie “baba” it can be a respectful way of calling someone “buddy” or “friend”. I will often greet my friends with a “Hey, howzit baba?”

Your SA team-mates weren’t kidding you.



Unknown said...

Just a quick note. SFMEDIC points out how they told the Iraqi to greet people. A thing all dudes in the military get up to.

In Longa base and at Cabo Ledo the FAA recruits wanted to learn an Afrikaans greeting and some of the more diabolical elements taught them to say "Ek dink Eugene Terreblanche is `n piela ou". When they repeated it with big happy smiley faces in unison we broke up with laughter. That was a true Master card PRICELESS moment. They were also taught the first few lines of "Die Stem".

We learned basic Portuguese on a daily basis and they learned true kultuur. The Angolans were a nice bunch except when they shot Leo, RSM Rieme`s Staffie. Then they were not so amusing anymore.

EO was an experience.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

We have all been caught like that, Mike. Suffice to say, I too have been a victim.

However, SFMedic's friends did not lead him up that path of embarrassment.