Last Hurrah or Sign of the Future? The Performance of South African Mercenaries against Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

AIS Tips and Trends: The African Security Report

June 30, 2015

Earlier this year, Nigeria’s military fortunes brightened suddenly and unexpectedly in the midst of what at first appeared to be a disastrous campaign against the forces of Boko Haram. Though the arrival of new weapons and equipment played a role in this reversal, it now appears that the three-month deployment of South African mercenaries as military trainers and even participants in the fighting in northeastern Nigeria played a major role in enabling Nigeria’s demoralized army to begin expelling Boko Haram militants from their newly occupied territories. While a change in government in Abuja has brought an end to their mission, the evident success of these private military contractors has raised new questions regarding the utility and desirability of using mercenaries in situations where national militaries have failed to make progress against insurgents and terrorists.[1]

SA Mercs 1

Reva Mark III Armored Personnel Carriers operated by South African military contractors in Maiduguri

Lack of political will at the highest levels of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government was largely responsible for the failure of Nigeria’s security services to contain the Boko Haram threat. With the movement seizing new territory and captured arms almost daily, Jonathan suddenly found himself running out of time before the March 2015 presidential election to deal with a file he had done his best to ignore. Something had to be done about Boko Haram quickly, and the president turned to an almost inconceivable solution; the introduction of white and black mercenaries to reverse the fortunes of the Nigerian military, once considered one of the continent’s strongest, but now apparently unable to crush a local rebellion by religious extremists.

While the participation of Nigeria’s Chadian and Nigerien neighbors in a military campaign against the terrorists could be explained by the regional nature of the Boko Haram threat, formally calling on a foreign power to restore order in northeast Nigeria just prior to elections was out of the question. Even if South Africa was considered as a source of military assistance, Jonathan and his aides would have been well aware of the deteriorating state of South Africa’s own military and its less than stellar performance in the Central African Republic in 2013.[2]

Nigerian authorities did not deny the existence of the foreign contractors, but insisted they were only involved in training Nigerian troops in the use of the new weapons arriving for use in the fight against Boko Haram (BBC, March 13, 2015). Most of the mercenaries engaged by Nigeria appear to have been personnel of Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP), a private military company run by Colonel Eeben Barlow, a widely-known private military contractor and former commander of the South African Defense Force’s 32 Battalion.  STTEP recruits experienced soldiers by word of mouth, including “reformed” South Africans or Namibians who may have fought against the South African Defense Force (SADF – South Africa’s apartheid-era army) as communist guerrillas during South Africa’s border wars.

Despite statements of sympathy for Nigeria’s predicament, both the U.S. and British governments remained firm in their position that the atrocious human rights record of the Nigerian military during the Jonathan administration precluded a military partnership on the ground or a resupply of armaments.

Shortly after his election, new President Muhammadu Buhari (a retired Nigerian Army major-general who seized power in a 1983 military coup, serving as head-of-state until 1985) expressed his objections to the use of mercenaries in Nigeria (Pretoria News, May 21, 2015). Buhari’s running mate, Yemi Osinbajo (now vice-president) ignored certain military realities in declaring his emphatic opposition to the South Africans’ deployment in Nigeria: “Because of the way that this government has degraded the army, we now find the need to engage mercenaries… There is absolutely no reason at all why the Nigerian army, which is one of the finest armies in the world, now have to engage mercenaries to come and fight” (VOA, March 20, 2015).

Following reports from major human rights organizations of widespread human rights abuses by the Nigerian military in northeast Nigeria, Buhari pledged to bring an end to such violations, promising in his inaugural speech: “We shall improve operational and legal mechanisms so that disciplinary steps are taken against proven human rights violations by the armed forces” (Reuters, June 4, 2015).

Like many of its West African neighbors, Nigeria has prior experience with mercenaries, who were used by both sides in the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). A large number of Chadian mercenaries and European pilots engaged on the federal side, while a smaller number of Rhodesians and Europeans (mainly British, French, Belgian, Portuguese and German) fought unsuccessfully for Biafran independence.

Who are the Mercenaries?

Most of the South Africans deployed to Nigeria would have served together, black and white, in a select number of South African and South West African military units and paramilitaries of the apartheid era. Others will have served together as private military contractors in the post-apartheid era in organizations such as Executive Outcomes.

SA Mercs 2Koevoet Forces on Patrol in South-West Africa (now Namibia) in the 1980s

Some of the South African contractors are believed to be veterans of Koevoet (“Crowbar”), a white-led, mixed race police paramilitary that operated with great efficiency and brutality in South-West Africa (now Namibia) between 1979 and 1989. Working on a bounty system for killed or captured “terrorists” of the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), Koevoet scored enormous numbers of kills but took few prisoners. Koevoet bush-craft and tactics were based on the earlier work of the Portuguese Flechas (Arrows) of Angola and Mozambique and Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts. Like these elite formations, Koevet recruited captured fighters who had been “turned,” and occasionally disguised themselves as Marxist guerrillas to carry out ambushes or specific missions.

Other South Africans appear to be veterans of 32 Battalion (a.k.a. the Buffalo Battalion, or “the Terrible Ones”) of the SADF. This white-led unit (recently described by the UK’s Sky News as “a foreign legion of racist mercenaries,” was composed largely of black troops who once belonged to the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA), an Angolan independence movement that lost a post-independence power struggle with the rival Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) in 1975. 32 Battalion was deployed largely in southern Angola and played an important part in the series of South African operations in Angola in 1987-1988 against Soviet-led Angolan government forces and their Cuban allies known broadly as the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

32 Battalion was created and led by Commandant Jan Breytenbach, who was once involved in a covert South African training mission for Biafran rebels in Nigeria.[3] Much hated by South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), the unit was disbanded in 1993 and its black members retired to the dusty town of Pomfret, where in the absence of other opportunities many continued to seek employment from former SADF officers who had gone on to form private military firms such as Executive Outcomes (EO – 1989-1998) in post-apartheid South Africa. As in their original units, the private military contractors continued to use white officers and senior NCOs, with the other ranks filled largely by black troops.

The “Buffalos” figured in Executive Outcomes operations in Angola and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Many were unfortunate enough to allow themselves to be recruited by former SAS member and Sandline International co-founder Simon Mann for a failed coup attempt in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea in 2004. Most endured a nasty stretch in prison in Zimbabwe (where they had been arrested en route to Equatorial Guinea) before being returned to Pomfret.[4] A smaller number in the advance party found themselves doing long stretches in Equatorial Guinea’s notorious Black Beach Prison where they were joined by Simon Mann after his extradition from Zimbabwe.

It is likely that some other South Africans may be veterans of the SADF’s Special Forces, known as “the Recces.” These units were once highly active in covert operations throughout southern Africa.

Eastern Europeans were also hired as military contractors by Nigeria and served alongside the South Africans, but their presence does not carry the same political baggage and no complaints have been made. Information about the East Europeans is in short supply, including whether they have remained in Nigeria under separate contract. Ukrainians have become ubiquitous throughout Africa as contracted civil and military pilots of both aircraft and helicopters. Some reports indicate that they have been joined in Nigeria by Russian and Georgian military contractors.

STTEP’s Nigerian Campaign

According to STTEP chairman Eeben Barlow, the military firm was engaged for work in Nigeria as a sub-contractor for an un-named primary contractor in December 2014. Their original mission was to rescue the over 250 schoolgirls from Chibok kidnapped by Boko Haram, though this soon evolved into the creation of a mobile strike force incorporating Nigerian troops capable of reversing Boko Haram’s offensive momentum. The South Africans established a base in a corner of Maiduguri’s airport, closed for the last two years due to instability, but still capable of providing a base for aerial attacks and helicopter missions.

SA Mercs 3Strike Force 72 Operating in Borno State

The STTEP contractors were eventually attached to Nigeria’s elite 72 Strike Force in January 2015 to create a mobile strike force “with its own organic air support, intelligence, communications, logistics and other relevant combat support elements.”[5] After a period of intense training, the strike force conducted its first successful operation in late February. Since then, the South Africans appear to have played a major role in flushing Boko Haram fighters out of their camps hidden in the thick brush of the Sambisa Forest, though some elements remain due to a failure to complete this operation. There is no evidence that either Barlow or the South Africans in the field coordinated in any way with Chadian or Nigerien troops operating in the same region.

Founded in 2006, STTEP International Ltd. describes itself as “an international, privately-owned military, intelligence and law enforcement training and advisory company.” STTEP’s motto is “Failure is never an option,” and the firm claims to have “never failed in any of its missions, undertakings or projects.” The company’s operational procedure is to align itself with the armed forces of the client government to achieve strategic and operational goals through “military input and advice and support at both the operational and tactical levels.” Areas of claimed expertise include counter-terrorism, offensive counter drug operation, unconventional warfare, semi-conventional warfare and covert/clandestine operations.[6]

In all cases, Barlow emphasizes the “African” character of STTEP, a factor he believes improves relations with client nation militaries in Africa and helps training succeed where foreign military missions fail due to “poor training, bad advice, a lack of strategy, vastly different tribal affiliations, ethnicity, religion, languages, cultures [and] not understanding the conflict and enemy.”[7]

Barlow rejects the common media theme that the (mostly black) South Africans working in Nigeria and elsewhere are apartheid-era holdovers:

Some in the media like to refer to us as ‘racists’ or ‘apartheid soldiers’ with little knowledge of our organization… We are primarily white, black, and brown Africans who reside on this continent and are accepted as such by African governments… Had we been the so-called racists some media whores insist on calling us, do you think any African government would even want to speak to us? I very much doubt it.[8]

The Nigerian contract allowed Barlow to demonstrate the virtues of his tactical approach, which he describes as “relentless offensive action.” According to Barlow:

Troops need to develop their aggression level to such a point that the enemy fears them. Aggressive pursuit is aimed at initiating contact as heavily with the enemy as possible.[9]

Using expert trackers, strike force units pursue enemy forces with armored personnel carriers supported by air assets providing fire support, transportation, reconnaissance and medevac. Wherever possible, strike force personnel use helicopters to “leapfrog” the enemy and prevent his escape from pursuing forces. Superiority in night operations, engagement with maximum forces every time the enemy is encountered and the rotation of strike force frontline units enables the strike force to exhaust and confuse the enemy before completing his destruction. Territory retaken by strike force units is then turned over to conventional troops (in this case the Nigerian Army) for consolidation and occupation.[10]

Strike force ground units and their South African trainers relied on South-African made REVA (reliable, effective, versatile and affordable) armored personnel carriers. Capable of carrying ten passengers, the REVA’s V-shaped hull offers mine resistance, while two light machine guns provide firepower. The REVA is considered to be a low maintenance vehicle capable of operating in difficult conditions. Nigeria, Thailand, Yemen and Iraq are among the major export markets for the REVA.  According to South Africa’s Netwerk24, twenty of the APCs were sold to Nigeria under a contract approved by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (Netwerk24, March 11, 2015).

SA Mercs MapRisky Business

Some of the men who deployed in Nigeria would be known to ex-mercenary pilot Crause Steyl, who played a prominent role in the failed “Wonga Coup.” During the Nigerian deployment, Steyl remarked:

The South African mercenaries are giving Boko Haram a hiding. These guys are in their 50s, but for a pilot or tank driver it doesn’t really matter. There’s going to be no Boko Haram. It boggles the mind that Britain and America promised to help Nigeria but never did. But the South African government doesn’t want [the mercenaries] to exist. They wish them off the planet. When they come back from Nigeria, it will try to prosecute them and put them in jail. Because the colour of these men is white, it makes laws that stop them earning money off shore. How wrong can you be? There is now reverse racism and it’s difficult for white people to get a job (Guardian, April 14, 2015).

Indeed, financial motives appear to inspire these aging warriors more than ideology or racism. Lack of opportunity in the new South Africa is consistently cited by both black and white members of these latter-day mercenary formations and similar motives no doubt lie behind the involvement of the more reticent East European military contractors.

59-year-old Leon Lotz, a former member of Koevoet who was declared persona non grata in Namibia just prior to its independence, was the only South African known to have died by live fire during the deployment. Lotz was killed in a friendly-fire incident that occurred when a Nigerian T-72 tank opened up on a Hilux truck carrying Lotz, an East European (also killed) and a number of black Strike Force members who wer wounded. (VOA, March 20, 2015).  Another South African was reported to have died in Nigeria six weeks previously from a heart attack (Netwerk24, March 11, 2015). South Africa’s Defense Ministry used Lotz’s death to issue a warning “to others who are considering engaging in such activities to really think twice and consider the repercussions” (BBC, March 13, 2015).

South African Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned that the South African military contractors were in violation of the nation’s Foreign Military Assistance Act and could face prosecution and a possible six-year prison term on their return (Pretoria News, May 21, 2015; The Star [Johannesburg], May 21, 2015). According to the Defense Minister, herself a prominent figure in the revolutionary ANC: “They are mercenaries, whether they are training, skilling the Nigerian defence force, or scouting for them. The point is they have no business to be there” (The Guardian, April 14, 2015). Otherwise, there was a general silence from South African government figures regarding the private military deployment.

Despite their apparent success, STTEP’s contract was not renewed in March, a situation Barlow acknowledges had to do with the change in government, though the STTEP chairman maintains that much of the responsibility lies with the South African print media’s “racist mercenary” narrative: “The South African government has been fed such a false narrative by the South African media that it is possible they requested the Nigerian government not to extend the contract. The media here has tried very hard to turn this into a racial issue with the intent to create as much suspicion as possible.” Nonetheless, Barlow credits the Nigerian Army for driving back Boko Haram, describing “the strike force we trained” as a “force-multiplier in the area of operations.”[11]

To defeat such an enemy militarily, we must out-think and outsmart him by adopting tactics, techniques, and procedures that are so unexpected and unconventional that he becomes confused and loses his cohesion.[12]


The participation of South African citizens in the campaign against religious extremists in Nigeria is unlikely to have many repercussions within South Africa, where only 1.5% of the population is Muslim (mainly of ethnic-Indian origins) and few of these could be considered radicalized. Nonetheless, there were reports in May of a letter to South African Islamic scholars purportedly from South Africans who have traveled to Iraq (or possibly Syria) to join Islamic State militants. The letter arrived after public criticism of the Islamic State by prominent South African Islamic scholars and warned fellow Muslims:

You are being deceived and misguided by people claiming to have knowledge of what the Caliphate is and what is happening in the Islamic State. Firstly, let us look at the source of this information and knowledge that you are being fed… Most of it is coming from news channels and media sources that are either funded by or run exclusively by Jewish conglomerates. So a large portion of your opinions about your brothers and your state… is based on information that you attain from the enemy (News24 [Cape Town], June 14, 2015).

Several years ago it became commonly thought that the “problem” of South African mercenary activity in Africa was gradually solving itself as the former SADF members who formed the bulk of such groups were simply becoming too old for military adventuring. Though the Nigerian campaign is undoubtedly an unexpected “last hurrah” for many of these ex-SADF soldiers, their apparent success in reversing Boko Haram’s gains in Borno Province could encourage imitation in other African nations unable to deal with insurgencies.

Surprisingly, what the South African episode reveals is that the Nigerian military is entirely capable of dealing with the Boko Haram threat if provided with leadership, training and equipment. The question is whether Nigeria can sustain an offensive led by Special Forces or bog down due to systemic problems within the Nigerian military that cannot be resolved overnight. The recent counter-strikes by Boko Haram militants suggest that the latter result may be the most likely.

