SA grapples with mercenary issue
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).