OBBO: The killing of blacks in Libya and the rise of the African mercenary - Daily Nation

The killing of blacks in Libya and the rise of the African mercenary

Wednesday November 16 2011

 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

It is a dangerous time to be dark-skinned in Tripoli,” Human Rights Watch reported recently.

Since the revolutionaries defeated, and then killed, Muammar Gaddafi, “dark-skinned” Africans from outside traditional North Africa have seen hell.

Libya, even under Gaddafi, was always racist, but critics say it has grown worse under the Transitional National Council. According to rights groups, most of these “dark-skinned” African brothers are immigrant workers.

They have been beaten, murdered, ran out of their homes, imprisoned, and a few murdered wantonly.

The rebels who overthrew Gaddafi say these Africans were the core of what remained of Gaddafi’s army, and in places where there was bitter fighting and high casualties like Bani Walidi and the dictator’s home town of Sirte, these were the men holding the line – and killing the rebels.

The issue has become so hot, the American civil rights activists and once wanna-be-USA-president Jesse Jackson has joined the fray.

Writing in various American publications, Jackson said: “Reports abound that black Libyans are being subjected to beatings, torture, rape, killings – and, in several instances, horrific public lynching.

“Under Gaddafi, foreign workers accounted for about one quarter of Libya’s six million population. Most came from Africa, poor immigrants seeking jobs in Libya’s oil, agriculture or other sectors.

“Now towns like Tawergha in the southern region previously loyal to Gaddafi are reported to be ghost towns, with entire populations having ‘disappeared.’ ’’

“The revolutionaries claim that many of those arrested or killed were ‘mercenaries’ hired by Gaddafi to defend the regime. While some, no doubt, fought on Gaddafi’s side, independent analysts say the rumours about mercenaries are wildly exaggerated and are used as an excuse for trampling rights.’’

I abhor violence. However, there is something that the violence against “dark-skinned” Africans tells us about a much bigger process happening on the continent.

It is disingenuous to play down the issue of African mercenaries in Gaddafi’s army.

According to many fairly reliable accounts, in 1980, Gaddafi set up the Islamic Pan-African legion, essentially a mercenary army with recruits from Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Chad, Niger and even from East Africa.

By the time the war started, the Legion had grown to over 10,000 men.

The Legion started what became an important shift in the mercenary business in Africa. Until recently, many mercenaries fighting wars and overthrowing governments in Africa were mostly Boers, former members of the apartheid South African Defence Forces; ex-SAS commandos from Britain; and former Vietnam war veterans from the USA.

Now our people are also cashing in on the mercenary trade and the related one of private security contracting in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, over 15,000 Ugandans have been hired by US private security contractors to do duty in Iraq. There are thousands more in Afghanistan.

One reason driving Africans to take on high-risk security jobs in places like Iraq is desperate poverty and the lack of opportunities back home

However, there are also a large number of former African rebels and demobilised soldiers selling their expertise.

In the wider East Africa alone, the governments of Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, and DR Congo have come to power through guerrilla wars.

When they settle down, many ex-rebels are demobilised.

Today, for example, Uganda has a standing army of about 65,000.

In the first few years after President Yoweri Museveni seized power in 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war, and he had to fight many armed rebellions at home, the army was thought to number 250,000 men.

One time, Museveni boasted that with the reserve forces, he could call 1,000,000 men to arms.

Against this background, the fact that Uganda is one of the leading suppliers of men to US private security firms in Iraq and Afghanistan ceases to be a surprise.

When Africans go into the hired gun business, it increases the potential for intra-continental violence.

But it is also as good an indicator of the effect of the hyper-militarisation and militianisation that happened in Africa in the 1990s.

Because African mercenaries probably charge less than former British SAS or American Marines, the number will only grow, not decline, over the coming years.

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