In the meantime, private military contractors continue to seek new battlefields while exploiting the apparent legitimization of their trade in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a recent interview, ex-Executive Outcomes director Simon Mann insisted that a 2000 man private military company could, with air and armor support, deal a decisive blow to Islamic State forces in Iraq. Basing his conclusion on the performance of the South-African trained mobile strike force in Nigeria and the success of his own Executive Outcomes combating insurgents in Angola and Sierra Leone, Mann suggests that Islamic State forces “are probably more terrifying than they are competent, and it all comes down to training and experience at the end of the day. We know that the Iraqi army were not being properly led, paid or equipped and that equates to disaster. How did anyone expect it to end? … Don’t get me wrong, [Islamic State forces] are probably very frightening up front, although I doubt they are as professionally trained as the rebels we came up against in Angola (Telegraph, June 4, 2015).


[1] Without imparting any ethical connotations to the terminology, private military contractors is probably a more accurate term for these modern “mercenaries” in that it reflects the corporate basis of these formations rather than an image of the individual freebooters that once filled mercenary ranks.

[2] See “South African Military Disaster in The Central African Republic: Part One – The Rebel Offensive,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, Washington DC, April 4, 2015, ; “South African Military Disaster in The Central African Republic: Part Two – The Political and Strategic Fallout,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, April 4, 2015, ;  “The South African National Defense Force – A Military In Free-fall,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2013,

[3] See Piet Nortje, 32 Battalion: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Elite Fighting Unit, Zebra, 2006, pp. 8-9. This history of the unit is written from the perspective of a former regimental sergeant-major.

[4] See Adam Roberts: The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs, and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa, PublicAffairs, 2007.

[5] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 2): Development of a Nigerian Strike Force,” April 6, 2015,

[6] See ; ;

[7] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 1): PMC and Nigerian Strike Force Devastates Boko Haram,” April 1, 2015,

[8] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt.4): Rejecting the Racial Narrative,” April 8, 2015,

[9] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 3): Tactics Used to Destroy Boko Haram,” April 7, 2015,

[10] Ibid

[11] Jack Murphy: “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 6): South African Contractors Withdrawal from Nigeria,” Sofrep, April 17, 2015,

[12] Ibid

Senegal’s Military Expedition to Yemen: Muslim Solidarity or Rent-an-Army?

Andrew McGregor

AIS Tips and Trends: The African Security Report

July 30, 2015

With Yemen’s Shiite Houthi movement now in control of most of Yemen, a Saudi-led military coalition continues to carry out air attacks on Houthi fighters and installations. Despite the participation of a number of national air forces, the total impact has not been enough to shake Houthi resolve.

Senegal MapThough there is an apparent need to deploy ground forces to restore the administration of president-in-exile Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, most members of the coalition are reluctant to deploy ground forces in any significant number, being well aware of the difficulty of maintaining foreign forces in Yemen’s mountainous and ambush-friendly terrain. It was thus intriguing when Senegal’s foreign minister Mankeur Ndiaye announced on May 4 that the West African nation was sending 2,100 ground troops to Saudi Arabia in response to a request from the Saudi government. Surprisingly, the deployment marks the second time Senegalese troops will have served in Saudi Arabia; 500 Senegalese soldiers were deployed in Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The mission was marred by a deadly plane crash in March 1991 in which 92 soldiers died.

Despite the government’s claim that the jamdars (Wolof – “brave men,” the popular local term for Senegalese troops) will be protecting the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah, it is expected that the Senegalese will join the coalition attempting to secure the Kingdom’s southern border with the Houthi-held regions of northern Yemen. A spokesman for Senegal’s leading opposition party, the Parti démocratique sénégalais (PDS), declared that government suggestions that the deployment was intended to protect the holy cities “were baseless because the geo-strategic role of the Middle East is more complex than the protection of Islamic religious sites” (Xinhua, May 11, 2015).

Social media in Senegal has questioned the deployment and some observers have noted the recent Saudi commitment to provide much of the funding for a broad government development scheme known as Programme Senegal Emergent 2035 (BBC, May 5, 2015). With an estimated cost of over $16 billion, the initiative remained badly underfunded until the Saudis stepped in. Senegalese president Macky Sall is relying on the programme’s success to return him to office. Senegal is a traditional recipient of Saudi aid, which funds many important development projects, but has never signed a defense agreement with Saudi Arabia. France continues to have a military presence in Dakar, but in line with a 2010 defense agreement between France and Senegal, this deployment has been scaled back from 1,200 troops to 300 (RFI, April 18, 2012).[1]

Senegal is not the only African state to join the Saudi-led coalition – Sudan, Egypt and Morocco have also contributed troops – but Senegal is the lone member that is not part of the Arab League. Sudan, a major recipient of Saudi aid and investment, has contributed four Sukhoi SU-24M “Fencer” attack aircraft that have reportedly flown missions against Houthi forces in Yemen (DefenceNews, April 1, 2015).  Other members of the coalition include Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In a surprise decision, the parliament of Pakistan, a Saudi ally, voted against contributing forces to the coalition. Lacking a UN mandate, the Saudi-led coalition remains open to criticism that its intervention in Yemen lacks a legal basis.

NowgassGeneral Mamadou Sow “Nowgass” – Chief of the General Staff of Senegal

While President Sall insists the deployment is intended to “deal with the threat to the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic holy sites to which the kingdom is home” (a fairly obvious effort to enlist the support of Senegal’s powerful Sufi brotherhoods), opposition figures have pointed out that neither the Kingdom nor its holy cities are under threat (The Star [Johannesburg], May 22, 2015). The administration does not appear willing to dissent on this issue; a May protest planned by Bou Jambar Dem (No to Sending Soldiers), a coalition opposed to the deployment, was banned by authorities.

Further government attempts to suggest the deployment will be fighting “terrorism” did not quiet opposition criticism; Yemen’s Houthis are an armed social/political/religious movement rather than a terrorist group like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or the Islamic State movement, neither of which are targets of the coalition despite having a strong presence in Yemen.

Since independence, Senegal has joined military interventions in Zaire (1978), Gambia (1981) and Guinea-Bissau (1998). Senegal’s military has also made significant contributions to peacekeeping missions in Côte d-Ivoire, Darfur, Rwanda and the Central African Republic. Both the United States and France provide equipment and training to the Senegalese military, which has gained a reputation for professionalism reinforced by its traditional reluctance to insert itself into the nation’s political sphere.

A report from the Saudi Press Agency on May 10 claimed that Malaysia had sent military forces to join the Saudi coalition, adding that the Saudi Ministry of Defense was planning to merge the Malaysian and Senegalese forces (al-Arabiya, May 10, 2015). However, Malaysia’s defense minister quickly corrected this report, noting that Malaysia was only sending humanitarian assistance and the personnel and equipment (including two Royal Malaysian Air Force C-130 “Hercules” transport aircraft) necessary to evacuate Malaysians working or studying in the Kingdom (The Star [Kuala Lumpur], May 11, 2015; The Diplomat, May 12, 2015).

Islam in Senegal

While Senegal is over 90% Muslim, its typical form of religious practice differs significantly from the Salafist Islam of Saudi Arabia. Both nations are majority Sunni, but Senegalese Islam is still largely based on membership in Sufi brotherhoods, a form of Islam generally despised by the Salafists, who claim Sufism incorporates pre-Islamic traditions, involves intermediaries in the relationship between God and man (usually in the form of deceased or living Sufi shaykhs whose spiritual power is hereditary) and encourages pilgrimage to shrines other than Mecca and Madinah, thus rendering Sufism a type of Islamic heresy in the eyes of the Salafists.

Senegal Great MosqueGreat Mosque in Touba, Senegal

Senegal’s Sufi brotherhoods include the well-known and internationally-based Tijaniya and Qadiriya brotherhoods, as well as two smaller local brotherhoods, the Muridiya (a.k.a. Mourides) and the Layenes. Both the latter orders originated in the 19th century. The Mourides are common to both Senegal and Gambia and promote pilgrimage to the Senegalese city of Toumba rather than Mecca. The Layene Brotherhood is a particularly unorthodox movement native to Senegal. The Layene’s founder and his successor claimed to be reincarnations of the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ respectively and the group consequently mixes elements of both Islam and Christianity in its rituals.

The Jama’atou Ibadou Rahman (Jama’at Ibad al-Rahman) movement is a Saudi-supported Islamic reformist movement founded in 1979 by Shaykh Touré in which piety is expressed through the veil, Arab-style clothing and close observance of orthodox Islamic ritual. The Ibadou are extremely critical of Sufism and the marabout[2] system in Senegal and of Shi’ism in general, but do not espouse violence in their opposition. On a more general level, the term “Ibadou” is used by Senegalese Sufis “to refer to any veiled woman or bearded man.”[3]

Al-Falah is a Saudi-influenced “apolitical” Salafist movement whose Senegal branch was established in 1967.[4] Salafism and related forms of reformist Islam have a wide following in Senegal’s universities. At lower educational levels, there is a parallel system of government-run French-language, Western-style schools and Arabic-language Koranic schools that have little if any government regulation.[5]

Most notable among Senegal’s small Muslim extremist community is Imam Mamour Fall, leader of the Parti Islamique Sénégalais and a bitter opponent of Senegal’s Sufi brotherhoods. Deported from Italy in 2003 after an 11 year residency following his public support for al-Qaeda and attacks on Italian military personnel, Fall continued to advance extremist views once back in Senegal, claiming to have fought in the Bosnian War and to have been a companion of Osama bin Laden during the latter’s stay in Sudan in the 1990s. The Imam described Bin Laden as “a great man, a great strategist, a great Muslim, and that is what interests us and not the fact that he is accused of killing people” (Reuters, December 8, 2003). The Salafist/reformist view of Senegalese Sufism was summed up by Imam Mamour Fall: “Senegal is the capital of polytheism after India. If Hindus worship cows, Senegalese love the corpses of their marabouts… Here, 99% of people live on magic; they love magicians and they waste all their money to buy ‘talismans’.”[6]


Any foreign military deployment runs the risk of violent retribution, but in this sense Senegal is relatively fortunate in its choice of an enemy – the Houthi movement does not exist outside of Yemen and its host Zaydi Shiite community has displayed little ability or even interest in mounting attacks outside of Yemen. There is a small community of Lebanese Shiite traders in Senegal and an even smaller number of native Senegalese Shiites, none of whom are likely to have any connections with the Houthi movement, whose Zaydi “Fiver” Shi’ism has more in common with the Shafi’i form of Sunni Islam practiced in Yemen than with the “Twelver” Shi’ism of Iran and Lebanon (the “fiver” and “twelver” distinctions refer to the number of imams each movement believes succeeded the Prophet Muhammad as spiritual and political leaders of the Islamic community). However, Senegal might become a target for Sunni extremists due to its alliance with the Saudi government, which is reviled in turn as an ally and partner of the West by groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Such groups might recall Senegal’s participation in the French-led military coalition that expelled foreign jihadists from northern Mali in 2013, an earlier deployment that had far from universal approval within Senegal. Unpopular military deployments in other parts of the Islamic world could have the unwanted result of encouraging domestic extremism, particularly amongst alienated urban youth.

Renting state troops in Hessian fashion may not be necessary in the future if oil exploration work in Senegal turns out as expected. Scottish oil firm Cairn Energy is embarking on a major drilling operation it believes could result in the discovery of more than a billion barrels after promising results from initial offshore drilling (The Scotsman [Edinburgh], May 12, 2015).[7]


[1]  For Senegal’s role in France’s Operation Barkhane, see Andrew McGregor, “Operation Barkhane: France’s New Military Approach to Counter-Terrorism in Africa,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, July 24, 2015,

[2] Arabic marbut or marubit; used in practice to denote an Islamic scholar of the Maghreb and Sahel regions, usually with personal followings that rely on the marabout for religious instruction, advice and the dispensation of supernatural powers through the production of amulets and talismans, a common practice in Africa, but one that is decidedly unorthodox.

[3] Cleo Cantone: Making and Remaking Mosques in Senegal, Leiden, 2012, p. 261.

[4] See

[5]  “Overview of Religious Radicalism and the Terrorist Threat in Senegal,” ECOWAS Peace and Security Report 3, May 2013, p. 5,

[6] Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir Fadlallah Mamour (Imam Mamour Fall): “Ya Asafa,” February 26, 2009,

[7] See

Salafist Shaykh Hussein bin Mahmud on the Libyan Uprising

Andrew McGregor

April 7 2011

A Salafist view of the Libyan revolt has been offered in two interviews with a noted militant ideologist and contributor to prominent jihadi forums who uses the pseudonym of Shaykh Hussein bin Mahmud (Dar al-Murabiteen Publications, February 22; February 25).

Shaykh Hussein describes the Libyan insurrection against Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi’s regime as a jihad, saying its aim is to “oust this idiot in order to spare the blood of Muslims and save their dignity.” The shaykh claims that jihad in Libya is now an obligatory duty (fard ‘ayn) for every capable person in Libya as well as Muslims in the neighboring countries of Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Sudan and Niger.

Salafist Libya 2
As well as moving on Sirte and Tarablus (Tripoli), the shaykh urges the rebels to move on the southern desert city of Sabha, a Qaddafi stronghold and a strategic point connecting coastal Libya with the African interior. To succeed in Libya, Shaykh Hussein suggests the rebels take control of all government institutions and media outlets, capture and sentence to death Qaddafi’s sons, form a transitional committee from tribal leaders, scholars and military officers and avoid trusting the West or the rulers of other Arab countries. As for Qaddafi, “I wish they slaughter him in the largest ground of Tripoli publicly in front of the cameras.”

Salafist LibyaYusuf al-Qaradawi

Asked about a fatwa issued by Qatar-based Muslim Brother and TV preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi that permitted Libyans to kill Qaddafi, Shaykh Hussein mocked the influential cleric’s ruling: “I heard the statement of Qaradawi. A few years back, he used to visit [Qaddafi] and smile in his face and now he is giving the fatwa to kill him! He visits many Arab rulers and sits with them and praises them! And we say to him: What if the people of all the [Arab] nations go out against the rulers, will you give fatwa to kill them?”

The shaykh notes that the reputations of Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi have been destroyed in recent months, revealing their true nature as apostates, infidels and blood-spillers. Shaykh Hussein, however, sees the inspiration of Osama bin Laden behind the revolts in the Arab world: “Wasn’t Shaykh Osama saying all this for almost three decades and he was thrown out as a Kharijite [i.e. a heretic] and a takfiri and hypocrite? What is the difference? He incited the people to go out and the people have gone out! What is the difference?” The shaykh maintains that only violent resistance can complete the revolution: “The youth did not die for Hosni to go and his party to stay…”

Shaykh Hussein points out that Libya’s unconventional government structure (the Jamahiriya) has created a problem for the West in trying to identify an appropriate candidate to rule Libya “according to their desires.” Whereas in Egypt and Tunisia the ruler was removed and the government stabilized, there is no government in Libya outside of Qaddafi. In Egypt and Tunisia, this process has resulted in rule now being back in the hands of the former government.

In his second message, Shaykh Hussein elaborated on the theme of Jewish/Israeli support for Qaddafi’s regime, specifically identifying the Israeli security firm Global CST as the contractor responsible for supplying mercenaries to the regime. Now it has become clear that the mercenaries “are working for the Jewish government, so these people should be killed and tortured the severest of tortures in accordance with the sayings of Allah Almighty.”

Shaykh Hussein refers here to unverified reports carried in the Iranian and Arab press that Israeli security firm Global CST received approval from the head of Israeli intelligence and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to provide Qaddafi with 50,000 African mercenaries. The reports allege the Libyan side of the contract was handled by Abdullah al-Sanusi, Libya’s intelligence chief and brother-in-law of Qaddafi (Press TV, March 2). Global CST, or Global Group, was founded in 2005 by Major General Israel Ziv and carries out “security and commercial large-scale projects” in South America, Africa and Eastern Europe, according to its website. No evidence has been provided to support the allegations.

