SA grap­ples with mer­ce­nary is­sue

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

LA­GOS — Leon Lotz, a white South African mil­i­tary “ad­vi­sor” who died in battle with Boko Haram last week, was a Ko­evoet man.

In post-apartheid South Africa, this tag hardly draws any ad­mi­ra­tion. Ko­evoet was an Apartheid para­mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion es­tab­lished at the height of the South African Bor­der War in 1979. Af­ter the fall of Apartheid, many ex-ko­evoet and EX-SADF men es­tab­lished “pri­vate mil­i­tary com­pa­nies”.

PMCS — as they’re com­monly known – pro­vide mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ex­per­tise to gov­ern­ments or rebel groups at a pre­mium.

Sol­diers of for­tune Over the past two weeks, it has come to light the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment, with its re­newed fo­cus to de­feat the Boko Haram in­sur­gency ahead of resched­uled elec­tions on 28 March, had re­cruited around 100 mainly for­mer proA­partheid sol­diers. The news has un­sur­pris­ingly at­tracted much con­tro­versy.

The men, mainly tasked with train­ing the Nige­rian De­fence Force (NDF) in coun­terin­sur­gency tac­tics, form the core of a multi­na­tional team of pri­vate mil­i­tary se­cu­rity sol­diers and ex­perts.

Jakkie Cil­liers, direc­tor at the Jo­han­nes­burg-based In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, said the move by the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment to use for­mer South African Apartheid sol­diers is largely a strat­egy for Nige­ria to as­sert it­self.

“The Nige­rian gov­ern­ment is proud, and by ask­ing for as­sis­tance from South Africa, or any other African coun­tries ex­cept Lake Chad Basin Com­mis­sion coun­tries be­fore an elec­tion, Mr Jonathan would suf­fer hu­mil­i­a­tion. He doesn’t want to be seen ask­ing for as­sis­tance.”

With such a com­pli­cated his­tory, and Nige­ria’s im­me­di­ate need to re­gain con­trol of na­tional se­cu­rity, it’s only fair that we ex­pect com­plex­ity, and not easy an­swers.

John Stu­part, edi­tor at Africa De­fence Re­view said: “This is prag­matic move by the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment. And I wouldn’t be sur­prised if th­ese guys stuck around for a while. It’s im­por­tant to note that their role is not meant to be com­bat­ive. They’re highly trained counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tives who are in their 60s and 70s. While they may en­gage in pe­riph­eral com­bat, their role is to mainly train the Nige­rian forces.”

Lib­er­a­tion his­tory cast away? The only se­nior po­lit­i­cal leader in South Africa to com­ment on this is­sue openly and pub­licly is No­siviwe Mapisa-nqakula, min­is­ter of De­fense and Mil­i­tary Vet­er­ans.

Ms Mapisa-nqakula has an il­lus­tri­ous his­tory in South Africa’s lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, hav­ing left the coun­try in 1984 to un­dergo mil­i­tary train­ing in the Soviet Union and An­gola re­spec­tively. She even worked in the po­lit­i­cal mil­i­tary struc­tures of the ANC from 1986 to 1988.

But through a spokes­woman, Ms MapisaNqakula seemed to stick with South African gov­ern­ment’s stock re­sponse to the saga which is that no serv­ing mem­bers of the army are in Nige­ria.

“The SANDF (South African Na­tional De- fense Force) would like to dis­tance it­self from any re­ports which may in­sin­u­ate any in­volve­ment, de­ploy­ment or ex­is­tence of its mil­i­tary as­sets in Nige­ria.”

The Nige­rian mil­i­tary may have been claim­ing gains over the Boko Haram ji­hadists, but the ex­trem­ists re­main a chal­lenge to the poll and the coun­try. About 13 000 peo­ple have died in the in­sur­gency since 2009.

Nnamdi Obasi from the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group told the news agency AFP Boko Haram may not be able to seize new ter­ri­tory, but they could cer­tainly still send sui­cide bombers to public places, in­clud­ing polling cen­tres.

White House ap­peal for peace­ful poll As well as the threat of ter­ror­ist at­tacks, there are also con­cerns over po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­scribed the vote as a “his­toric op­por­tu­nity” for progress in Africa’s most pop­u­lous coun­try. I call on all Nige­ri­ans to peace­fully ex­press your views and to re­ject the voices of those who call for vi­o­lence,” Obama said in a video mes­sage ad­dressed to the Nige­rian peo­ple and posted on the White House web­site.

Fears of un­rest have risen in the run-up to the elec­tions with lead­ers of both the rul­ing Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP) and op­po­si­tion All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) us­ing in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric, AFP re­ported.

Iso­lated clashes be­tween ri­val camps have been recorded na­tion­wide dur­ing the cam­paign and there is con­cern that a close or con­tested re­sult could spark fur­ther un­rest.

Nearly 1,000 peo­ple were killed in clashes in the Nige­rian elec­tions in 2011.

The head of the coun­try’s In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC) At­tahiru Jega said that “ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble” had been done to en­sure a free, fair and peace­ful vote.

Jega has been un­der pres­sure over his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s prepa­ra­tions for the poll, par­tic­u­larly from Good­luck Jonathan’s PDP.

The PDP has crit­i­cised the rate of dis­tri­bu­tion of bio­met­ric voter ID cards, the tech­nol­ogy em­ployed to read them, and the abil­ity of elec­tion vol­un­teers to use the de­vices.

Muham­madu Buhari’s APC, on the other hand, senses there is a plot to revert to the old pa­per sys­tem un­der which bal­lot rig­ging could be eas­ier. — Quartz/dw

Nige­ria goes to the polls this week­end with Pres­i­dent good­luck Jonathan (pic­tured right) pit­ted against ex-mil­i­tary ruler Muham­madu Buhari (left).

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