Peo­ple in a day …

Out­side Mid­dle East Con­sul­tants, where peo­ple come ev­ery day to ap­ply for jobs abroad and check for va­can­cies

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In­ter­pol-is­sued per­mits, or are il­le­gally traf­ficked. A con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate is 20,000 Ugan­dan mer­ce­nar­ies work­ing abroad right now, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­pol fig­ures and in­dus­try in­sid­ers.

It’s dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine how many Ugan­dans have been killed work­ing as mer­ce­nar­ies, as this isn’t a record main­tained by any au­thor­ity. There have cer­tainly been deaths; I was told of four anec­do­tally on my visit. In March 2016, the U.S. De­part­ment of La­bor re­ported that 1,635 civil­ian con­trac­tors had died in Iraq since the start of the con­flict. The same re­port counted 142 deaths since Septem­ber 2001 among four large con­trac­tors, in­clud­ing Soc—all of whom have re­cruited heav­ily in Uganda. How­ever, the re­port doesn’t de­tail the na­tion­al­i­ties of these ca­su­al­ties nor where they died.

Some of the lo­cal com­pa­nies are now quite large. Askar Se­cu­rity Ser­vices was the first re­cruiter to sup­ply Western con­trac­tors dur­ing the Iraq War, find­ing thou­sands of guards to de­fend watch­tow­ers and pro­tect con­voys. The com­pany, owned by Kellen Kay­onga, the sis­ter-in-law of Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni, has its head­quar­ters in a massive, gated com­pound. On the wall in the lobby is a framed pho­to­graph of Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den in­spect­ing Askar guards in Iraq.

Other out­fits are more mod­est. Two Niles Pub­lic Re­la­tions Agency oc­cu­pies a shabby, two-room of­fice hid­den in a swel­ter­ing shop­ping mall. Busi­ness stops when Ab­dul­razak Hus­sein, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, goes to the store­front mosque next door to pray. When he re­turns, he’s happy to chat. As a ceil­ing fan groans over­head, the re­cruiter prints out a tidy spread­sheet of his 16 con­tracts to date; one of them is for 500 guards work­ing for He­maya Se­cu­rity Ser­vices, a state-owned com­pany Re­turn­ing guards use earn­ings to buy land, build homes, and start small busi­nesses. Thou­sands of young men—some army vet­er­ans but also civil­ians, from jan­i­tors and taxi driv­ers to un­em­ployed univer­sity grads—swamp re­cruit­ment of­fices with their cre­den­tials stuffed in brown pa­per en­velopes.

As Is­lamic State loses ground, Ugan­dan sub­con­trac­tors hope to send men to Iraq to pro­tect diplo­mats, pa­trol non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion com­pounds, and guard oil fields. Crum­bling se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tions in South Su­dan and Libya look promis­ing, too. U.S. govern­ment con­tracts are the real pay­day, though. Wher­ever the Pen­tagon next mar­shals a shadow army of se­cu­rity con­trac­tors, an over­whelm­ing num­ber of those hired guns will likely be re­cruited from the trash-strewn streets of Kampala.

Dur­ing the Iraq War, Sec­re­tary of De­fense Donald Rums­feld sought to marry his light-foot­print in­va­sion strat­egy with freemar­ket prin­ci­ples. Con­trac­tors scram­bled to re­cruit thou­sands of bod­ies to ful­fill lu­cra­tive Pen­tagon se­cu­rity con­tracts. “The in­dus­try had been grow­ing since the mid-’90s, but what hap­pened in Iraq was so ex­treme,” says Deb­o­rah Avant, the di­rec­tor of the Sie Cheou-kang Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity & Di­plo­macy at the Univer­sity of Den­ver. “All of a sud­den ev­ery­body needed these peo­ple. It was this enor­mous surge of de­mand.”

Uganda was a good place to find sol­diers. The pro-amer­i­can govern­ment voiced no qualms about its cit­i­zens work­ing in Iraq. In ad­di­tion to speak­ing English, most of its pop­u­la­tion is Chris­tian, min­i­miz­ing the threat, real or imag­ined, of guards align­ing with in­sur­gents. There was prece­dent, too: Ugan­dan sol­diers, known as askaris, had served in the

his own re­cruit­ing com­pany. He landed his first busi­ness dur­ing the Iraq War with Sabre In­ter­na­tional, a com­pany founded by Thomas “Frank” Mcdon­ald, a vet­eran of the Bri­tish Spe­cial Forces and mega­con­trac­tor Aegis De­fence Ser­vices. Mat­siko says he first agreed to sup­ply 300 guards for a monthly com­mis­sion of $100 per guard. Af­ter med­i­cal checks, train­ing, and over­head, he net­ted $120,000 a year, a for­tune in Uganda. In 2009 the New Vi­sion news­pa­per placed him on its “new money class” list with an es­ti­mated net worth of $5 mil­lion. He op­er­ates Pin­na­cle Group and Wa­ter­tight Ser­vices.

Find­ing Mat­siko is dif­fi­cult. E-mails and calls go unan­swered. An­gelo Izama, a friend and prom­i­nent jour­nal­ist, rings him up.

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