Since the rebellion in Libya began, Qaddafi has asserted al-Qaeda was behind the violent unrest, a claim Shaykh Hussein says is designed to force the rebels to denounce Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, thus ending their hope for Islamic rule in Libya. The al-Qaeda ideologist condemned a double standard that discourages al-Qaeda fighters from entering the fray in Libya: “It is permitted for [Qaddafi] to bring his disbelieving Africans to kill Muslims, and it is prohibited for the Muslims to come with the mujahideen to help them!”

Can African Mercenaries Save the Libyan Regime?

Jamestown Foundation Special Commentary on Libya

Andrew McGregor

February 23, 2011

In recent days there have been reports that the Libyan regime of Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi has resorted to the use of foreign mercenaries to slaughter unarmed civilians protesting over four decades of rule by Qaddafi and his family. The Libyan government has been clear from the start that protestors could expect a “violent” response from the regime (al-Zahf al-Akhdar [Tripoli], February 19). Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s son, Sa’if al-Islam al-Qaddafi, warned viewers of Libyan state TV: “We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet” (al-Sayda TV, February 20).

Khaled al-Ga’aeem, the under-secretary of the Libyan Foreign Ministry, told al-Jazeera interviewers there was no truth to the reports of mercenaries: “I am ready – not only to resign from my post – but also set myself on fire in the Green Square – if it is confirmed that there were mercenaries from African states coming by planes” (al-Jazeera, February 22). However, citing his own reports from inside the country, the Libyan ambassador to India, Ali al-Essawi, has confirmed the use of African mercenaries and the defection of units of Libya’s military in response to their deployment (Reuters, February 22). In New York, defecting Libyan Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi called on “African nations” to stop sending mercenaries to defend the Qaddafi regime (New York Times, February 21).

Libya 1911Italian Aircraft Drops Grenades on Ottoman and Libyan Troops, 1911

The Libyan Origins of the Modern Jihad

Libya has turned to African fighters in the past. When a massive Italian army arrived on the Libyan coast in 1911 with the intention of seizing the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica for a new Roman Empire, they were met by a small but determined force drawn from all quarters of the Ottoman Empire. [1]

Though Ottoman soldiers were busy with wars in the Balkans and rebellion in Yemen, the defense of Libya became a popular cause in the army, with volunteers from across the empire crossing through the Italian blockade with the help of local people in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. These volunteers, who included Enver Bey (a leading member of the “Young Turks”) and Mustafa Kemal (the founder of modern secular Turkey after the First World War), were largely motivated by patriotism or religion. To the surprise of the Turkish officers and the astonishment of the Italian generals, Libyan tribesmen suddenly began riding into the Turkish camps to offer their services. As the call for jihad spread south, fighters began to arrive from the Tubu tribes of Tibesti and the Tuareg tribes of the Fezzan. The dark-skinned Tubus would later be forced out of Libya into Chad by al-Qaddafi for being inconsistent with Qaddafi’s vision of a purely Arab nation after a member of Libya’s former royal family attempted to recruit Tubu mercenaries for use against Qaddafi in the early 1970s. [2] The Tuareg of Libya were ethnically “reclassified” from Berbers to Arabs.

Many fighters from the African interior had few connections with the Ottomans, but arrived to repel the infidel invaders from a sense of religious obligation, thus setting an example for later jihadis who would travel to the battlegrounds of Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq under a similar sense of obligation.

The Islamic Legion

Qaddafi also turned to a quasi-mercenary force to further his ambitions in Africa in the early days of his rule. The Islamic Legion (al-Failaka al-Islamiya) was a force of largely unwilling mercenaries recruited and deployed by Qaddafi to further his territorial ambitions in the African interior and advance the cause of Arab supremacy. Formed in 1972, the Islamic Legion was drawn mostly from young men from Sahelian countries who had migrated to Libya in search of work. Many were effectively “press-ganged” into service with the Legion. Though the organization worked closely with the Tajammu al-Arabi (Arab Gathering) to advance Arab supremacy in the Sahel and Sudan, the Legion was usually dominated by Tuareg and Zaghawa recruits despite neither group having any Arab heritage.

The Legion was deployed in the frontlines of a series of wars with Chad (supported by French Foreign Legion forces) in the 1980s. The Legion was disbanded in 1987 after Libya’s final defeat in these clashes, but the ongoing depredations of Darfur’s Arab Janjaweed have their origins in the Qaddafi-backed Tajammu al-Arabi. Many of the Tuareg who launched rebellions in Mali and Niger in the 1990s received their military training in the Islamic Legion.

Mercenaries to the Rescue

The current employment of mercenaries to do the “dirty work” usually assigned to Libya’s paramilitary security police speaks volumes about the regime’s rapidly dwindling faith in the willingness of state security forces to “fight to the last man” in defense of the regime. While the evidence of such recruitment is growing through video footage finding its way out of Libya, it is still impossible to tell in what numbers these mercenaries have arrived. Unconfirmed reports suggest the mercenaries arrived on a number of separate flights to both the Tripoli and Benghazi military airports, perhaps indicating a number of different recruitment sites (al-Arabiya, February 19;, February 19). The recruitment appears to have been undertaken quickly, either without the knowledge of the intelligence agencies and security services of their countries of origin, or with the full knowledge and approval of their originating states. Through a combination of largesse, aggressive diplomacy and military support (in the form of training, presidential protection units and stockpiles of old Soviet armaments), Qaddafi remains an influential figure in many parts of West Africa.

A number of mercenaries appear to have paid a high cost for their intervention in the Libyan uprising. Video has emerged of a number of slain “mercenaries” lying on the street or stretched out across a truck’s hood for display. [3]

Possible national origins for the mercenaries include:

Chad: Chadian mercenaries have been active in the Central African Republic for many years. There are also a large number of anti-government Chadian guerrillas who have recently found themselves unemployed after a peace treaty between N’djamena and Khartoum resulted in their expulsion from bases in Darfur. Many of these gunmen refused offers of repatriation to Chad, leaving them without work. Tensions between Chad and Libya eased after the International Court of Justice awarded the disputed Aouzou Strip to Chad in 1994. Since then, Chad’s President Idriss Déby has cooperated with the Libyan leader on a number of initiatives and agreements. Déby has been away from Chad throughout most of the Libyan crisis, following a state visit to China with meetings in Nouakchott and Abidjan (AFP, February 21).

French-Speaking Sub-Saharan Africa: Tunisians, Nigeriens and Guineans are among those mercenaries who have been captured, some still bearing identification documents.

English-Speaking Sub-Saharan Africa: Some of the mercenaries are reported to speak English (Radio France Internationale, February 20). Reports from Ghana indicate Ghanaians are being offered as much as $2500 per day to defend the Qaddafi regime. Advertisements for mercenaries have also begun to appear in Nigerian newspapers (Ghana Web, February 22).

The Libyan Army

In his televised address to the Libyan people, Mu’ammar’s son, Sa’if al-Islam al-Qaddafi, told Libyans: “The army will play a big role [in defending the regime], it is not the army of Tunisia or Egypt. It will support Qaddafi to the last minute” (al-Sayda (Libyan State TV), February 20;, February 21).

Jabr and KhamisGeneral Abu Bakr Yunis Jabr and General Khamis al-Qaddafi

Bereft of real threats to its territory, whose security is guaranteed both by the strategic importance of Libya’s ample oil reserves and Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s considerable (if somewhat baffling) status in the African Union, Libya’s “Guide” has been able to indulge in periodic purges of his officer corps while keeping most elements of his armed forces under-armed and short of ammunition. The exception to this is the 32nd Brigade, popularly known as the “Khamis Brigade” after its leader, Khamis Abu Minyar al-Qaddafi, one of Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s seven sons. Khamis is a graduate of the Libyan Military Academy in Tripoli and received further training in Moscow at the Frunze Military Academy and the General Staff Academy of the Russian Armed Forces. The Brigade under his command typically receives better arms, equipment and salaries than the rest of the army and serves as a kind of Praetorian Guard to defend the regime. Brigade members have been active in trying to repress the demonstrations.

The Khamis Brigade was supplied with the British-made Bowman tactical communications and data system in a $165 million deal with General Dynamics UK, though the equipment has been modified through the removal of U.S. technology in the system (Defense News, May 8, 2008). [5] The Khamis Brigade has also taken part in joint exercises with the Algerian military (JANA [Tripoli], December 1, 2007).

Since Libya reconciled with the UK in 2008, the latter has become a major supplier of military gear, and even military training, though London has now revoked arms export licenses to Libya (Guardian, February 19). Units of the Special Air Service (SAS) have been involved in training Libyan Special Forces, unpopular duty for SAS veterans who were involved in a deadly decades-long struggle with the Libyan-armed Irish Republican Army (Telegraph, September 11, 2009). A December 2010 U.S. embassy cable released by Wikileaks also shows interest from Khamis al-Qaddafi and Sa’if al-Islam al-Qaddafi in obtaining U.S. made military equipment, including helicopters and parts for armored vehicles. [6]

Aside from the Khamis Brigade, most of the rest of the military has access only to obsolete Soviet-era equipment after enduring years of sanctions. This situation is not necessarily regarded as unfavorable by the regime, as it diminishes the chance rebel officers could mount their own coup similar to Colonel Qaddafi’s 1969 military takeover. Officers are subject to frequent transfers to prevent them from developing personal ties of loyalty with any one command. Though the senior ranks of the military are dominated by the “Guide’s” own Qadhadfa tribe, rivalries within the officer corps tend to be encouraged rather than discouraged to prevent an atmosphere of cooperation that could possibly lead to the creation of a junta.

Another son and prominent military figure is Colonel Mutassim al-Qaddafi. Mutassim received his training at the Cairo Military Academy before being given command of an elite unit in the Libyan army, where he gained a reputation for indiscipline and erratic behavior. At one point he was forced to take refuge in Egypt after reportedly marching on his father’s residence at the Bab al-Azizya barracks in Tripoli with detachments of his artillery. In 2002 he returned to Libya, where he was forgiven and promoted to Colonel (Jeune Afrique, May 19, 2010). In January 2007, Mutassim was made head of the National Security Council (Jeune Afrique, February 7, 2009).

Yet another son, Colonel Sa’adi Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, took to local radio on February 19 to announce he had arrived in Benghazi to direct operations there (apparently after the resignation of Benghazi-based Colonel Abd al-Fatah Yunis), but little has been heard of him since (AP, February 19). First Lieutenant Hannibal Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi is a member of the military, but seems to play a minor role in comparison to his brothers.

As the military’s chief-of-staff and minister of defense, Major-General Abu Bakr Yunis Jaber was, until recently, one of the most powerful men in Libya. However, he appears to have been detained by Qaddafi after refusing to carry out orders for brutal repression of protesters in Libya’s cities (al-Hurra, February 21). Major Abdel-Moneim al-Huni, Libya’s most recent representative to the Arab League, issued a statement on February 22 on behalf of the “Leadership Council of the Libyan Revolution,” demanding that General Abu Bakr Yunis be released to lead an interim government. Apparently intending to emulate the Egyptian model, al-Huni also appealed to serving officers and troops to abandon the regime: “You who know the honor of military service, I urge you to uproot this regime and take over power in order to end the bloodshed and maintain Libya’s strategic interests and the unity of its land and people.” He further described the use of mercenaries as the regime “signing its own death certificate” (Ahram Online, February 22).

Qaddafi relies heavily on two generals from his own tribe, Sayed Qaddaf al-Dam and Ahmad Qaddaf al-Dam. Sayed is the military head of Cyrenaica, which has come largely under the control of protesters, while Ahmad is the “Guide’s” point-man on Egyptian issues. Aside from Qaddafi and General Abu Bakr, Generals Mustapha Kharoubi and Khouildi Hamidi are the last active members of the 12-man 1969 Revolutionary Council, though both have been reduced to performing ceremonial roles.

A Question of Loyalty

Experiments in Green Book-inspired Jamahiriyah (“popular state”) governance and unification with other Arab/African regimes may have worked against the development of a national identity. Loyalty to the Qaddafis also appears to be shallow; in eastern Libya the police are reported to have helped apprehend a number of mercenaries, while senior military officers are reported to have resigned in Benghazi and Sirte (, February 21).

There have been many reports of low-paid conscripts and even their officers joining the ranks of the protesters in Benghazi, Darna and elsewhere (Telegraph, February 20). While the al-Fadhil Brigade in Benghazi appears to have gone over to the protestors after their headquarters was set on fire, there are reports that the al-Sibyl Brigade continues to be loyal (al-Jazeera, February 20). Benghazi police are reported to have defected to the protestors after witnessing the methods of the mercenaries (AP, February 21).

Officials in Malta were surprised by two Libyan Air Force colonels who flew their Mirage F1 warplanes from Libya’s Okba Ben Nafi airbase to Malta. The pilots said they flew low to evade radar detection and decided to come to Malta rather than carry out orders to bomb civilians. The Maltese military was also reported to be monitoring a Libyan warship said to be carrying defecting Libyan officers (Times of Malta, February 21, February 22).


Though some Libyans might have been persuaded to desist by the regime’s warnings of disaster and promises of imminent decentralization, organizational restructuring and the dismissal of many state officials, the introduction of mercenaries with orders to kill in the streets of Libya’s cities seems likely to be the last straw before the collapse of the Qaddafi regime.  Mercenaries from all quarters have frequently found work defending unpopular African regimes, but at best they have usually only prolonged the inevitable, their very presence an indication that a regime rules only through force rather than popular consensus, regardless of protests to the contrary.

Ironically, it was Qaddafi himself who warned a gathering of Libyan security officials in Tripoli in 2004 to beware of infiltration efforts by “mercenaries, lunatics, infidels and people who pose a threat to security” (Great Jamahiriyah TV, April 14, 2004).


1. See GF Abbott, The Holy War in Tripoli, 1912, pp.79-80.

2. See J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, Darfur: The Long Road to Disaster, Princeton N.J., 2008, p. 84.





Saharan Mercenary Employed by al-Qaeda Freed in Hostage Exchange

Andrew McGregor

September 9, 2010

While mercenaries have played an important role in the war on terrorism from the beginning, the use of private forces has until recently been associated with counter-terrorism efforts. However, since al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) began establishing a Saharan front, they have been compelled to hire local guides and suppliers, much like every other non-native interloper in the region. Many of the AQIM leaders in the Sahara are Arabs or Arabized Berbers from the coastal mountains of Algeria, nearly 2,000 miles from their current zone of operations in the desert near the Mali border.

Sahara MercenaryOmar Sid Ahmed Ould Hamma

Omar al-Sahrawi (the nickname of Omar Sid Ahmed Ould Hamma) is one such employee of al-Qaeda participating in AQIM’s lucrative kidnapping operations without necessarily sharing the same ideology. In late August he was freed from captivity in Mauritania as part of a hostage exchange and ransom deal demanded by AQIM in return for the release of two Spanish captives.

Reports from Spain claim the hostages were released in exchange for between $4.8 million and $12.7 million as well as the release of al-Sahrawi (El Mundo [Madrid], August 23; ABC [Madrid], August 23). The two captives, Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta, were kidnapped in Mauritania on the road from Nouakchott to the coastal town of Nouadhibou (formerly Port Étienne) in November 2009 (Afrique en Ligne, August 29). The men are employees of the Barcelona-based NGO Accio Solidaria. A third Spanish hostage taken at the same time, Alicia Gamez, was released by AQIM in March. It is believed a ransom was paid in this case as well.

In a telephone interview with a French reporter, al-Sahrawi declared, “I have nothing to do with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Me, I do business, and if you sell something to someone who is from AQIM, it does not mean that you are from AQIM. I am a businessman (AFP, August 24). In his homeland of Mali, security sources identified al-Sahrawi as a cigarette smuggler and transporter of illegal immigrants.

