“If you want 100

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Uganda, in East Africa, is home to 37 mil­lion peo­ple and one of the poor­est coun­tries in the world. It’s per­haps best known for the dic­ta­tor Idi Amin, who came to power in 1971 and mur­dered 300,000 of his coun­try­men dur­ing an eight-year reign. Although the coun­try bor­ders tu­mul­tuous South Su­dan and the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda to­day is an is­land of rel­a­tive po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity. The econ­omy hums. Shop­ping malls bloom around the cap­i­tal. Its peo­ple, to gen­er­al­ize, are deeply re­li­gious, fam­ily-ori­ented, and averse to pro­fan­ity. Win­ston Churchill dubbed Uganda the Pearl of Africa in part for its friendly peo­ple.

It’s also one of the lead­ing providers of mer­ce­nar­ies— or “pri­vate mil­i­tary con­trac­tors,” as the se­cu­rity in­dus­try prefers to call them. They are at once ev­ery­where and nowhere. On TV, a com­pany called Mid­dle East Con­sul­tants runs ad­ver­tise­ments look­ing for able-bod­ied young men to send to Dubai. Talk to taxi driv­ers as you bump along dirt roads in the cap­i­tal, Kampala, and each has a friend or cousin or neigh­bor who raves about the for­tune he’s made guard­ing some em­bassy or join­ing the war in Iraq. But of­fi­cial num­bers and in­ter­views with the kind of multi­na­tional com­pa­nies that go to coun­tries such as Uganda to find sol­diers are hard to come by.

In Iraq, Ugan­dans pro­tect U. S. diplo­mats in Bagh­dad and Basra. They also guard busi­ness­men and aid work­ers in Afghanista­n and So­ma­lia. They pa­trol govern­ment in­stal­la­tions in Qatar and will likely stand watch when the coun­try hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Some re­cruits have drilled at an elite coun­tert­er­ror­ism train­ing cen­ter in Jor­dan funded by the Pen­tagon. Oth­ers are sent abroad with vir­tu­ally no train­ing Turyasi­ima, a min­istry of­fi­cer, runs the unit from a clut­tered of­fice in a dimly lit, bu­reau­cratic war­ren in cen­tral Kampala. Asked de­tailed ques­tions about the busi­ness, Turyasi­ima de­mands a writ­ten re­quest for fig­ures but then never re­sponds. He does pro­vide a list of the coun­try’s 43 li­censed re­cruiters.

List in hand, I go off to find some. One of my first stops is Sara­cen Uganda, the lo­cal af­fil­i­ate of the South African se­cu­rity com­pany Sara­cen In­ter­na­tional. The par­ent com­pany was founded by vet­er­ans of Ex­ec­u­tive Out­comes, a pri­vate mil­i­tary con­trac­tor whose March 1995 as­sault on a guer­rilla in­sur­gency in Sierra Leone in­spired the movie Blood Di­a­mond. Sara­cen’s Ugan­dan off­shoot was crit­i­cized in a 2002 United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil re­port for train­ing rebel paramil­i­tary forces in the DRC. One of the com­pany’s founders is Gen­eral Salim Saleh, the half-brother of Uganda’s pres­i­dent, Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni.

A boda boda— a mo­tor­cy­cle taxi—fer­ries me to Sara­cen’s sprawl­ing com­pound in the neigh­bor­hood of Kansanga. Down a dirt al­ley­way and through a heavy metal gate, the grounds host an in­con­gru­ous mélange of ver­dant green­ery, retro­fit­ted troop trans­ports, wrecked SUVS, job ap­pli­cants, and ri­fle-tot­ing guards. Six peo­ple are wait­ing to speak with a re­cruiter, hop­ing to score one of Sara­cen’s roughly 3,000 do­mes­tic jobs guard­ing banks and malls in Uganda, or one of its more lu­cra­tive posts in So­ma­lia and Iraq, where Sara­cen is send­ing mer­ce­nar­ies.

