Private military contractors (PMCs) are seeking to play a greater role in peacekeeping in Africa to make up for what they claim to be the inability of UN missions and state militaries to ensure the continent's security and humanitarian development.
During a three-day conference in Nairobi that brought together UN agencies, NGOs, officials of numerous governments and several private sector companies, PMCs said they had much to offer in terms of logistics, personnel and expertise.
Doug Brooks, the president of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), an industry body for PMCs, said that while such contractors would not replace existing peace missions, they could enhance peace and stability in regions plagued by protracted conflict such as Sudan's Darfur and Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu.
"The West has been an unreliable peacekeeping operations partner in Africa and this has made the peace missions diverse, unsupported and ineffective," said Brooks.
"It is significantly cheaper to hire expertise and equipment from companies than it is for militaries to attempt to maintain them for years or decades."
PMCs have seen their businesses grow considerably in recent years, thanks largely to contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, they have recently suffered a barrage of bad publicity and criticism from human rights organisations.
A recent Amnesty International report accused the Angolan government and PMCs of resorting to extreme violence to evict squatters from several suburbs of the capital, Luanda, over the last two years.
Photo: Noel E. King/IRIN
|The security situation in North Kivu, DRC, has deteriorated significantly, leading to thousands more people being displaced|
Ghana-based African Security Dialogue and Research executive director Professor Eboe Hutchful says private security firms are "a factor in the growing depth of crime and related issues" in his country.
In the face of such criticism, Brooks said it was up to host governments to ensure that PMCs operated within a clearly defined legal and regulatory framework. He stressed that IPOA had a code of conduct which its members signed up to.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced on 23 October that her department planned to tighten the regulations governing the PMCs it contracts to bring their rules regarding the use of force more in line with those of the regular US military.
The move came in the wake of the highly publicised fatal shooting of 17 Iraqis in September by guards employed by Blackwater USA, a PMC that participated in the Nairobi meeting.
According to a report prepared for Rice by a US diplomat, PMCs in Iraq currently “operate in an overall environment that is chaotic, unsupervised, deficient in oversight and accountability, and poorly coordinated”.
Mindful of the dangers of impunity seen in Iraq, some analysts in Africa are also pushing for tougher rules.
That the private [security] sector is here to stay is beyond question and because it poses a major concern to Africa, it must be controlled and regulated," a senior researcher with the South African-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and human rights lawyer, Sabelo Gumedz, said.
The ISS is researching the role of PMCs in South Africa, Uganda and DRC with a view to establishing a continent-wide regulatory framework.