Al-Sahrawi had been sentenced by a Mauritanian court to 12 years of hard labor for his role in the abductions. Following his release and extradition to Mali, where the hostages were being held, al-Sahrawi was reported to have been present at the release of the hostages so AQIM could see if he was alive and in good health. Mauritanian TV footage showed al-Sahrawi joking with the hostages (AFP, August 25). On his return, Al-Sahrawi reportedly celebrated his release by declaring, “I have come back free to Mali” (Nouakchott-Info, August 26).

Referring to the failed Mauritanian-French effort to free a French hostage in July that resulted in the death of seven AQIM operatives and later the execution of the hostage, AQIM said the release of the Spanish hostages was a “lesson for the French secret services to take into consideration in the future” (al-Jazeera, August 24). Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said the release marked a “day of celebration.” He made no mention of the ransom (Ennahar [Algiers], August 23).

Algiers is reported to be displeased with the ransom, some of which will likely be used to buy arms for further attacks within Algeria (Ennahar, August 25). Mauritania has also failed to garner AQIM’s good-will through the release; only two days later a would-be suicide bomber was killed by security forces as he tried to ram an explosives-laden truck into the Nema military barracks, 750 miles east of Nouackchott (al-Jazeera, August 25; AFP, August 25).

This article first appeared in the September 9, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Islamists Accuse Blackwater/Xe in Deadly Bombing of a Shabaab Controlled Mosque

Andrew McGregor

May 13, 2010

At least 45 people were killed and over 80 wounded in a May 1 bombing of the Abdallah Shideye Mosque in Mogadishu’s Bakara market. The mosque and the market are currently controlled by the radical al-Shabaab Islamist movement. The next day a hand grenade was thrown into a Shabaab-controlled mosque in the southern port of Kismayo. One person was killed and seven injured, though the blast missed senior al-Shabaab officials who were still on their way to the mosque (Shabelle Media Network, May 2). Days earlier, a landmine was set off just outside the Shabaab-controlled Abu Hureyra mosque in the Bakara market, killing one and injuring eight (Garowe Online, May 1).

shangoleShaykh Fu’ad Muhammad Qalaf “Shangole”

Two to three explosions occurred simultaneously within the Abdallah Shideye mosque as some 800 worshippers were gathering for noon prayers. Among those injured was a senior al-Shabaab official (and the possible target of the bombing), Shaykh Fu’ad Muhammad Qalaf “Shangole,” who described the incident:

While we were in the middle of our lesson and it was near prayer time, three explosions happened, one after the other went off, and I saw the chair I was sitting on fly across the mosque. I saw my white thawb [an ankle-length cotton garment] was red with blood and I couldn’t tell where the blood was coming from. When I opened my eyes, I saw that many people were in pain and that many others had been martyred (al-Qimmah, May 8).

Al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere) insisted “foreign mercenaries” were responsible for the attack (Radio Gaalkacyo, May 2). Shaykh Ali Muhammad Husayn, the Shabaab governor of Banadir region (which includes Mogadishu), accused the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of carrying out the bombings, vowing immediate revenge (Voice of Mudug Radio, May 2). The shaykh also said the movement would improve security in mosques and other public places, describing the bombing as “an unforgettable lesson” (Shabelle Media Network, May 2).

Eventually al-Shabaab leaders agreed the explosions were the work of American mercenaries working for private military contractors Blackwater (now Xe Services LLC). According to Shaykh Fu’ad Muhammad Qalaf, Blackwater personnel had arrived in Somalia two weeks earlier and were involved in training “apostate” forces at the Halane military base near Mogadishu airport, currently used by African Union peacekeepers fighting on the side of the TFG (al-Qimmah, May 1; May 8; Garowe Online, May 4). Al-Shabaab leaders alleged that Blackwater operatives had been responsible for similar mosque bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage warned of the arrival of “Blackwater mercenaries” last January. “We have discovered that U.S. agencies are going to launch suicide bombings in public places in Mogadishu. They have tried it in Algeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan… They want to target Bakara Market and mosques, then use that to malign us.” The shaykh told tribal elders that Blackwater/Xe was recruiting locals to help carry out a bombing campaign (Dayniile, January 11; Press TV, January 12). In March, the shaykh claimed private U.S. contractors such as Blackwater/Xe were responsible for a wave of assassinations of Shabaab leaders (al-Jazeera, March 10)  The Shabaab spokesman was quick to remind reporters of his earlier warning after the attack on the Abdallah Shideye Mosque (Garowe Online, May 1).

The introduction of mosque bombings to the Somali conflict has shocked many Somalis, who almost reflexively look beyond their own culture for an explanation of this phenomenon, much as they did with the earlier introduction of suicide bombings by al-Shabaab.  A TFG spokesman described the mosque attacks as a “new foreign barbaric phenomena”; leaders of both al-Shabaab’s rival Hizb al-Islam militia and the pro-government Ahlu Sunnah wa’l-Jama’a (ASJ) militia alleged a foreign origin for the attacks (Garowe Online, May 3). With no claim of responsibility, there is still a wide range of suspects, including the Sufi ASJ, which has suffered from al-Shabaab’s continuing destruction of Sufi shrines and the tombs of revered Sufi shaykhs (see Terrorism Monitor, April 1).

Xe owner Erik Prince urged the U.S. government last January to deploy private military contractors to fight “terrorists” in Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia (The Nation, May 3; Times Online, May 5). Rumors of Blackwater/Xe’s presence and activities are already common currency in Pakistan and now appear to be sweeping Somalia as culprits are sought in a vicious new stage of the continuing transformation of Somalia’s civil war from clan-based warfare to sectarian struggle.

This article first appeared in the May 13, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Last of the Redshanks: The Raid on Thurso, 1649

Dr. Andrew McGregor

November 8, 2007

In the far north of Scotland the Highland mountains grow smaller, eventually leveling out into vast stretches of rolling countryside that end abruptly with rocky cliffs lurching out over the cold northern seas. Before the Celts arrived these lands were ruled by Norsemen, the powerful ‘Sea-Kings of Orkney’. The names of their settlements in Scotland’s northeast county of Caithness reflected their beliefs, like the town of Thurso, named for the Norse god Thor.

Thurso 2Northern Scotland

Though the town still stands after all these centuries, it came perilously close to obliteration one day in 1649. That year’s raid on Thurso by a small group of veteran Irish fighters and a handful of Scottish highlanders is not found on any list of Scotland’s great battles, but the raid was significant largely for one reason – it marked the last gasp of the once powerful Irish brigade (known as ‘Redshanks’) that came to Scotland to aid the Marquis of Montrose and his Royalist forces during the British Civil War.

Combining innovative tactics with somewhat antiquated weapons the Irish won a resounding series of victories for a year after their arrival in Scotland in 1644. Warfare in Britain was in transition during the 17th century. Pikes and muskets dominated the battlefield but there was still a place for men like the Irish who were expert in the use of sword and shield. The matchlock musket was difficult and time-consuming to load and could only be used effectively in battle by highly disciplined troops performing a complicated drill.

In battle the musketeers commonly formed up in six ranks. After the front rank fired in volley they would ‘countermarch’ to the rear to begin reloading while the next rank moved to the front to fire their volley. Inexperienced troops found the maneuver difficult. Nervousness interfered with the dozens of steps involved in reloading the musket, while the men in the front rank tended to discharge their weapons quickly and without aim in order to take their place at the rear again as soon as possible. Many Civil War battles were lost because half-trained musketeers would have been more useful with pikes in their hands rather than firearms. Artillery was often present on the battlefield, but tended to be so poorly served that it had little impact. Unlike the romantic image of charge and counter-charge by valiant swordsmen against resolute defenders, many Scottish battles of the era degenerated into rock-throwing by both sides.

The trained swordsmen of the highland clans had a fearsome reputation, but in reality they were always few in number. Most of the clansmen formed an untrained rabble, useful only for pressing home an advantage already won by the professionals in the first rank. In the impoverished Highlands there were few who could afford the expensive tools of a Celtic warrior – a broadsword, a targe (shield), a dirk (short-sword), a musket and pistols. Each clan maintained a small group of professional fighters who kept close to the chief and led the rest of the clan into battle. Most of the barefoot men brought on campaign had to wait for someone to be killed in order to seize a weapon for themselves. Nevertheless, the highlanders achieved several notable victories serving under Montrose, but their desire to return home immediately with their loot resulted in an unfortunate tendency for the highland ranks to dissolve after a victory as surely as if they had been defeated.

In the end the total numbers brought to the battlefield mattered far less than the number of professional soldiers involved on each side. A small core of men skilled in the use of their weapons and tempered in the continental battlefields of the Thirty Years War could easily rout far larger numbers of inexperienced men. It was in this sense that the largely veteran Irish Brigade (which may have included many MacDonalds from the Western Isles) was able to have an immediate impact in the Scottish campaigns of the Civil War. Under their leader Alistair MacColla (sometimes known as ‘Colkitto’), the Irish perfected a tactic that came to be known as ‘the Highland Charge’ after its adoption by Scottish highlanders. The tactic involved getting in close to the enemy before letting off a single short-range volley from their muskets into the front ranks. The muskets were then tossed aside as the Irish and their highland allies took sword in hand to emerge screaming from the smoke of their musket-fire. With the hard-charging Celts bearing down fast only seasoned regulars could be expected to resist the urge to break and run at this point. Just as important to Montrose as the fearsome reputation of his Irish fighters was their discipline under fire and their willingness to fight defensive actions as well as charge headlong into the enemy. Between battles the brigade remained an organized, armed force while the highlanders came and went according to their needs and whims. To be fair, most of the highlanders had farms to tend to, animals to care for and families who were unlikely to survive long without male providers and defenders. Any booty that could be obtained through battle was desperately needed at home.

In mid-1646 Charles surrendered to the Scottish army campaigning in England. In a bizarre turn of events the King now made an alliance with his bitter foes, the Scottish Covenanters (so-named for their ‘national covenant’ against the King’s attempts to interfere with Scottish Protestantism). The latter insisted the King disband his forces. Many of the surviving Irish fighters in Scotland began to return home in small groups or joined up with armed groups in the Western Isles and Highlands. Alistair MacColla refused to lay down his arms but was soon bottled up in Kintyre with a group of Irish and highlanders (mostly MacDonalds) by the pro-government Campbells. MacColla was driven out the next spring, fleeing to Islay Island and eventually to Ireland. By February 1647 the Covenanters had tired of the King’s prevarications in fulfilling their demands. Charles was turned over to the English Parliamentarians and the Scottish army returned home, ready to mop up the last Royalist resistance. Isolated castles and their Royalist garrisons fell one by one. Captured highlanders were typically paroled, but the Irish were almost always massacred, sometimes by the hundreds. It quickly became routine to hang any Irishman captured in Scotland, encouraging those Irish Redshanks still at large to make their way back to Ireland. Many Catholic highlanders joined them to continue the fight in Ireland, but these groups were soon destroyed in a pair of disastrous battles.

On January 30, 1649, Charles I was executed by the Parliamentarians in London. By this time there were few Irish fighters left in Scotland. Those who remained at first fought on as bands of guerrilla fighters, but they eventually developed a taste for looting, robbery and extortion. One of these bands was led by Donald Macallister Mullich, a “powerful and ferocious” Irishman who fought under Montrose in the Civil War. The band’s activities gained notice after they became involved in a spectacular robbery with Niel MacKay, leader of the Abrach MacKays in Strathnaver (please note, “Niel” is not a misspelling).

In 1648 the Earl of Sutherland sent a large armed party under his chamberlain to collect the rents in Strathnaver. Niel MacKay disputed the Earl’s right to collect rents in parts of Strathnaver and was prepared to enforce his point of view with the sword. MacKay persuaded Donald Macallister’s band of a dozen Irishmen to help him; together they drove off the taxmen and relieved Sutherland’s chamberlain of all the rents he had already collected. The Earl went to Edinburgh to complain before Parliament personally, obtaining there a company of 100 soldiers to help bring Niel MacKay to justice. The government men could not find the fugitive in the forest, nor could they find the cave that became his temporary home. The latter was described by 19th century author Robert MacKay as being “in the side of a mountain, scarcely perceptible, and so narrow at the entry as only to admit of one on all fours, but so roomy within as to contain a great number of men, and admitting air at the top through a cranny in the rock.”

Thurso 1Old St. Peter’s Church (

A year after the robbery Niel MacKay arrived in Thurso to visit Sir James Sinclair of Murkle. He seems to have been followed there by Macallister, who had added several Highland desperadoes to his band of hell-raisers. As was his habit wherever he went, Macallister sent a message the civic leaders of Thurso demanding coin and provisions. Outraged by their refusal, the Irish captain decided to help himself by raiding the town on a Sunday when everyone would be in St.Peter’s church. Macallister was also determined to wreak his revenge for the townspeople’s defiance by torching the church during services. When one of his ruffians objected to such blasphemy, Macallister replied in bold Gaelic; “In defiance of God and the Sunday, Donald will spill blood”.

At the time, MacKay was living with a handful of retainers in a house at a fair distance from Thurso. When the locals learned of Macallister’s arrival outside the church, they armed themselves and led by Sir James Sinclair (who habitually took his sword to church) they attacked the bandits. Driven from Thurso, Macallister headed to MacKay’s house with the enraged citizens close behind him.Despite being close friends with the Irishman, MacKay may have been unaware of Macallister’s plans for Thurso and was certainly unprepared for battle with only a small group of men at hand. The arrival at MacKay’s home of his recent ally Macallister and his raiding party was enough to convince the people of Thurso of MacKay’s connivance in a scheme to pillage the town and murder its people. It was not long before MacKay and his men were fighting side-by-side with Macallister’s bandits.

The fight was bitter and relentless, with the caterans defending the house falling one by one to the furious attackers. Having survived countless battles, there was a common belief that a lead bullet could not kill the Irish marauder Macallister. One of Sir James Sinclair’s servants cut a silver button from his master’s coat and loaded it into a pistol. Determined to slay Macallister, the would-be killer succeeded only in piercing the Irishman’s ear. Surprised but still on his feet, Macallister coolly exclaimed; “Hoot! The fellow, he’s deafened me!” Eventually steel, not lead or silver, brought down the notorious freebooter. Niel MacKay was killed in the early stages of the fight. Sir James, unaware of his friend’s death (and perhaps uncertain about his role in the attack), ordered his men “Let no man touch Niel MacKay!” When informed that MacKay had already fallen, Sinclair announced gravely; “Then spare none”.

The question of MacKay’s involvement remains open. Was it mere coincidence that Macallister’s men arrived at Thurso just behind him? There seems little reason for MacKay to contemplate such a desperate and despicable act as burning a church with its congregation still inside, particularly in his own region, where retribution would be swift and inevitable. Yet, when the going got rough for the freebooters in Thurso, they headed immediately for the house where MacKay was staying. They may have expected the help of MacKay and his men after aiding them against the Earl of Sutherland the previous year. Having realized that the bandits intended to burn them alive, the seething mob that poured out of Thurso in pursuit was probably not in the mood to listen to explanations of innocence. In any case MacKay and his men were of the professional fighting class, and once under attack would not have failed to respond in kind immediately.

