… 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
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>