23 September 2000, Saturday Star (Johannesburg)

Private Security Firms Can End Africa's Wars Cheaply

By Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor

The United Nations could resolve all of Africa's conflicts for $750 million if it hired private security companies to do the job, an American specialist on Africa security issues, said in a lecture this week.

Mr Doug Brooks who is doing research at the SA Institute of International Affairs on private security companies in Africa, said that this cost estimate was far lower than what the UN would have to spend to send conventional national peacekeeping forces into African hotspots.

And the private security companies would do the job more efficiently, Brooks argued. He said that it was time the UN privatized its peacekeeeping, peace enforcement and humanitarian rescue operations in Africa, because no-one else was willing or able to do the job properly.

UN peacekeeping operations were failing while efficient national armies were unwilling to risk the lives of their soldiers in African wars.

Brooks said that he had surveyed several private security firms for their estimates of what it would take to end African conflicts. They had all said they believed they could resolve the conflicts and their general estimate was that the necessary contracts would cost the UN no more than $750 million in total.

To give some idea of the relative costs and effectiveness of private security firm operations versus conventional UN operations, Brooks offered the example of Sierra Leone. He said the now disbanded South African security firm Executive Outcomes (EO) had been contracted by the Sierra Leone government in 1995 to fight the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels which were terrorising the country and threatening to topple the government.

With 150 to 300 troops and at a total cost of $36 million - or $1.2 million a month - EO had routed the RUF and driven it back into Liberia where it came from, ending the war. EO had first stabilized the capital Freetown and then set out to recapture the diamond mining areas from which the RUF derived their income to prosecute the war.

EO had a three-month plan to capture these areas but did so within three days, Brooks said. EO veterans of that campaign said that though they had had some difficulty defeating Unita previously when they had been hired by the Angolan government, the RUF had been "child's play."

As a result of their military victory in Sierra Leone, the country had been able to hold elections for the first time. Then the government terminated EO's contract and fell within 90 days.

By contrast the present UN peacekeeping mission to Sierra Leone comprising 8,000 troops - probably rising to 20,500 - was costing $500 million, or $90 million a month and it had created a debacle; including conflicts among different national contingents, peackeeping troops held hostage by the RUF. "In short they lost the peace."

Brooks said that private security companies like EO and Britain's Sandline were "not nice guys. You wouldn't want them to marry your sister." But they could do the job. He dismissed concerns that the UN would be unable to control private secuirty companies contracted to do peacekeeping operations. There were now several private security companies in the business which were very jealous of their reputations and he was convinced they would stick to the terms of their UN contracts, to avoid jeopardising future business.

Brooks noted that it would not take such a big leap of faith for the UN to hire such companies for ending African conflicts as the organisation was already hiring them for ancillary tasks, including providing security.