None were spared to answer these questions. Only two of the bandits escaped the massacre, fleeing half a mile along the rocky sea-side cliffs to the village of Scrabster, where they were set upon and killed. In Robert MacKay’s 1829 history of the Clan MacKay, the author recalled seeing the place of their death marked by two large stones. The bodies of the rest were buried at the main entrance of the church (last used for services in 1832 and now a picturesque ruin). The remains of the caterans do not seem to have carried much respect with the locals; Robert MacKay records seeing in the possession of a Thurso merchant a remarkably large molar tooth recently pulled from one of the skulls. Niel MacKay’s mortal remains were another matter. Sir James was grief-stricken at the death of his friend who, moreover, had been his guest in the area. Sinclair ordered MacKay’s body to be interned in his own family plot, with the late chief’s coat-of-arms carved on the gravestone. It being the custom in the north at the time to take revenge for the death of any chief, Niel MacKay’s son, also named Niel, began the hunt for the men who brought down his father. The younger Niel killed a man closely involved, but the actual culprit eventually tired of being hunted and fled abroad.

With their days of victories under Montrose and Alisdair MacColla long behind them, the last of the ‘Redshanks’ met an ignoble death, their bones dumped in a pit outside the very church they intended to burn. In the following year, 1650, Montrose attempted a comeback from the Orkney Islands that lay within sight of Thurso across the northern sea. After crossing to the mainland with his hastily raised force of Orkney natives and Danish mercenaries (a poor substitute for MacColla’s Irish Brigade), Montrose was quickly defeated and sent on to Edinburgh to be hanged and quartered. His brilliant ally Alistair MacColla had already been killed at the 1647 battle of Knocknanuss in Ireland when his men made the fatal mistake of dispersing to loot the enemy’s baggage train after slashing their way through the Parliamentarian infantry. The massacre of Macallister and his men at Thurso brought a brutal end to the Redshanks in Scotland. It was not the end of Irish fighting men in Scotland, however. That would wait another hundred years for the end of Prince Charles Stewart’s failed rising of 1745-46.


Calder, James T: Sketch of the Civil and Traditional History of Caithness from the 10th Century, Wick, 1887

Gordon, Sir Robert: History of the House of Sutherland, Edinburgh, 1813

Haythornwaite, Philip: The English Civil War 1642-1651: An Illustrated Military History, Poole, Dorset, 1983

Hill, JM: Celtic Warfare 1595-1763, Edinburgh, 1986

Lenihan, Pádraig: “Celtic Warfare in the 1640s,” In John R Young (ed.), Celtic Dimensions of the British Civil Wars, Edinburgh, 1997, pp. 116-140

Lawson, John Parker: Historical Tales of the Wars of Scotland, Vol. I, Edinburgh, c.1850, pp. 326-28

MacKay, Robert: History of the House and Clan of MacKay, Edinburgh, 1829

Ó Ciardha, Éamonn: “Tories and Moss-Troopers in Scotland and Ireland in the Interregnum: a political dimension,” In, John R Young (ed.), Celtic Dimensions of the British Civil Wars, Edinburgh, 1997, pp. 141-163

Reid, Stuart: The Campaigns of Montrose: A Military History of the Civil War in Scotland, 1639 to 1646, Edinburgh, 1990

Reid, Stuart, and Graham Turner: Scots Armies of the English Civil Wars, Oxford, 1999

Stevenson, David: Scottish Covenanters and Irish Confederates, Belfast, 1981

Stradling, RA: The Spanish Monarchy and Irish Mercenaries, 1618-68, Dublin, 1994

This article was first published by Military History Online, November 8, 2007

Radical Ukrainian Nationalism and the War in Chechnya

Andrew McGregor

North Caucasus Analysis

March 30, 2006

On March 18 Russia’s Prosecutor General announced the launch of a criminal case involving the participation of a number of Ukraine’s leading radical nationalists as mercenaries in the war in Chechnya. All those charged, including leading ultra-nationalists Dimitro Korchinski and the late Anatoli Lupinos, were members of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self Defense Organization (UNA-UNSO). The UNA-UNSO members are alleged to have fought alongside Chechen forces during combat actions in 2000-2001. The Russian Security Service (FSB) is running an ongoing investigation in Chechnya (Itar-Tass, March 18; Interfax, March 18).

UNA-UNSO 1UNA-UNSO Fighters in the Field


The UNA-UNSO has its origins in the turbulent days of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The UNSO was created as a paramilitary “patriotic” organization intended to defend the nationalist ideals of the UNA and oppose “anti-Ukrainian separatist movements,” especially in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine (both home to a large ethnic Russian population). UNSO street fighters quickly gained attention by military-style marches and attacks on pro-Russian political meetings throughout Ukraine.

The movement’s literature often refers to the Middle Ages, when Kiev rather than Moscow was the cultural and political centre of the Slavic world. The power base of the UNA-UNSO is in western Ukraine, the traditional home of anti-Russian nationalism that took its most virulent form in the formation of a Ukrainian SS division that fought Soviet troops in World War II. In public rallies UNSO members don black uniforms under their banner of a black cross on a red field.

Although UNSO members were sent to Lithuania and Moldova’s Transnistria region in the early 1990s, significant UNSO military operations began with the dispatch of a small group of fighters to Abkhazia to defend Georgian sovereignty in the summer of 1993. Under the command of ex-Soviet officer Valery Bobrovich, UNSO’s “Argo” squad of roughly 150 men found themselves in the thick of the fighting. Russian and Ukrainian security forces declared that UNSO members were acting as mercenaries.

As war clouds gathered over Chechnya in 1994, UNA-UNSO leaders Anatoli Lupinos and Dimitro Korchinski began to lead Ukrainian delegations to Grozny to meet with Chechen leaders. This was followed in 1995 by the arrival of UNSO fighters organized as the “Viking Brigade” under the command of Aleksandr Muzychko, though their numbers (about 200 men) never approached brigade size. Besides fighting in the battle for Grozny some UNSO members (veterans of the Soviet Army) were employed as instructors. Their contribution to the struggle for independence (including 10 KIAs) was acknowledged with the issue of Chechen decorations after the war. While the Ukrainian government claimed that it opposed the participation of Ukrainian nationals in Russia’s “internal affair” it proved unable or unwilling to prevent it.


 UNSO members have also been active in the anti-Lukashenko opposition movement in Belarus, participating in demonstrations and riots. In 2000-2001 the UNA-UNSO was prominent in opposition to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who was under suspicion of ordering the death of a leading Ukrainian journalist.

The UNA’s political program appears to an outsider to be full of contradictions. Despite close ties to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and a general view that Muslims (“the Turks”) are an anti-Slavic threat, the movement supports Chechnya’s Islamic resistance. While supporting the separatist Chechens, the UNA strongly opposes any sign of separatist sentiment amongst Ukraine’s Crimean Tatars. Despite the UNA’s participation in Ukrainian elections, the party maintains an anti-democratic stance, agitating instead for direct presidential rule. Like many populist-based movements, UNA-UNSO aims are often dependent upon the political winds or even the composition of a speaker’s audience.

Ukrainians in the Current Chechen Conflict

According to Russian charges, UNA-UNSO members were active in Chechnya’s Kurchaloi, Vedeno and Nozhai-Yurt districts during 1999-2000. The official UNA position was that the movement would not take part in military operations during this second war, but would assist the separatist government by creating Chechen information centers. Pressure was much stronger this time from the Ukrainian government to keep Ukrainians out of the conflict, and the Foreign Ministry promised that any would-be volunteers would be arrested. Korchinski confirmed the presence of UNSO members in Chechnya at a Kiev rally in March 2000, but complained that the cost of transporting more volunteers had become prohibitive (Itar-Tass, March 24, 2000). As recently as March 2005, Ramzan Kadyrov (leader of Chechnya’s pro-Russian government) denounced the continued presence of Ukrainian “mercenaries” in Chechnya, but did not provide any details (, March 28, 2005).

In December 2001, Russian Communist Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin alleged that Ukraine’s nationalist groups were helping Osama bin Laden organize on Ukrainian territory while the Ukraine government supplied Chechen rebels with weapons and other military equipment (Interfax, December 10, 2001). No evidence was presented to substantiate these claims. At the same time, the trial of flamboyant but inept Chechen warlord Salman Raduev heard evidence that 20 Ukrainian nationalists were active participants in the warlord’s terrorist activities in 1997-98 (RIA Novosti, November 30, 2001).

Less credible were reports from Russian military sources regarding Ukrainian women fighting in the Chechen front line. Soon after the second Chechen war began in 1999 Russian accounts began to provide details of a Ukrainian unit of ski-borne women athletes/snipers fighting on the Chechen side. Known as “the White Tights,” these elusive fighters were at other times described as Latvians or Estonians. This bit of battlefield mythology was a survival from the 1994-1996 Chechen war.

In November 2002 the UNA-UNSO organized rallies at three Russian consulates in the Ukraine to protest the storming of Moscow’s Nord-Est theater where Chechen militants had organized a mass hostage taking. During the crisis UNA-UNSO made a public appeal to the militants to release the Ukrainian nationals, reminding them of UNSO support in the first Chechen war. The appeal was ignored and a number of Ukrainian hostages were killed when Russian special forces used gas to immobilize the militants.


UNA-UNSO might be best characterized as an influential fringe movement. Its high visibility belies its limited numbers, with a membership of roughly 8,000, of which only a fraction are involved in UNSO paramilitary activities. Under its present leader Andrei Shkil, the UNA-UNSO continues with a provocative political agenda. Efforts to make inroads in the Ukrainian armed forces have been largely unsuccessful. In late 2004 the movement’s leaders issued an appeal to Ukrainian troops serving in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition to “‘turn your bayonets against U.S. troops and join the rebels” (UPI, November 12, 2004). The movement is frequently accused of pursuing anti-Semitic and fascist ideologies.

The timing of the Russian charges, which are unlikely to result in the extradition of Korchinski or his associates, is probably related to the elections in Ukraine, where the UNA-UNSO forms part of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc of political support. Tymoshenko is also a populist politician, and has cited inclusiveness as the reason for including radical nationalist organizations in her coalition, despite heavy criticism.

The Kremlin is disturbed by Tymoshenko’s promise to renegotiate the natural gas deal made with Russia last January. If the charges were an attempt to embarrass Tymoshenko through renewing the controversy over her ties to UNA-UNSO, they appear to have had little effect. Tymoshenko’s party appears to have emerged from the elections stronger than ever. As for Russia’s charges of mercenary activities in the ultra-nationalist movement, the Ukrainian government has repeatedly declined to investigate on the grounds that such charges are too difficult to substantiate. Dimitro Korchinski now leads his own nationalist party, Bratstvo (Brotherhood), and remains well-connected in Ukraine’s political establishment. As Tymoshenko appears ready to translate last week’s election results into a coalition government, it seems unlikely that the Ukrainian government’s remarkable toleration of UNA-UNSO activities will change anytime soon.

Quagmire in West Africa: Nigerian Peacekeeping in Sierra Leone (1997-98)

Andrew McGregor

International Journal 54 (3) (Canadian Institute of International Affairs)

Summer, 1999 (pp. 482-501)

Following a long period of military rule, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected president of Sierra Leone on 17 March 1996. Little more than one year later, on 25 May 1997, he and his democratically elected government were overthrown in a bloody coup led by dissident military officers and rebels from Sierra Leone’s long-standing insurgency. In March 1998, a peacekeeping force under Nigerian leadership, with considerable help from a British/South African mercenary firm and a local paramilitary (the Kamajor), entered Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, and restored Kabbah and his government. The motives for Nigerian intervention were twofold: there was a natural desire regional security; but General Sani Abacha also wanted international legitimacy for his discredited military regime. The initial success of the peacekeepers helped obscure some of the troubling aspects of the intervention – the lack of an international mandate, the use of mercenaries in peacekeeping operations, and the very undemocratic nature of the Nigerian regime. Peace has, however, eluded Sierra Leone: cities, towns and rural areas remain insecure and a supposedly defeated rebel army remains at large, indulging in a vicious retributive campaign of terror against a defenceless civilian population. Even though the situation remains fluid, the initial Nigerian intervention is worth examining both for the precedents it set and for the parallels with the current crisis in Kosovo – a large military power leading a sometimes reluctant regional alliance in a military campaign designed to bring an as yet undefined resolution to a civil conflict.

The assault on Freetown was apparently orchestrated by the Nigerian military without consulting their allies in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its military arm – the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) – and without a United Nations Security Council mandate for decisive military action. Even though the offensive seemed well=planned, the Nigerian command described it as a spontaneous reaction to an attack by forces of Sierra Leone’s junta government, th Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). While the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) all called for the restoration of Kabbah’s legitimate government, the long-term intentions of the Nigerians remain uncertain. In the short term, their efforts to ease international opposition to the Abacha regime were at least partly successful, but still fell far short of expectations.


Sierra Leone is an example, unfortunately not unique, of a nation in which the collapse of political and social structures made external intervention appear the only humanitarian solution. It is a small ex-British colony in west Africa with dense forests, rich agriculture and abundant natural resources that would normally allow for a prosperous lifestyle for its citizens. Instead, it is ranked by the United Nations as the world’s most unliveable country. Since independence in 1961 successi9ive regimes have failed to deal with the collapse of a patrimonial system of wealth redistribution and the inequitable exploitation of the country’s natural resources. The resulting social tensions produced military governments and armed rebels (the Revolutionary United Front/Sierra Leone – RUF/SL) who shared a common origin in the ranks of disaffected and unemployed youths on the fringes of both urban and rural society. The military and the rebels have also shared a lack of vision regarding political reform or development in Sierra Leone, preferring to adhere to a programme of self-enrichment while passing through phases of confrontation and collaboration with each other.

The RUF rebellion was launched on 23 March 1991, 20 years to the day after the coup attempt for which its leader, Foday Sankoh, was jailed in 1972. Sankoh, once a corporal in the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), gained a thorough knowledge of the bush and forests of Sierra Leone during a stint as an itinerant photographer. Later training in Libya provided him with a background in the revolutionary arts. His movement developed out of a strain of revolutionary populism current in student circles in Sierra Leone in the 1970s and early 1980s. Its intellectual roots can be found in a blend of borrowed pan-Africanism and ideas from Muammar Khadafy’s Green Book.[i] These concepts would reappear as the slender ideological core of Sankoh’s revolutionary movement.

The obscure ideology that drives the RUF is of little help in explaining some of the movement’s questionable strategic decisions. The decision to join forces with the military junta in May 1997 provided the backbone for the junta’s struggle to retain power but also gave Nigeria the opportunity to impose a political/military solution on the Sierra Leone crisis. The RUF has also consistently failed to present a coherent political agenda to the international community. In its first real chance to address an international forum (the OAU-RUF meeting in Abidjan on 3-4 December 1995), the RUF delegation stressed that its target was not so much the ruling National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) as the prevailing ideology of corruption, which it viewed as a legacy of the All People’s Congress that had ruled Sierra Leone from 1968 to 1992.[ii] The delegation favoured postponing elections and made the rather startling declaration that Foday Sankoh “did not want to be the President of Sierra Leone and his only wish was to see Sierra Leone liberated.”[iii]

The current troubles in Sierra Leone can be traced back to the 1990 ECOMOG intervention in Liberia. As Sankoh began organizing his movement, Charles Taylor, the Liberian guerrilla leader, began to arm the RUF in retaliation for two battalions of the SLA which Sierra Leone provided to help the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces in Liberia. The fighting strength of the early RUF depended heavily on Liberian and Burkinabe mercenaries, fighting mostly for plunder, with little sense of responsibility to the Sierra Leonans for whom they were putatively fighting. Charles Taylor, with some justification, saw ECOMOG as a Nigerian-inspired effort to rescue Samuel Doe, the Liberian president, whose authority at the time did not extend beyond the walls of the presidential compound in Monrovia.

