… I can get them”

Ap­pli­cants queue for fin­ger­print­ing at In­ter­pol, where they ob­tain the cer­tifi­cate of good con­duct that will al­low them to pur­sue a job abroad with a se­cu­rity com­pany

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King’s African Ri­fles, fight­ing for the Bri­tish Em­pire in both world wars. Best of all, from the point of view of re­cruiters, Ugan­dans would ac­cept dan­ger­ous as­sign­ments for not much money. Army vet­er­ans gladly worked for $1,000 a month at a time when the av­er­age salary at home was less than $300 a year.

It wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. Ba­jun Maval­walla, a for­mer U.S. Army cap­tain, spent a year at Camp Vic­tory in Iraq, which was pro­tected by Ugan­dans. The guards in­spect­ing ve­hi­cles for bombs were “IED sponges,” he says, and their low pay

Mat­siko’s voice crack­les over the speak­er­phone with prom­ises to meet. I wait days with no word. I visit Pin­na­cle’s com­pound, hop­ing to catch him. In­side the heavy metal gate, there’s a hive of ac­tiv­ity—job seek­ers, uni­formed guards, Suvs—but no Mat­siko. He rarely clocks in, a sen­try tells me. Try the golf course.

As I search for Mat­siko, I hear in­creas­ingly fan­tas­ti­cal sto­ries from lo­cal re­porters: He’s care­ful about what he eats for fear of be­ing poi­soned by busi­ness ri­vals; his gen­i­tals were blown off in an Iraqi am­bush. When he fi­nally re­lents and we meet at the up­scale Ser­ena Ho­tel, Colonel Kurtz he’s not. Dressed in a blue ging­ham shirt, he apol­o­gizes, in be­tween flirt­ing with a wait­ress, for giv­ing me the runaround. “I used to be a jour­nal­ist,” he says. “So when I hear a jour­nal­ist is look­ing for me, I want to get away as far as pos­si­ble.”

In Iraq, he says, he killed three or four in­sur­gents and was shot four times in the arm and back. His arm is in­deed scarred, but the pre­cise de­tails of the in­ci­dent are im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify. Busi­ness is good, he tells me, though it was bet­ter dur­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq. Mat­siko has 300 guards there and in Afghanista­n—a fig­ure cor­rob­o­rated by the Min­istry of Gen­der’s Ex­ter­nal Em­ploy­ment Unit—and sev­eral hun­dred more in Bu­rundi, the DRC, and the UAE. In Uganda it­self he has 400 guards—in rum­pled blue fa­tigues, they pa­trol the ho­tel where we meet, the coun­try club where I eat, the banks where I with­draw cash, and the guest­house where I sleep. He pro­tects the United Na­tions com­pounds in Kampala and En­tebbe, too.

In the U.S., the de­bate over armed con­trac­tors con­tin­ues in the same bu­reau­cratic cir­cles that first touted them. The Pen­tagon likes mer­ce­nar­ies be­cause they can be scaled up and de­mo­bi­lized quickly. The non­profit Project on Govern­ment Over­sight, how­ever, ar­gues that fed­eral em­ploy­ees are of­ten cheaper than con­trac­tors.

Sean Mcfate, an ex-para­trooper, for­mer mil­i­tary con­trac­tor, and au­thor of The Mod­ern Mer­ce­nary, says the con­trac­tor boom isn’t an aber­ra­tion but rather a re­turn to medieval norms, when con­tract war­fare was stan­dard. “Con­trac­tors are here to stay,” he says. Whether mer­ce­nar­ies are next de­ployed to com­bat Is­lamic State or on bat­tle­fields yet un­known, he adds, “they are part of the na­tional se­cu­rity tool kit.”

Ugan­dan guards grad­u­ated from the Iraq War with mixed grades. In 2009 the se­cu­rity com­pany Triple Canopy, based in Re­ston, Va., al­legedly fal­si­fied score­cards af­ter all 330 of its Ugan­dan guards at the Al Asad Air Base failed a ba­sic marks­man­ship test, ac­cord­ing to a whis­tle-blower law­suit. The case is be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Ugan­dans ap­pear likely to con­tinue guard­ing Amer­i­can diplo­mats in Iraq and else­where. On Feb. 12 the State De­part­ment awarded the next phase of its five-year, $10.2 bil­lion World­wide Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices con­tract to shield di­plo­matic per­son­nel, guard em­bassy build­ings, and op­er­ate a fleet of air­craft and ar­mored ve­hi­cles. Among the seven win­ning com­pa­nies, at least five—soc, Triple Canopy, Ster­ling Global Op­er­a­tions, Gar­da­world Govern­ment Ser­vices, and Aegis De­fence Ser­vices—re­cruit or have pre­vi­ously re­cruited in Uganda.

Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve, the Pen­tagon’s anti-is­lamic State ini­tia­tive, em­ployed 7,773 con­trac­tors in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2016, up from 5,000 in the first quar­ter of 2015. If na­tional armies and their prox­ies de­feat Is­lamic State, re­turn­ing diplo­mats, in­vestors, NGO work­ers, and oth­ers will need pro­tec­tion, much as they did af­ter Sad­dam Hus­sein’s govern­ment fell a decade ago. Con­trac­tors will fill the gap.

Mat­siko and the oth­ers are ready to sup­ply the bod­ies. An­dama has 3,000 ex- guards on a wait­list for over­seas posts. Mat­siko stays in reg­u­lar con­tact with a lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tion for re­turned guards so he can scale up quickly.

Un­til then, the two men en­joy the spoils of war. Mat­siko plays golf three days a week, fa­vors 18-year-old Scotch, and re­cently served as a judge for the Miss Uganda beauty pageant. An­dama leads a qui­eter ex­is­tence in sub­ur­ban Mary­land. His son has taken up foot­ball. <BW>

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