Simon Mann warns Africa in danger of becoming ground zero for extremists

Former mercenary calls on West to use private military companies to intervene in hotspots

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 23, 2004 shows Simon Mann (L) the leader of the group of foreigners arrested in Zimbabwe on charges of trying to topple the president of Equatorial Guinea, leaving a court set up at a maximum security prison in Harare. Prosecutors called on June 17, 2008 for a 30-year prison sentence for British mercenary Simon Mann as he went on trial in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea for plotting to oust the president in a 2004 coup attempt.       AFP PHOTO / FILES (Photo by AFP / AFP FILES / AFP)
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Africa will become “ground zero” for extremist violence unless western powers use private military contractors, a controversial former British mercenary has said.

Simon Mann has claimed that the world’s “negligence” towards the continent could lead to uncontainable wars breaking out, with Nigeria and South Africa particularly vulnerable.

Terrorist groups such as ISIS could also take over key areas producing vital resources for green technology in countries such as Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr Mann, who used to run his own private military company (PMC) in Sierra Leone and Angola, has called on countries afraid of deploying their own forces, such as the US and Britain, to utilise mercenaries.

“With no help, Africa will be ground zero for Islamic violent extremist organisations and international organised crime,” he wrote in The National Interest magazine. “Intervention against Africa’s insurgencies and collapsing security is a must.”

He said the West’s “negligence towards Africa has cost it dearly”, with extremists overrunning the Sahel, the “unfolding collapse of Nigeria”, ISIS resurgent in northern Mozambique and new dangers facing South Africa.

The Eton-educated former officer claimed that with western powers nervous about using their own soldiers to stabilise countries, “successful intervention in Africa is possible” by hiring foreign troops.

During a colourful career, Mr Mann, 70, went from serving in Britain’s SAS to operating successfully as a military contractor in West Africa.

His biggest success came when his Executive Outcomes company managed to defeat Angola’s communist-backed Unita rebels, pushing them back from a key oil installation in 1993, earning him the reputation of a modern-day Dogs of War character.

Mozambican soldiers on patrol after an attack by extremists in Mocimboa da Praia. AFP

But his record was sullied when he was arrested on a plane in Zimbabwe carrying a company of soldiers allegedly planning a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.

He served time in jail before being released in 2009 and has now taken up consultancy work with another PMC called Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International (STTEP), which helped defeat Boko Haram in Nigeria during the insurgency that began in 2014.

He said that with China and Russia ruthlessly exploiting many of the continent’s natural resources, without stability the West was leaving itself prone to losing out on obtaining minerals needed to power a clean-energy revolution.

Africa, with its 1.3 billion inhabitants, could become either a “huge consumer market”, he said, or “fall into a black hole”, needing constant financial relief and forced to deal with mass migration.

He said the US military had “failed to turn the tides of war” despite all its training, equipment and Washington’s $7 billion budget for Africa.

To curb insurgencies and provide security, “private military contractors can take a leading role”, he suggested. The ability of STTEP to defeat Boko Haram was “marginal to the decisive future role PMCs will need to play to defeat” extremists and international criminals across Africa.

A mercenary intervention would need a “just cause” and key for any outfit would be the discipline of its troops.

Western PMCs gained a poor reputation when deployed for security tasks after the 2003 Iraq invasion and were condemned for several unprovoked shooting incidents.

Mr Mann, who lives in England, said the importance of discipline “cannot be overemphasised”, with his successes “brought about by the quality of our troops”, largely drawn from disbanded South African Defence Force.

“There were no atrocities,” he said: “With a budget that represents a minuscule fraction of US defence spending, we managed to do something the United States hadn’t throughout the Cold War: win a war.”

He concluded that if PMCs introduced modern diplomatic skills and 21st-century warfare technology, “the many conflicts of Africa are winnable”.

Updated: September 28, 2022, 12:56 PM
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