The scant access of the rural-based RUF to communications to the outside world and Sankoh’s inexplicable reluctance to take advantage of every opportunity to express his position at international forums (in December 1996, for example, he refused to meet with United Nations negotiators in Sierra Leone) left the international community in the dark over the motives behind the brutalization of the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Those foreign capitals that took the time to consider the RUF found it lacking in credibility as an opposition movement. They hoped that the democratic election of Kabbah in 1996 would put an end to the relentless devastation of the country by rebels and state security forces alike.

Sankoh eventually agreed to outside mediation in negotiations with the newly elected president. With assistance from the government of Côte d’Ivoire and the participation of the OAU, the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and the International Red Cross, the Yamoussoukro communiqué was issued in April 1996, and in December the Abidjan agreement called for a ceasefire and “a framework to further the process of democratization and equitable social and economic development in Sierra Leone.”[iv]

The military coup in Freetown in May 1997 brought to a halt the implementation of the Abidjan agreement. At the time, Foday Sankoh was in detention in a luxury hotel in Nigeria where he had been arrested in February. Educated but non-combatant members of the RUF leadership had expelled Sankoh from the movement two weeks before his arrest, but the expulsion carried no weight with the fighters and battle-commanders, who remained loyal to him. Those responsible for his expulsion were abducted from a reconciliation meeting in early 1997 and have not been seen since.

Likely under Sankoh’s advice, the battle-commanders brought 500 rebels (many boys as young as 12) to Freetown at the invitation of the coup leaders, who believed they faced imminent foreign military intervention. The RUF decision to enter into a defined military alliance with the coup leaders brought the RUF out into the open where it could be crushed by conventional military force, a costly defiance of all traditional guerrilla strategy – RUF success had always been based on avoiding direct confrontation with government forces. The result was the elimination of much of the movement’s leadership and a good portion of its arms.


The coup that precipitated the ECOMOG military intervention began with an assault on Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, from which Major Johnny Paul Koroma was released, together with 600 felons and veterans of unsuccessful coups. Koroma was a member of the politically powerful Limba tribe of Sierra Leone’s Northern Province. His trial for participation in a September 1996 coup attempt was set to begin one day after he was released from prison. Although close to the leaders of the 1992 coup of Captain Valentin Strasser, Koroma’s only significant field operation was looting the vehicles of the mining operation he was supposed to be guarding from RUF rebels.

Twenty members of the new Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) were named on 1 June 1997. They included Foday Sankoh as (absentee) vice-chairman, RUF chief strategist Sam “Mosquito” Bockarie, and two other RUF members. Koroma’s brother, Brigadier S.F.Y. Koroma, was appointed chief of staff, while Solomon “Saj” Musa, the feared ex-security chief in the 1992-96 NPRC military government, became chief secretary. Junta leadership was dominated by the Limba tribe (10 per cent of the Sierra Leone population) and the northern Temne (25 per cent of the population). Other members were generally young, unknown, poorly educated junior officers and non-commissioned officers, most of whom had benefited from inflation in the ranks when the SLA grew from 8,000 to 12,000 men after the 1992 coup. Many of the new recruits were street children and petty criminals.

quagmire 1Executive Outcomes Mercenaries in Sierra Leone

The army eventually grew to a strength of 14,000 before the 1996 Abidjan agreement called for a 50 per cent reduction in its numbers. Though poorly trained and incapable in the field, the SLA was not happy when the South African mercenary firm, Executive Outcomes, was engaged to provide security in the mineral fields, the government promoted the Kamajor militia, and Kabbah chose Nigerian troops for his personal bodyguard. Many of the rank-and-file expressed their dissatisfaction by becoming part of the “Sobel” phenomenon – “soldiers by day, rebels by night.” The high level of resentment reached the senior ranks of the SLA: even the chief of staff, Hassan Conteh, gave his support to the junior officers’ coup.

A national “People’s Army” was formed soon after the coup from 8,000 SLA regulars and 5,000 RUF guerrillas. They were initially effective in holding off Nigerian forces in the Freetown area. In response to a Nigerian naval bombardment of Cockerill military barracks on 2 June, 3000 Nigerian troops were disarmed and taken hostage, an action that brought an early end to negotiations between the AFRC and the Nigerian high commissioner, Chedi Abubakr.

As well as the SLA and the RUF, there were two other active armed groups – the mercenaries and the Kamajor militias. The approximately 5,000 Kamajor, or “traditional hunters, have proven to be deadly opponents of the junta and the RUF. A rural militia, they combine bullet-thwarting talismans, traditional hunting skills and mercenary-provided military training in support of their leading civilian patron, Tejan Kabbah. They are drawn mainly from the Mende tribal group (about 25 per cent of the population and Kabbah’s biggest support-base). Sam Hinga Norman, a cabinet minister, important supporter of Kabbah, former Kamajor leader and long-time Executive Outcomes lobbyist, has played an important role in co-ordinating Kamajor training by mercenary units.

The hunters’ militia was already active against the RUF before the Koroma coup, fighting for control of coffee and cocoa plantations in the Kailahun District of eastern Sierra Leone. At the time, Kailahun was run as a mini-state by Foday Sankoh and was the centre for his trade in agricultural products and diamonds with merchants from Liberia and Guinea. Considering the hostility of the RUF and the resentment of the often unpaid SLA of the highly funded Kamajor militia, it was hardly surprising that the AFRC’s first official announcement was a ban on Kamajor activities. Open conflict followed swiftly as the junta forces attempted to disarm the militias, but the Kamajor were highly successful in operations against the “People’s Army” in southeast Sierra Leone, often with the benefit of superior weapons supplied by Nigeria. After Kabbah’s restoration, the Kamajor militia seized the provincial towns of Bo and Kenema, executed soldiers of the People’s Army and put the homes of AFRC backers to the torch.


The 1992-96 NPRC government had engaged a force of Gurkha mercenaries to combat the RUF, but these troops became demoralized after the death of their commander and returned home. In their place came a number of South African and British “security” firms, on both government and private contracts. Executive Outcomes, a South African firm, proved very successful in action against the RUF, but was officially withdrawn from Sierra Leone on 3 February 1997 under the terms of the Abidjan agreement. Control of Sierra Leone’s prosperous diamond fields was considered essential by all parties to the conflict, as well as by the private mining companies. After the coup, Lifeguard (an affiliate of Executive Outcomes) was hired by Branch Energy Limited (a subsidiary of Canadian-owned Diamond Works) and two other mining operations. Two British mercenary groups were also active, Defence Systems Limited and Sandline International, which played a crucial part in the ECOMOG offensive against the junta.[v]

Recent revelations have confirmed earlier speculation[vi] that the restoration of the Kabbah government was carefully planned by Kabbah, senior Nigerian staff officers and Sandline International. In early May 1998, in response to a British Customs and Excise probe into Sandline’s alleged involvement in supplying weapons and military expertise to pro-Kabbah forces in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, Sandline’s lawyers released a letter listing numerous officials in the British and American governments who were fully briefed in advance about the March assault that expelled Koroma’s junta.[vii] The resulting “Arms to Africa” scandal proved a major embarrassment to Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary.

In a letter released on 12 May 1998, which was intended to support the besieged British Labour government, Kabbah stated that he had neither asked for nor received any military assistance from Britain and that the role of Sandline International in his restoration had been exaggerated. The letter unfortunately appeared the same day as press revelations that a major in the Scots Guards had been decorated by the Queen for his part in defending a position held by a pro-Kabbah militia against AFRC forces. The Financial Times claimed to have independent eyewitness accounts that the major was fighting alongside eight white mercenaries at the time.[viii] The permanent secretary to the Foreign Office, Sir John Kerr, was compelled to admit on 14 May that Lt Col Spicer of Sandline had regularly briefed senior Foreign Office officials about the situation, contrary to previous assertions that only junior officials had had some minor contacts with the Sandline chairman. The prime minister, Tony Blair, praised the work of the high commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, who was accused of working closely with the Sandline mercenaries, possibly with the encouragement of British intelligence agencies. Blair later claimed, in what seems a tacit admission of official British involvement, that Britain had been right to help restore the democratic government of Tejan Kabbah.[ix] Unfortunately for Nigeria, the emergence of the “Arms to Africa” scandal overshadowed its operations in Sierra Leone; operations which were, after all, designed to display a capable and benevolent image of the Nigerian regime to the international community.


Sandline’s collaboration with what was ostensibly a peacekeeping mission raises questions about the direction Nigeria has taken regional peacekeeping and the impact this has had on ECOWAS and ECOMOG. Almost from the beginning, the Nigerian role in Sierra Leone was one of intervention rather than peacekeeping. Nigeria frequently claimed that it had the full blessings of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and the OAU as it gradually dropped any pretense of impartiality in the Sierra Leone power struggle. The Nigerian plan seems to have been to use military pressure to force on the ruling AFRC a diplomatic solution favourable to Nigeria; if that failed, the option of a direct strike with overwhelming force remained open. In pushing for a solution it desired, Nigeria made full use of its size and economic dominance of its ECOWAS partners – its population of 107 million exceeds the combined population of the other 15 ECOWAS nations, while its gross national product is only slightly less than that of its partners combines.

As justification for its interventionist approach, Nigeria cited the 1981 ECOWAS Protocol Relating to Mutual Assistance.[x] The relevant sections of the protocol are article 2 – “Member states declare and accept that any armed threat or aggression directed against any member state will constitute a threat or aggression against the entire Community” – and article 16 – “When an external armed threat or aggression is directed against a member state of the Community, the Head of State of that country shall send a written request for assistance to the current Chairman of the Authority of ECOWAS.” When a written request from Kabbah for intervention in Sierra Leone was receive in Abidjan, the Nigerian government was satisfied that the necessary conditions for direct action had been met.

The original purpose of ECOWAS was to promote economic integration amongst the disparate Anglophone, francophone and lusophone nations of west Africa. The organization is currently in financial peril; only Nigeria, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire are fully paid up members. Efforts at economic and monetary union have largely failed, distrust between Anglophone and francophone members has resurfaced, and organizations such as the European Union that once took a great interest in ECOWAS’s success have begun to divert their funds and energies to the more promising Southern Africa Development Community.

ECOMOG, the military arm of ECOWAS, was formed in 1990 to present a united front in the Liberian crisis. Increasingly, it has become the most active part of ECOWAS, even though many ECOWAS members have little or no participation in its operations. Nigeria has inevitably dominated ECOMOG, but a poor effort by the government to inform the population at home about the intent or value of Nigerian peacekeeping efforts has led to indignation over the large expenditure of national resources required to maintain such forces and to a number of popular campaigns to reduce Nigeria’s prominence in ECOMOG.[xi]

The original ECOMOG mission in Liberia quickly incorporated elements of peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Charles Taylor (now president of Liberia) refused to accept the legitimacy of the mission, especially as it seemed designed to halt what looked like the inevitable military victory of Taylor’s forces in 1990. After heavy fighting between ECOMOG and Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), the supposed impartiality of the ECOMOG forces was open to question. The mission tended to look more like a relief force for Samuel Doe, a close personal friend of Nigeria’s president, Ibrahim Babingida.

So far, ECOMOG forces have, for the most part, avoided the severe ruptures between the field commands of member-states that occurred in the underfunded OAU peacekeeping mission in Chad (1981-82),[xii] largely because Nigeria underwrites nearly the entire cost of the mission. The other ECOWAS states that provide combat troops to ECOMOG (Ghana Gambia and Guinea) have long-standing ties to Nigeria.

On 26 June 1997, the ECOWAS community took its first steps towards a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Sierra Leone. The foreign ministers meeting in Conakry declared their willingness to use dialogue, economic sanctions or military action to restore the elected government. A Committee of Four (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria) was established to oversee the process. (Liberia as a late addition made it a committee of five). Their recommendations were endorsed at the 20th ECOWAS summit, and a wide range of sanctions was implemented against the AFRC regime. Use of force to remove the Koroma regime was initially backed by Gambia ad Guinea, while Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (temporarily) led the call for a negotiated settlement.

Contacts between the junta and the Committee of Five (led by Nigeria’s foreign minister, Tom Ikimi) had some results. The Conakry peace agreement of 23 October 1997 called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, a monitored disarmament, recognition of Foday Sankoh’s leadership role, a broadening of the power base, and the restoration of the constitutional government of Tejan Kabbah by 22 April 1998. Unfortunately, considerable pressure from the RUF faction of the junta led to the effective scuttling of the agreement in December 1997 when Koroma issued a new set of condition, including the release of Sankoh, a reduction in the Nigerian contingent of ECOMOG in Sierra Leone, and full control of the disarmament process by the SLA.

After Freetown was taken and the AFRC junta was eliminated, Ghana and Gambia publicly approved the ECOMOG action, but other ECOWAS state resisted Nigeria’s claim that its mandate for Liberian peacekeeping now extended to Sierrra Leone. Liberia refused to turn over RUF fugitives who had fled from ECOMOG forces and complained that arms obtained by Executive Outcomes were transported by ECOMOG forces through Liberia on their way to pro-government Kamajor militias in Sierra Leone.

Ghana is seen as a moderating influence on Nigerian ambitions, and its continued involvement in the Sierra Leone peacekeeping force is strongly encouraged by Britain and the United States. Further Guinean military involvement in ECOMOG can also be expected, especially as Guinea has security concerns about a rebel movement operating from the Sierra Leone side of their common border. Aside from Guinea, however, most francophone members of ECOWAS (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo) are reluctant to become involved. Some have questioned Nigeria’s sudden opposition to regional military coups when it gave every indication of welcoming Captain Yahya Jammeh’s 1994 coup in Gambia and because it has its own notorious history of military coups.


The United Nations’ response to the Sierra Leone crisis may be described as ambiguous and reactive at best. Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter describes recourse to multipurpose regional security organizations, although their main roles are mediation and arbitration. In 1995 the Joint Inspection Unit recommended that regional organizations should be encouraged to form the first resort for resolution of local conflicts.[xiii] Article 53 of the Charter would seem to require explicit authorization for the use of force: “no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council.” The closest the Security Council came to such an authorization was on 8 October 1997 when it adopted a resolution empowering ECOWAS to impose oil and arms sanctions against Sierra Leone. The ensuing Nigerian naval blockade and occupation of Freetown’s Lungi International Airport proved very effective; AFRC government revenues fell by almost 90 per cent. In addition, all foreign aid (normally 30 per cent of the national budget) was halted. Some weapons were successfully smuggled to the regime in Freetown, along with Liberian recruits to the “People’s Army” and a dozen Ukrainian mercenaries,[xiv] but the smuggling was dealt with forcefully; the Nigerian navy shelled Freetown’s port in August 1997, killing 30 people.

