Cashing in on Mali‘s conflict
Monday 28 January 2013
Bungling security firm G4S is set to rake in massive profits thanks to crises in Mali, Libya and Algeria.
Recognised as the world’s biggest security firm, the group’s reputation took a battering after its failure to meet the conditions of the government’s Olympic security contract last year.
But with growing unrest in north and west Africa, it is expected to make a speedy recovery.
The hostage crisis at Algeria’s Ain Amenas gas plant, during which 38 hostages were killed, saw the return of al-Qaida – only this time not as extremists on the run but as well-prepared militants with the ability to strike deeply into enemy territories and cause serious damage.
For G4S and other security firms, this translates into lucre.
“The British group … is seeing a rise in work ranging from electronic surveillance to protecting travellers,” said G4S regional president for Africa Andy Baker.
“Demand has been very high across Africa. The nature of our business is such that in high-risk environments the need for our services increases.”
If Algeria is a relative newcomer to the private security companies’ emerging African market, Libya must be a private security firm paradise.
Since Nato toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi’s regime last year numerous militias have sprung up throughout the country, some armed with heavy weapons courtesy of the West.
Disturbing scenes of armed militias setting up checkpoints at every corner were initially dismissed as an inevitable post-revolution reality.
However, when Westerners became targets themselves, “security” in Libya finally became high on the agenda.
Many private security firms already operate in Libya – some were even present in the country before the former Libyan government was officially overthrown.
Some of these firms were virtually unknown before the war, including a small private British firm, Blue Mountain Group.
It was responsible for guarding the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, which was torched on September 11 last year, resulting in the death of four US citizens including ambassador J Christopher Stevens.
It later emerged that the attack on the embassy was pre-planned and well co-ordinated, though it remains unclear why the State Department opted to hire Blue Mountain Group, as opposed to a larger security firm as is usually the case with Western embassies.
Large companies are now vying to reconstruct the very country that their governments conspired to destroy.
The lucrative business of destroying, rebuilding and securing has been witnessed in other wars and conflicts spurred on by Western interventions.
Private security firms are the middlemen that keep local irritants from getting in the way of post-war “diplomacy” and the work of business giants.
When a country eventually collapses under the pressure of bunker-busters and other advanced weapons, security firms move in as Western diplomats start their bargaining with emerging local elites over the future of the country’s wealth.
In Libya, those who contributed the biggest guns were the ones that received the largest contracts.
And while the destroyed country is being robbed blind, it is the locals who suffer the consequences of having brutish foreigners with guns watching their neighbourhoods in the name of security.
It must be said that the new Libyan government has specifically rejected Blackwater-style armed contractors, fearing provocations similar to those that occurred in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007 and similar killings throughout Afghanistan.
The aim in Libya is to allow smooth business transactions without protests provoked by trigger-happy foreigners.
The systematic destruction of central government and its entire military apparatus means that security is continuing to deteriorate, and finding a solution remains a major source of debate.
Private security firms are essentially mercenaries who offer services to spare Western governments the political cost of incurring too many casualties.
While these companies are often based in Western cities, many of their employees come from so-called Third World countries.
It’s much safer this way because when Asian, African or Arab security personnel are wounded or killed on duty it seldom registers as anything more than a a mere news item, with little political consequence.
Mali, a west African country that is suffering multiple crises – military coups, civil war, famine and an all-out French-led war – is the likely next victim, or opportunity, for the deadly trio of Western governments, large corporations and private security firms.
In fact, Mali is the perfect ground for such opportunists, who will spare no effort to exploit its massive economic potential and strategic location.
For years the country has fallen under political and military Western influences.
This year saw a textbook scenario that ultimately and predictably led to Western intervention that finally took place on January 11, when France launched a military operation supposedly aimed at ousting armed Islamic extremists.
The military operations will last “as long as necessary,” declared President Francois Hollande, echoing the logic of the Bush administration when it first declared its “war on terror.”
But as inviting as the Malian setting may seem, it is highly intricate and unpredictable.
No simple timeline can possibly describe how the current crisis came about.
However, a number of arrows point to large caches of weapons that made their way from Libya to Mali following the Nato war.
A new balance of power took hold, empowering the oppressed Tuareg people and flooding the country with desert-hardened militants belonging to various Islamic groups.
Two upheavals developed at the same time in northern and southern parts of the country early last year.
Tuareg’s National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared independence in the north and was quickly joined by the Ansar Dine Islamists, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA).
Meanwhile US-trained army captain Amadou Sanogo made his move in the southern part of the country in March, overthrowing president Amadou Toumani Toure.
Events developed rapidly, giving the impression that confrontation between the south and the north was imminent and inevitable.
Mali’s old colonial master France was quick to wave the military card and worked diligently to enlist west African countries in its war efforts.
The plan was for the intervention to appear as if it was purely an African effort, with mere logistical support and political backing from their Western benefactors.
On December 21 the UN security council approved the sending in of an African-led force of 3,000 soldiers from the Economic Community of West African States to chase after northern militants in the vast Malian desert.
However, this deployment was not scheduled until September 2013 to allow France to form a united western front and to train fragmented Malian forces.
But when the militants captured the strategic town of Konna from government forces, France’s hand was apparently forced and it then intervened in Mali without UN consent.
The war which was waged in the name of human rights and Mali’s territorial integrity has already sparked outcry from major human rights organisations over crimes committed by foreign forces and their Malian army partners.
The French conquest has left other Western powers licking their chops over the potential of having access to Mali, which is unlikely to have a strong central government any time soon.
As France, the US and EU countries determine Mali’s future through military efforts and political roadmaps, the country itself is so weakened and politically disfigured beyond any possibility of confronting outside designs.
For G4S and other security firms, Mali now tops the list in Africa’s emerging security market. Nigeria and Kenya follow closely, with possibilities emerging elsewhere.
When private security firms speak of an emerging market in Africa, it is safe to assume that the continent is once more falling prey to growing military ambitions and unfair business conduct.
While G4S is likely to polish its tarnished brand, hundreds of thousands of African refugees – 800,000 in Mali alone – be forced to the borders and unforgiving deserts. Their security matters to no-one. Private security firms have no concern for penniless refugees.