In the visi­tors log, un­der “pur­pose of visit,” re­cent guests have scrawled “SOC,” “SOC,” “SOC.” A se­cu­rity con­trac­tor based in Min­den, Nev., SOC has held a share of a multi­bil­lion­dol­lar con­tract to guard U.S. diplo­mats around the world since 2010. Its web­site shows on a world map that SOC is ac­tive in

in Qatar, with hun­dreds—per­haps thou­sands, he hinted—more on or­der when the coun­try hosts the World Cup. A poster be­hind the re­cep­tion­ist warns ap­pli­cants that salaries will be paid in lo­cal cur­ren­cies, not cov­eted U.S. dol­lars.

Ugan­dans are in­flu­en­tial in the busi­ness on other con­ti­nents, too. Sisto An­dama, a nephew of Amin, was early to the guard trade. Af­ter po­lit­i­cally con­nected ri­vals un­der­cut his busi­ness in 2006 and en­gi­neered his ar­rest the fol­low­ing year, An­dama fled the coun­try. He now lives in Mary­land, where he’s the di­rec­tor of African op­er­a­tions for Be­owulf World­wide, a se­cu­rity sub­con­trac­tor based in Val­paraiso, Ind. He han­dles 750 men, mostly in Afghanista­n, and hun­dreds of con­trac­tors work­ing for the U.S. De­part­ment of De­fense’s Africa Com­mand across the con­ti­nent.

Since the hir­ing boom be­gan dur­ing the Iraq War, Ugan­dan news­pa­pers have made much of the for­tunes be­ing made.

and mis­treat­ment were “de­spi­ca­ble.”

In 2004, SOC was look­ing for men to send to Iraq, and it ap­proached Askar Se­cu­rity’s Kay­onga. In Uganda, her em­ploy­ees were es­sen­tially mall cops. To en­ter the lu­cra­tive but dan­ger­ous new war mar­ket, she turned to An­dama, a for­mer army cap­tain, to re­cruit and train a guard force.

With An­dama round­ing up men, Kay­onga reached out to Moses Mat­siko Barya­mu­jura, a mem­ber of her tribe. Mat­siko was a young free­lance jour­nal­ist moon­light­ing as a se­cu­rity guard with Kay­onga to make ex­tra cash. Although he had no mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence, Kay­onga per­suaded SOC to hire him in the first wave of Ugan­dans it sent to Iraq. She hoped a fel­low tribesman would be her eyes and ears on the ground.

Ugan­dan guards quickly be­came known in the se­cu­rity in­dus­try for be­ing cheap and rel­a­tively reli­able. They be­came a pre­ferred end­point in a sup­ply chain of peo­ple that be­gan at the Pen­tagon. EOD Tech­nolo­gies, an ord­nance-dis­posal com­pany based in Lenoir City, Tenn., that di­ver­si­fied into guard work and later merged with an­other com­pany to form Ster­ling Global Op­er­a­tions, won $813 mil­lion in con­tracts in Iraq and Afghanista­n through 2015. In Jan­uary 2006 the com­pany signed an agree­ment with Be­owulf World­wide, which in turn con­tracted with Askar Se­cu­rity. (In April, Ster­ling changed its name to Janus Global Op­er­a­tions.) That’s how the likes of Mat­siko and other in­ex­pe­ri­enced men ended up per­form­ing crit­i­cal tasks in Amer­ica’s wars.

Ex-guards are ev­ery­where in Kampala. Some drive cabs or run shops bankrolled with Iraq wind­falls. Cornelius Tuka­hebwa was a ho­tel jan­i­tor when a lo­cal guard com­pany re­cruited him. He re­ceived two months of train­ing with an AK-47 at a pa­rade ground near Kampala’s Baha’i tem­ple and then shipped out. Af­ter four years in Iraq, he re­turned to Uganda, bought a car and land, built

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