A situation in which an arms embargo was authorized by the Security Council but the use of military force was not was identical to the situation in Liberia in 1992 when Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces took the initiative for military action. Winrich Kühne has noted the lesson that Nigeria must have absorbed from this earlier experience: “the political message of the Security Council’s behaviour is clear: if the leading powers in the Security Council are loath to involve the UN or themselves in a regional conflict, regional powers and regional arrangements will not have to worry about the stringent application of the authorization clause in Article 53 of the UN Charter.”[xv]

The almost total embargo on arms, fuel, food, and medical supplies went well beyond the official mandate but was doubtless encouraged by the equivocal remarks of the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan: “Where democracy has been usurped, let us do all in our power to restore it to the people. Neighbouring states, regional groups and institutional organisations must all play their parts to restore Sierra Leone’s constitutional and democratic government.”[xvi]

In early 1997, prior to the Koroma coup, the United Nations Security Council was divided over the value and expense of an official United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. The reluctance of the RUF and the Sierra Leone government to implement the November 1996 peace accord and the continued instability within Sierra Leone were noted as impediments to deploying a peacekeeping force. A small observer mission was eventually settled on, which it was hoped would meet with more success than the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL), an earlier and largely unsuccessful effort at co-ordinating United Nations and ECOMOG activities.[xvii]


As for the OAU, the Nigerian intervention was welcomed by its chairman, Robert Mugabe, and its secretary general, Salim Ahmed Salim, at the Zimbabwe summit in June 1997. A later ministerial meeting in Addis Ababa gave its support for sanctions and the imposition of an embargo. It also called, unsuccessfully, for United Nations financial and material support to ECOWAS efforts.[xviii] Ever since its embarrassment over the failure of its first and only attempt at peacekeeping in Chad, the OAU has been reluctant to initiate peacekeeping operations. Despite recent interest from the United Nations, the Western European Union (WEU), the United States, and France in establishing a permanent pan-African peacekeeping force under OAU direction, such a force is unlikely to develop without a solid and continuing financial commitment from external sources. Meetings of OAU military chiefs of staff in Addis Ababa in 1996 and Harare in 1997 confirmed that “the OAU’s main responsibility should be to anticipate and prevent conflicts but that, in exceptional circumstances, the OAU should deploy limited peace maintenance and observer missions.”[xix]

Despite Nigeria’s lengthy peacekeeping experience in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and lately, Guinea-Bissau, the question remains open as to what role, if any, Nigeria will have in a proposed United Nations/OAU peacekeeping force. So far it has not been involved in planning for the force, but it is difficult to envision this type of regional force without Nigeria’s clout and experience. The question if whether the Nigerian practice of unilateral decision-making at staff-level and unsanctioned use of force in the field will prove a useful contribution to such a force. The direction of a new democratic government in Nigeria and the success or failure of Nigerian field forces in Sierra Leone will eventually provide the answer. Nigeria’s president, General Olusegun Obasanjo, supports a continued military role in Sierra Leone (with extensive British financing) for the time being.[xx]

Although the Commonwealth secretary general, Emaka Anyaoku, claimed that military intervention was “totally justified,”[xxi] the Commonwealth nations are divided over their treatment of Nigeria’s role in Sierra Leone. Nigerian expectations of being welcomed back to the Commonwealth following a successful restoration of the Kabbah government met with strong opposition from Canada and Britain. Nevertheless, the Abacha regime had allies within the Commonwealth, notably President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana. Rawlings spoke on behalf of Nigeria as a proponent of ECOMOG activities in Sierra Leone, despite domestic opposition and a number of outstanding bilateral differences between the two countries. When Britain condemned Nigeria’s actions at the 2 March 1998 meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, Ghana turned the condemnation into a statement of approval for ECOWAS operations (without mentioning the Nigerian-dominated ECOMOG). Britain has, nevertheless, committed substantial funds for both further ECOMOG activities and a disarmament and demobilization programme aimed at re-integrating rebels into Sierra Leone society.


Nigeria became a key mover in the ECOWAS/ECOMOG alliance not only because of its size but also because of its domestic economic crisis and the political isolation of the Abacha government. Nigeria has a US$34 billion external debt and has so neglected its petroleum facilities that, even though it produces 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, it has a perpetual fuel shortage. Political strife in the oil-rich Niger delta also severely reduced output in the last year. Despite financial mismanagement, endemic corruption and political intransigence in the democratic transition programme, the Abacha regime continued to receive mixed signals from the West. The last year of Abacha’s rule witnessed a growing rapprochement between Nigeria and France, which was seeking a new partner in west Africa after the overthrow of Zaire’s Francophile Mobutu government. Relations between the two have been strained since de Gaulle supported the Biafran secessionists (1967-70), but Abacha tried to make French Nigeria’s second language and moved its European oil headquarters from London to Paris. In an effort to win friends within ECOWAS, he awarded lucrative crude oil contracts to most of the francophone members who traditionally oppose Nigeria’s dominant role in the region.

Before his death on 8 June 1998, Abacha no longer trusted his military power base. ECOMMOG service was presented as a carrot to disaffected military units or officers; Nigerian troops on active ECOMOG duty are paid according to the ECOMOG pay-scale, a substantial improvement on the salary they could expect in Nigeria. ECOMOG service had the added benefit of keeping suspect units and officers out of the country for extended periods. Unofficially, service abroad also offered the chance for some unsanctioned looting – in Liberia ECOMOG was said to stand for “Every Car Or Moveable Object Gone.”[xxii]

Nigeria’s barely covert collaboration with mercenaries in the restoration offensive marked a full turn in Nigerian policy; it had reacted with outrage to the activities of mercenaries on its soil during the Biafran insurgency. Further revelations of deep mercenary involvement in the campaign threatened even the limited credibility the military regime had accrued through its costly intervention in Sierra Leone. After its initial military setbacks, the Nigerian command no doubt felt the need for external expertise which was, however, unavailable from United Nations, Commonwealth, or OAU sources.


The success of Nigeria’s efforts to restore stability to Sierra Leone will be severely tested in the coming months because the root causes of instability remain. Though the Nigerian assault on Freetown quickly achieved its military objectives, the unexpected depth of resistance was a clear indication of further turmoil. Mercenary activities are likely to continue for some time; Sierra Leone is still a long way from being able to provide effective internal security, the Nigerian military has no objection to mercenary security operations, and the security firms themselves are widely believed to have traded their services for financial interest in mining operations within Sierra Leone, lending credence to the belief that they are there for the long haul. New government-issued mineral contracts will likely contain stipulations for private security.

quagmire 2Kamajor Fighter

On 13 July 1998, the Kabbah government disbanded what remained of Sierra Leone’s standing army and began recruiting a small “reformed” armed force, but the loosely disciplined Kamajor militia remained the government’s strongest domestic defendant. Since the restoration of their patrons, Kabbah and Norma, the Kamajor have directed their operations against the Limba and other northern tribes who were seen as supporters of the junta. The militia appears to have had little impact on the RUF’s terror campaign; when the two forces do clash, the frontline fighters on both sides are usually well-armed and drug-stimulated children.

If a peace agreement can be reached between the RUF and the government, the Nigerians can still expect a lengthy stay. Even a reformed SLA cannot be expected to provide an effective level of security in the foreseeable future. The Kabbah government hardly returned to a hero’s welcome from many of the loyal Sierra Leonans who had to endure the privations, looting and violence of the Koroma regime. The bombardment of Freetown in early February 1998 by Nigerian jets and heavy artillery was little appreciated by those residents who opposed the AFRC regime, and blame for the destruction was eventually laid by many at the feet of Kabbah. A prolonged stay in Sierra Leone may well suit some factions within the Nigerian military who have an interest in the country’s mineral wealth and in helping Nigeria contain the regional ambitions of Liberia’s Charles Taylor. A Nigerian presence in Sierra Leone is unlikely to meet serious Western opposition if the alternative is the insertion of a Western-based peacekeeping force.

That a continued international military presence is desirable is shown by the random vengeance exacted upon the rural population by surviving RUF units through 1998 and early 1999. Far from being a spent force, the RUF has conducted a ruthless campaign of indiscriminate terror in the interior (codenamed Operation No Living Thing), amputating the hands and feet of thousands of rural civilians, including children, before striking into the heart of Freetown again in early January 1999. Apparently concluding that international acceptance for the movement was irrevocably lost after their initial defeat in Freetown, the RUF opted to surpass the worst excesses of its earlier terror campaigns and developed into a personality cult revolving around its imprisoned leader, Foday Sankoh.[xxiii] The ability of the rebels to penetrate the capital, commit major atrocities, and send government leaders fleeing to the ECOMOG airbase north of the city was a major blow to Nigerian military prestige and forced the Sierra Leone government to open negotiations with Sankoh, even though it had sentenced him to death after Kabbah’s restoration. The events of the last year have produced widespread alienation amongst potential RUF supporters and deepened the enmity amongst its traditional foes.


That the Nigerians have pegged their national prestige and reputation to the success of their ECOMOG activities can be clearly seen. The interim government of General Abusalam Abubakr pledged to commit 20,000 men (a quarter of the Nigerian army) to operations in Sierra Leone even as the 1999 Nigerian budget forecast a 54 per cent drop in revenues because of sharply reduced petroleum prices.[xxiv] Since the initial success of ECOMOG forces in restoring the Kabbah government, the intervention has had its weaknesses exposed through allegations of illegal arms transfers to loyalist forces, its inability to provide effective security in rural or urban areas, the pursuit of an internationally condemned policy of lethal reprisals by the government, and the incursion into Freetown by supposedly defeated rebels.

The seriousness of the continuing crisis, the obvious need for armed intervention, and successful democratic elections in Nigeria in February have tended to bring the international community on side with Nigerian efforts (together with its ECOMOG and mercenary allies) to preserve Kabbah’s tenuous presidency. While backing off from Abacha’s growing partnership with France, the Abubakr transitional regime made successful representations to the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting in the autumn of 1998 and convinced Canada to restore diplomatic relations after a two-year suspension.[xxv]

A leading point of contention between Kabbah’s government and elements of the international community is the policy of retaliation against former army officers, captured rebels, and their alleged civilian collaborators. After Kabbah’s government was restored, over 5,000 accused collaborators were arrested and over 100 civilians and military officers were charged with the capital offense of treason. On 8 April 1998, the government suspended the Criminal Procedures Act so that suspects could be tried quickly under emergency regulations. In defence of the alleged collaborators, the London-based Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone pointed out that several leading government members, including Kabbah, had accepted public appointments under the illegal NPRC military regime. According to the Alliance: “No one charged them with treason or aiding and abetting. It seems ironic therefore that these same people now leading a civilian government see it fit to charge with capital offence civilians who found themselves in exactly the same positon as they did.”[xxvi]

Despite international appeals for clemency, executions were carried out by Nigerian ECOMOG members. On 19 October 1998, 24 army officers, convicted without appeal, were executed in Freetown. The dead included the former chief of staff, Conteh, and Col. S.F.Y. Koroma. At least one of the condemned expressed bewilderment at the role of the Nigerian; the last words of Col. David Anderson were: “So you Nigerians came here to kill us while you have more coups in Nigeria than any other country?”[xxvii]

Once begun, popular pressure for continued executions as the RUF carried out daily atrocities in an attempt to free Sankoh began to give the reprisal programme a life of its own, making it almost impossible for the government to back down, even if it were so inclined. Sankoh was returned to Sierra Leone from Nigeria in July 1998 and was sentenced to death on 23 October after a short trial in which he was unrepresented by counsel; no lawyer could be found in Sierra Leone willing to defend him. Documents presented during the trial indicated a continuing Libyan connection in the form of a RUF funding pipeline through the Libyan People’s Bureau in Ghana.[xxviii]

The Nigerian experience demonstrates that although the United Nations Charter appears to recommend the use of regional and sub-regional peacekeeping organizations, no effective framework exists for those organizations to report to a wold body such as the United Nations or to seek its approval for actions in the field. The Nigerian regime exploited this situation to further its own regional and international interests, always keeping one step ahead of what had been sanctioned by ECOWAS, the OAU, the Commonwealth, and the Security Council. So long as decision-making in peacekeeping policy continues to be made on the basis of winks and nods from members of the international community, rather than on the basis of verifiable resolutions and authorizations, the resulting operations will hold little credibility and will remain open to legitimate challenge from any of the involved parties.

Nigeria has demonstrated an affinity for a unilateral approach to regional peacekeeping, using its wealth and military power to drag its ECOWAS partners along with it. If the result of such unilateral action happens to coincide with the aims of the international community, as in Sierra Leone, the international response is bound to be confused. The new realpolitik from Britain’s foreign secretary (almost prophetic in light of Britain’s energetic defence of NATO’s unsanctioned intervention in Yugoslavia) was that “nobody should lose sight of the fact that the outcome of what happened was positive.”[xxix] Abacha was able to exploit these mixed signals to a certain extent in his attempts to regain international acceptance, if not respect. Ultimately he discovered that the main precondition for the re-admission of Nigeria to the Commonwealth and other international bodies was his removal in favour of a democratically elected government. But he was unwilling to step down, and his mysterious death went largely unlamented as Nigerians hastened to exploit the sudden opportunity for political reform. In light of the democratic transition, Nigerian was reinstated to the Commonwealth in May 1999.

[i] A number of Liberians and Sierra Leonans, including Foday Sankoh, received military and ideological instruction in Libya in the 1980s. Paul Richards has identified several aspects of the RUF movement which appear to derive from Khadafy’s Green Book philosophy (Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone [Portsmouth NH: Heinemann 1996], 21). But Ibrahim Abdullah sees it differently: “If the RUF had any ideology, it was definitely not shaped by the Green Book… Richards’ assumption that the Green Book was influential in shaping the views of student radicals led him to look for Green Book signs that were markedly absent in the RUF.” (“Bush path to destruction: the origin and character of the Revolutionary United Front/Sierra Leone,” Journal of Modern African Studies 36 [June 1998], 225).

[ii] The only document offering anything close to an RUF ideology is the slim volume, Footpaths to Democracy, published by the RUF in 1995. This ‘manifesto’ borrows heavily from earlier pan-African liberation documents, adding a mixture of quotes and ideas from Amilcar Cabral and Mao Zedong, with a handful of reflections by Foday Sankoh. See Abdullah, “Bush path to destruction,” 217.

[iii] OAU Conflict Management Review, Echoes from Sierra Leone (OAU Political Department 1998).

[iv] Ibid, 6-8.

[v] Sandline International is run by Tim Spicer and Tony Buckingham, both British ex-officers. Buckingham is also the largest shareholder in DiamondWorks Limited of Vancouver. Defence Systems Limited are rivals of Sandline and are closely involved with Jean-Raymond Boulles’s Nord Resources and Toronto-listed American Mineral Fields. Defence Systems also provides security for United Nations relief convoys.

[vi] Africa Confidential 39 (6 March 1998), 8.

[vii] Jimmy Burns, “President denies military aid allegations,” Financial Times (London), 13 May 1998. Sandline arranged for the shipment of 35 tons of military equipment from Bulgaria to ECOMOG forces (Africa Confidential 39 [6 March 1998]1). An investigation into the abortive 1997 mercenary intervention in Papua New Guinea found that Heritage Oil and Gas owned Sandline. In January 1998, Heritage Oil and Gas was given a conditional listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Buckingham was named as director and principal shareholder (Richard Blackwell, “Heritage Oil given conditional TSE listing,” Globe and Mail [Toronto], 6 January 1999).

[viii] Andrew Parker and Michela Wrong: “Blair praises accused Sierra Leone envoy,” Financial Times 12 May 1998.

[ix] Madelaine Drohan, “UK knew of Sierra Leone plan, mercenaries say,” Globe and Mail, 9 May 1998.

[x] Protocol Relating to Mutual Assistance on Defence, ECOWAS Secretariat, Lagos, 1981.

[xi] See, for example, H.A. Saliu and F.A. Ebo, “Nigeria in international organizations: overview and limitations,” Foreign Affairs Reports 46 (January/February 1997), 1-24.

[xii] See Amadu Sesay, “Peacekeeeping by regional organizations: the OAU and ECOWAS peacekeeping forces in comparative perspective,” in David A.Charters, ed, Peacekeeping and the Challenge of Civil Conflict Resolution, Proceedings of the 6th Annual Conflict Studies Conference, University of New Brunswick, September 1992 (Fredericton: University of New Brunswick 1994), 111-34.

[xiii] Report of the Joint Inspection Unit (United Nations), Sharing Responsibilities in Peacekeeping: the United Nations and Regional Organizations, JIU/REP/95/4, 17 October 1995.

[xiv] Africa Confidential 38(21 November 1997), 5.

[xv] Winrich Kühne; “Lessons from peacekeeping operations in Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Rwanda and Libberia,” in Winrich Küne, Guido Lenzi and Alvaro Vasconcelos, WEU’s Role in Crisi Management and Confict Resolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, Chaillot Paper 22 (Paris: Institute for Security Studies, Western European Union, December 1995), 41.

