We Lend You Peace!

Photo Credit: Neowiz Corporation[1]

By: Jin Ju Kim

One day while I was studying underdevelopment in Africa, I was watching a video titled “The End of Poverty?”  In the video, famous economists and academics like Jeffrey Sachs suggested that the root of the current poverty trap in developing countries is so deep and sturdy, that it is difficult to understand the status quo unless you trace its structure all the way back to the colonial era. It has been well-documented that European colonizers were responsible for destabilizing various economies and political systems within the African continent. These interferences by outsiders have had a serious impact on native ethnic tension, national insecurity, long lasting racism, and wild-spread poverty.

Some people might say, let go of the past, and let’s move forward. Yes, that might be plausible, but I was utterly astonished to learn about what have happened in Sierra Leone regarding their national security. Sierra Leone’s situation is an example of something we should not let go. Therefore, in this article the issue of ongoing mercenarism in Sierra Leone will be discussed.

Mercenarism is not historically new; it is as old as warfare itself.  ‘Paid foreign forces’ were even a commonplace during the Medieval period in Europe. In Africa, however, mercenarism has become an instrument of foreign policy and a neocolonialist device of western countries. According to David Shearer, mercenary activities in Africa “had established an image of the mercenary as an agent of the colonial powers and therefore a reactionary symbol of racism and opposition to self-determination”. [2] It is hard to imagine a situation where a country with legitimate sovereignty would choose to entrust its national security to other countries because mercenary activities seriously undermine state power.

Even after its independence, Sierra Leone was in a precarious state. The Sierra Leone Civil War began on the 23rd of March, 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front(RUF), with support from the special forces of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. However, in order to aid the poorly trained Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) who were unpaid, undisciplined, and incapable of leading the battle against the RUF, both Guinea and Nigeria attempted to halt RUF advances through bilateral military agreements, Unfortunately, the resulting civil war lasted 11 years and left over 50,000 dead.[3]  This situation in Sierra Leone illustrates how a government can succumb to the need for mercenaries by being in an environment where the government is forced to look for outside assistance mainly from private military and security companies on the international market.[4]  Over time these private mercenary forces may pursue their own interests, which can result in them taking control of state power. This is true for many African countries, including Sierra Leone despite the international legal action to eliminate mercenarism in Africa.

In 1989, the International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries was enacted and a couple of other international laws were passed against mercenarism. Surprisingly, developed nations like Britain, France and the U.S. still have not signed the 1989 Convention.[5] This is ironic, because even though most Western states prohibit the domestic recruitment of mercenaries, they do not necessarily perceive mercenary activity abroad as a criminal offence under international law.[6]  The chief goal of mercenarism by Western companies is not to have military installations, but to secure strategic mineral fields, such as diamonds in Sierra Leone, which are then handed over to the representative governments of the mercenary companies. Once these mineral assets are secure, the government entity grants valuable concessions to other private companies owned by or affiliated with these mercenary companies.[7]  In the past, missionaries and merchants served as the main method for European colonization missions to Africa, but today mercenaries seem to be a “good-looking” strategy in the new scramble for Africa by transnational extraction companies, who have the tacit support of powerful governments in the West. Thus, corporate mercenarism is emerging as a new form of neocolonialism which is a new obstacle that enfeebled states like Sierra Leone have to face.

In reflection, until African governments come up with genuine structures to pacify conflicts, eliminate the need for mercenary organizations, and have long-term stable socio-economic mechanisms set up to ensure inclusive politics and accountable governance, states like Sierra Leone face the danger of becoming arenas of inter-mercenary corporate wars for control of internal politics and resources. Unfortunately, today’s Sierra Leone, far from asserting its independence and sovereignty, is actually undergoing corporate recolonization. I leave you with a quote by Musah that I absolutely agree with, “The winners are the full-blown mercenary outfits, war profiteers and their internal and external collaborators. There is only loser: the people of Sierra Leone.”[8]

 

Jin Ju Kim is a Master of International Affairs candidate of 2013 at The Pennsylvania State University, with a concentration on economic development in African countries. She engaged in international business for four years before the master’s program, which opened her eyes regarding international issues. Through an internship in Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program, she participated in a low-cost water filter project and grassroots microfinancing  methodology in Kenya that made her consider ways of how to incorporate academic discussions of international development into practice.


[1] http://www.onlifezone.com/?document_srl=5488000&cn=1&category=1600980.

[2] Shearer, D. (1998). Private Armies and Military Intervention. England: Oxford University Press.

[3] Gberie, L. (2005). A Dirty War in West Africa: the RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone. Indiana.

[4] Francis, D. J. (1999). Mercenary intervention in Sierra Leone: Providing national security or international exploitation? Third World Quarterly Vol 20, 319-338.

[5] Cross, I. C. (2005). International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, 4 December 1989. Retrieved 12 7, 2012, from International Committee of the Red Cross: http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebSign?ReadForm&id=530&ps=P.

[6] Francis, D. J. (1999). Mercenary intervention in Sierra Leone: Providing national security or international exploitation? Third World Quarterly Vol 20, 319-338.

[7] Cross, I. C. (2005). International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, 4 December 1989. Retrieved 12 7, 2012, from International Committee of the Red Cross: http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebSign?ReadForm&id=530&ps=P.

[8] Musah, A. F. (2000). A Country Under Siege: State Decay and Corporate Military Intervention in Sierra Leone. In A. F. Musah, Mercenaries an African Security Dilemma (pp. 76-116). London: Pluto Press.

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