[xvi] Claudia McElroy, “Freetown battle shatters peace hopes,” Guardian Weekly (Manchester), 8 June 1997.

[xvii] Unite Nations Security Council Resolution 1181 of 13 July 1998 established the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) for an initial six months. Kabbah suggested a mission of 720 observers, but Sankoh insisted on only 70, and the Security Council agreed. The mission has a four-part mandate: 1) monitor the military and security situation in Sierra Leone; 2) monitor the demobilization and disarmament of combatants; 3) monitor and report on violations of international humanitarian law; and 4) advise the government on police practice and training.

[xviii] Communiqué of the 7th Ordinary Session of the Central Organ of the OAU Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution at Ministerial Level (Addis Ababa, 20-21 November 1997).

[xix] W.O. Leba, “Conflict management in Africa,” The Courier (United Nations) (no. 168, March/April 1998), 77.

[xx] After the sudden death of Abacha on 8 June 1998, General Abusalam Abubakr was sworn in as interim ruler, Obasanjo was elected president of Nigeria in February 1999 and was sworn in on 29 May 1999.

[xxi] “African leaders back intervention in Sierra Leone,” Globe and Mail, 3 June 1997.

[xxii] Abiodun Alao, The Burden of Collective Goodwill: The International Involvement in the Liberian Civil War (Aldershot: Ashgate 1998), 77.

[xxiii] On Kamajor indiscipline and RUF atrocities, see “Sierra Leone – sowing terror- atrocities against civilians in Sierra Leone,” Human Rights Watch 10 (no. 3A, July 1998).

[xxiv] William Wallis, “Sierra Leone peace hopes prove premature,” Financial Times 4 January 1999.

[xxv] Jeff Sallot, “Canada to restore relations with Nigeria,” Globe and Mail, 23 January 1999.

[xxvi] Baffour Ankomah, “Sierra Leone’s death list,” New African (no. 367, October 1998), 18.

[xxvii] Sheku Saccoh, “Nigerians execute Sierra Leone coupists,” Ibid (no. 369, December 1998) 24.

[xxviii] Africa Confidential 39 (23 October 1998), 4.

[xxix] Liam Halligan,” Foreign minister stumbles on ‘Arms-to-Africa’,” Financial Times 11 May 1998.

Peacekeeping in the Central African Republic: Canada’s Quiet Return to a Troubled Continent

By Andrew McGregor

Behind the Headlines (Canadian Institute of International Affairs), 55(4), Summer 1998, pp.18-23

In the wake of misadventures in Rwanda and Somalia, and a near fiasco in eastern Zaire, Canada is back with a UN peacekeeping mission in Central Africa. What are the prospects for success?

Outside the tight circle of relations between France and the francophone countries of Africa, the words Central African Republic (CAR) usually evoke only hazy, if disturbing, memories of the brutal and farcical reign of `Emperor’ Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1966-79). Though long absent from the sensational headlines that accompanied the Bokassa regime, the CAR is today worse off than it ever was under Bokassa – a financial outcast, ruined by years of government corruption and political instability, and on the brink of sliding into the kind of violent turmoil that engulfs its neighbours.

CAR 1Following the public relations disasters of Somalia and Rwanda, and a still-born attempt at leading a mission to eastern Zaire, the Canadian government has chosen the CAR as the area for Canadian peacekeepers to return to Africa as part of a francophone peacekeeping mission that may provide the prototype for a much debated Organization of African Unity/United Nations permanent peacekeeping force.

The Central African Republic has known little of independence, democracy, or economic prosperity since it gained statehood in 1960. A land-locked country with few effective trade-links with its neighbours, Ubangi-Chari (modern CAR, Chad, Gabon, and Congo/Brazzaville) was intended by its first leader, Barthelemy Boganda, to be part of a larger post-independence nation comprising all of the former French Equatorial Africa. Boganda believed that a state of this size was necessary for economic viability and envisioned an eventual larger United States of Latin Africa, in which the former colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal, and Spain would be united in Central Africa. Boganda’s dream died with him when his plane exploded in 1959. Since then, the CAR has struggled through the financial dependency and gross mismanagement of David Dacko (twice), Bokassa, General André Kolingba, and the current president, Ange-Felix Patassé.

Effectively managed, the CAR has the potential to be self-supporting, even prosperous. The land is fertile, food plentiful (if poorly distributed), and the population of three million well within reasonable numbers for a country larger than France and the Benelux countries combined. A rich forest and abundant mineral and ore deposits (including diamonds and uranium) await exploitation, but for the moment the nation remains highly dependent upon foreign aid, mainly from France. Government corruption and incompetence placed the CAR on the International Monetary Fund blacklist, but the Fund has agreed to give the nation one last chance to mend its ways in conjunction with the UN peacekeeping mission. The long-neglected development of human resources and the continent’s lowest rate of literacy are two of the greatest impediments to developing a viable economy. Foreign debt is approaching the billion dollar mark, literacy remains rare, 65% of adults make less than US$100 per year, and 75% of children suffer from malnutrition.[1] Life expectancy is a meagre 47 years.[2]

The ethnic composition of the CAR is highly complex and constantly evolving, with some 30 groups displaying a high degree of social and cultural interaction. When describing the population of the Republic, observers often find it convenient to speak of groupings based on environmental adaptation in the three main geographic divisions of the CAR – the savaniers, the riverains, and the forestiers.[3] The last two dominated political life for 33 years, but Patassé’s presidency marked the ascendance of the savaniers. Lately, however, the savaniers are believed to have lost confidence in Patasse, who favours his own Sara group (15% of the savaniers). Patassé is protected by three private militias composed mostly of men from his home district of Ouham-Pendé, supported by Sara rebels from southern Chad who take refuge in Ouham-Pendé, including 1,000 mercenaries called Codos-Mbakaras (`Invulnerable Commandos’). He has also been able to call upon the French-trained Presidential Guard battalion, also recruited from Ouham-Pendé.

Patassé, the leader of the Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centraficain (MLPC), was a prime minister in the Bokassa government. Following two abortive attempts in 1981 and 1982 to seize power from General André Kolingba (who himself took power through a coup in 1981), Patassé was eventually elected president in 1993. Allegations of corruption and tribalism against his government led, in part, to four successive mutinies by the army, which Patassé survived only by invoking a secret assistance pact with France. Nonetheless, he relies upon a platform of anti-French populism and is almost certain to run in the forthcoming presidential elections.

Kolingba remains among some groups a powerful political force with access to funding from wealthy ex-Mobutists who have taken refuge in the CAR. His 12-year rule was notable for corruption and tribalism. Kolingba, a former ambassador to Canada, may contest the elections, but his just as likely to pursue a more direct approach to the presidency. At present, French diplomacy and the UN presence serve to constrain him.

Kolingba is supported by several hundred Zaireans, ex-members of Mobutu’s Division Spéciale Presidentielle (DSP), and may be negotiating for further assistance from mercenaries. French internal security (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) has reported a meeting between representatives of Kolingba and Christian Tavernier, a Belgian mercenary who led the ill-fated 1996-97 Serbian mercenary force in Zaire. The 3 April 1998 issue of Africa Confidential claims that Tavernier is eager to sell a mercenary force of Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldiers for use in the CAR. The new corporate-style mercenary firms that were so prominent in the recent Sierra Leone conflict have yet to take an interest in the CAR, aside from making enquiries about former French airbases at Bouar and Bangui for operations elsewhere in Africa.

Most notable among the other possible candidates for the presidency is Abel Goumba, one of the few CAR political leaders who was not compromised by collaboration with the Bokassa regime. Now in his mid-seventies, Goumba leads both the Front Patriotique pour le Progrès and the ‘G-11’ radical opposition alliance. But his democratic credentials are questionable, and there is some feeling in Bangui that his support for the mutinies was opportunistic.

One objective of the UN mission is to remove the CAR army from the political process. Unpaid and under-equipped elements of the army have participated in four abortive mutinies against Patassé that left hundreds of civilians, as well as many mutineers and French Foreign Legionnaires dead. Most of the mutineers are from Kolingba’s Yakoma tribe and are veterans of his Presidential Guard. Patassé’s repeated claim that France armed the mutineers cannot be reconciled with the rapid response France provided to his pleas for help. Most of the balance of the army are Gbaka forestiers (the tribe of Dacko and Bokassa); the almost total absence of savaniers in the ranks explains Patassé’s construction of an alternate security apparatus. At present the army has no command structure, vehicles, or communications equipment, and the security of the country has been left to a gendarmerie of 1500 men and an extremely limited operational capacity. The current demobilization and re-insertion project should retire at least a third of the army, the rest of which Patassé has resolved to build into a multi-ethnic force.

In the face of domestic pressure over intervention on behalf of the unpopular Patassé, the French government created and funded the Misson Internationale de Surveillance des Accords de Bangui (MISAB), a peacekeeping force formed of francophone troops from Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, Senegal and Togo. Authorized by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,[4] the force was charged with monitoring implementation of the 25 January 1997 Bangui Agreements. This includes supervising the surrender of arms by former mutineers, militias, and all other persons unlawfully bearing arms. Though MISAB disarmed about 85% of the mutineers, it failed to disarm Patassé’s militias, which led to a widespread belief in Bangui that MISAB were Patassé partisans.

The performance of the multinational force was uneven; some contingents displayed a general indiscipline. Another violent mutiny followed in which 50 people were killed in the crossfire between mutineers, MISAB troops and French helicopter gunships. The 19 June to 9 July mutiny (which had a measure of public support in Bangui) was ended by the mediation of General Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, who pushed MISAB to be more even-handed in the disarmament process.

Despite its rocky performance, MISAB was seen by the French as a model for inter-African peacekeeping co-operation. France field-tested a prototype eight-nation African peacekeeping force in Exercise Guidimakha between 20 February and 3 March 1998.[5] Unfortunately the exercise served primarily to remind the participants how vital European operational assistance would be to any OAU/UN permanent peacekeeping force. France has shipped a significant amount of military equipment to Senegal for use by such a force and is willing to provide advisors from among officers currently attached to the Senegalese army.

Britain is involved in extensive training of Ghanian peacekeepers, who have substantial UN and Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) experience already. The United States, whose efforts at taking a leadership role in creating an African peacekeeping force were politely rebuffed by several nations (most notably South Africa), has become involved in training and equipping Malian peacekeepers. Nigeria’s former foreign minister, Tom Ikimi (a driving force behind Nigeria’s ECOMOG peacekeeping adventure in Sierra Leone), has denounced the peacekeeping scheme as a neo-colonialist plot to repartition Africa.[6] Nigeria was pointedly left out of plans for creating the force, but the Togolese president, General Gnassingbé Eyadéma, and the OAU secretary-general, Salim Ahmed Salim, have provided enthusiastic support. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela appears to have come on side. He questions the OAU’s strict principles of non-intervention and respect for state sovereignty and suggests that responsible governments have a duty to protect the rights of citizens in neighbouring countries.[7] Amadou Touré, a leader in African conflict resolution, cites le devoir d’ingérence (the duty of interference) in the context of an African village, where a neighbour has the right to step into a dispute between husband and wife, and believes the African tradition needs to be translated into diplomatic action.[8]

A main impetus for the pan-African peacekeeping force is the desire of France to limit its African obligations and roll back the number of troops and bases it maintains in Africa. France has made approximately 35 interventions in the post-independence period, often on behalf of leaders with little international credibility. The recently revealed “secret assistance pacts” with African francophone leaders have been annulled, and a new policy of rescuing only democratically elected governments has been implemented.

CAR 2Malian Peacekeepers in Bangui (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

The transfer of peacekeeping duties in the CAR from MISAB to the UN’s Mission des Nations unies en République centrafricaine (MINURCA) relieves France of the burden of financial responsibility for MISAB and gives the force added international credibility. Wit Anglophone Ghana dropping out of the original line-up of participants, the new force is essentially MISAB with the addition of small contingents from Canada and Côte d’Ivoire. The leadership of MINURCA was initially offered to Amadou Touré, who turned it down, some think because he wants to be available when a commander for the proposed OAU/UN force is chosen. Field command of MINURCA has been assumed by General Ratanga of Gabon.

The MINURCA mandate is quite specific:[9]

  1. To assist in maintaining and enhancing security and stability in Bangui and the immediate vicinity;
  2. To assist national security forces in maintaining law and order in Bangui;
  3. To supervise and control the disarmament exercise (in practice this has meant arms disposal only);
  4. To ensure the freedom and security of UN personnel;
  5. To provide police training; and
  6. To provide advice and support for legislative elections scheduled for August-September 1998 (since postponed to December and now to be combined with presidential elections).

MINURCA is scheduled to leave 90 days after the results of the elections. Canadian involvement came about as a result of a direct request from th secretary-general of the UN, Kofi Annan, and consists of 45 communications personnel from Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. The Canadians are operating out of the French M’Poko Airbase in Bangui, which will be turned over to CAR authorities when the mission ends. The other French airbase at Bouar was stripped clean by looters after its transfer earlier this year.

Several of the CAR’s neighbours are watching MINURCA’s activities closely. The Rwandans claim that elements of the old Hutu-based Forces Armées Rwandaises and remnants of Mobutu’s DSP are active in the CAR and have launched attacks across the north-eastern Congo against the Rwandans. Chad’s Idriss Déby has recently taken steps to obtain a settlement with the Sara rebels in south Chad to facilitate the early pumping of vast reservoirs of high-grade oil recently discovered in south Chad. Déby would undoubtedly like to see a regenerated CAR army capable of denying CAR territory to Chadian rebels and bandits.

While the Canadian government hopes for a short and successful mission to assert Canadian peacekeeping credentials in Africa, there are few signs to encourage such hopes. With the CAR army largely disarmed and confined to barracks, the countryside has deteriorated into armed chaos. The continued dominance of CAR politics by and old guard of discredited leaders offers only the prolonged use of tribalism and regionalism as the guiding forces of government policy. Just as important as who wins the elections is the question of whether French external intelligence (Direction Générale de la Surveillance Extérieure), a powerful force in CAR politics for many years, abandons it manipulations and leaves Bangui to its own devices.

Regardless of the success of the democratization process, the CAR’s future prosperity will require stable relations with stable neighbours. Unfortunately the CAR remains in the centre of one of the world’s most volatile and faction-ridden areas.. A peacekeeping success in the CAR will be only the first step on a long rad of regional conflict resolution and structural adjustment. To succeed, African leaders must see MINURCA as the start of such a process and not just an attempt by France to pass off responsibility for an unprofitable territory to the UN.

[1] Figures provided in supporting documents for UN Resolution 1159 (1998).

[2] Brian Hunter, ed, Statesman’s Yearbook 1996-97 (London, Macmillan 1996), 333, 1992 figure.

[3] Pierre Kalck, Central African Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1993), xx-xxi.

[4] UN Security Council Resolution 1125 (6 August 1997) authorized a three-month mission to ensure security. On 6 November 1997, a three-month extension was granted by Resolution 1136 (1997).

[5] Exercise Guidimakha was held on the borders of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. The participating nations were Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Gambia, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. There were also small units from the US Marines and the British Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Logistics were provided by the French.

[6] Tom Ikimi, speech at an ECOWAS meeting, Lomé, December 1997, quoted in Foreign Report 2485, 26 February 1998, 6.

[7] Nelson Mandela, speech at the 34th OAU Summit, Oaugadougou, 8-10 June 1998.

[8] Kay Whiteman; “A Conversatiion with ATT [Amadour Touman Touré],” West Africa no. 4119, 30 September-13 October 1996, 15611.

[9] UN Security Council Resolution 1159 (27 March 1998).