By Cameron Duodu
FOR hundreds of years, Africa has been seen by many Westerners not as the place of abode of sacred creatures like themselves, but as the supine depository of rich minerals. Plus, of course, in much earlier times, the source of human beings as a saleable commodity.
"Africa Equals Easy Money", then has served as the simple equation behind the countless forays that cut-throat buccaneers and pirates (call them what you like) -- made to Africa, to rampage over our people's lands, killing, raping and enslaving as they went along.
But this history is usually brushed under the carpet of modern international politics. For instance, you won't read about the real cause of the Zimbabwe land seizures from many Western newspapers that criticise President Mugabe.
It is as if President Mugabe suddenly got an inspiration from the devil and decided to seize lands that white farmers had "legally" owned for centuries.
The Western media seem to think that it is only of "academic" interest to enquire into how white farmers got at least 75 percent of the best land in Zimbabwe. They fool themselves and those gullible enough to listen to them, into believing that the Zimbabwe land question is simply one of legal title: the whites own the titles to the land they farm; the Government wants it; but being the authoritarian, the Government doesn't want to pay compensation for it.
How were the titles acquired by Cecil Rhodes and his men from King Lobengula of the Matabele people? How could an "illiterate" king "sign" away Zimbabwe's land, when he could not read the documents upon which he was persuaded to put his thumbprint?
Who, today, would accept as valid, a contract between one person and another, that was interpreted for the "illiterate" one by someone of the same race as the other party? And who might have been corrupted by that? (You can read about how a British interpreter whom Lobengula had the misfortune of trusting, sold him out over such documents as "The Rudd Concession" at the following website: http://www.greatepicbooks.com/epics/june99.html
The amorality with which Cecil Rhodes and his mercenary army dispatched the black rulers of Southern Africa into semi-landless penury, and how they utilised the backing provided by British imperial power in South Africa as a springboard to seize not only Lobengula's lands, but also those far to the north -- in what are today Zambia (which, like its neighbour to the south, "Southern Rhodesia", was named after Rhodes as (Northern Rhodesia) and Malawi (formerly Nyasaland).
Some of the stories about the shameless exploits of these early mercenaries are unbelievable: for instance, after Rhodes and his army had used their superior weapons to subdue a kingdom, they would ask each would-be settler to ride his horse for a whole day, and to stake out at his own, as much land as he could ride over in that period of a day.
No matter that after Rhodes and his mercenaries had redistributed the lands they purloined, the disposed Zimbabweans were herded into "labour reserves" where they were recruited to work for farmers, at very low rates, on the very land from which they had been evicted; little did it bother the white farmers that the blacks were forced to work for them because without the low wages they received, they would not be able to pay the hut tax that the colonial governments had imposed on the blacks and they would be carted off to jail.
Any wonder that the whites prospered, just as their forebears became filthily rich out of the triangular trade whereby they shipped slaves out of Africa to the Americas, and used them to produce cotton, tobacco or sugar, whose proceeds were used to buy manufactured goods that were sold to the world and profits from which built those magnificent mansions in Belgravia in London, Liverpool or Bristol. Africa Equals Easy Money.
In every instance where this robbery took place in Africa, buccaneering politics was employed as the machinery that was to provide legal backing to the rapacity.
In Central Africa, for instance, the administration of the pillaged lands was entrusted by the British Crown to a manifestly racist bunch of people (led by a Sir Godfrey Huggins) who created a "Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland" under which the settlers continued to rob the three countries.
Huggins and his men fought for, and nearly obtained, dominion status for this monstrosity. Had their strategy worked, they would have attained the same rank -- within the British Empire and late, the Commonwealth -- as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
And it would all have been "legal"! For Queen Victoria of England, "By the Grace of God, Empress of India", had granted a "royal charter" to Rhodes and his British South African Company that had gradually developed into the "constitutional instruments" that provided the veneer of legality through which straightforward pillage was transformed into a nebulous "quasi-colonial" status under which the settlers were more or less allowed to do what they liked, though technically, Britain was their "ruler".
Under the benign protection of Imperial Britain, the ambition of Cecil Rhodes and his successors was to make as much money as possible, and impose their will on Africa -- "from the Cape to Cairo", as they modestly put it.
Intoxicated by the exuberance of their own success, the pirates were under no doubt that they would be able to leave the lands, on which they had spilled so much African blood, to their descendants for a thousand years, if not forever.
But then President Mugabe, his party Zanu, and the Zimbabwean army came along. Allied with Frelimo in Mozambique, Zanu ensured that the party was over for the newest edition of Rhodes & Co -- Ian Smith and his men -- despite their boast that they would not be ruled by an African "in a thousand years".
The demise of Smith & Co was the direct result of the decolonisation movement that had taken hold over Africa in the 1960s and which has liberated over 50 countries in the past 40 years. Africans have begun to take control of their own lands and are in political control though they are still to achieve economic independence.
The path to self-rule in Africa has not always been easy, for in most cases, Africans had not been allowed into government early enough to prepare them for running the modern administrations which were bequeathed to them at independence. But precipitately thrust into the running of government or not, they have begun to lay out the political landscape over which to fight their own battles.
However, many Western adventurers still believe that they can re-conquer Africa and press its resources to their own use again, if only they can find black stooges to front for them. "Our own black man" is the name of the game.
In the 1960s, white pirates formed themselves into gangs of mercenaries and offered themselves as hired guns to an assortment of kleptocratic blacks, the most notorious of whom were Moise Tshombe (whose nest of treachery against the Congolese people was in the then Katanga province of DRCongo, now Shaba) whose source of finance was the profit-bloated company that satiated itself with Congo's copper -- Union Miniere.
One British mercenary who operated in the Congo was so brutal in his blood-thirstiness that even the British media -- which largely extolled the virtues of the mercenaries vis-à-vis the African they fought against -- re-christened him "Mad" Mike Hoare.
No African country was safe from the mercenaries -- even little places like the Comoros and the Seychelles, whose economics were so fragile that it was a crime to oblige them to waste money running an army, received murderous visitations from the mercenaries.
In the Comoros, the French equivalent of "Mad" Mike Hoare, Col Bob Denard, invaded the country four times in a bid to install a government there that was to his liking.
More recently, combat helicopter pilots from Ukraine, South Africa and France have been used in the three-way border war that involved Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and only died down less than two years ago.
Some of the activities by mercenaries have received unsavoury media coverage, and to counter this, the mercenary organisations have mounted an aggressive public relations campaign to try and "rebrand" themselves by metamorphosing into what are called "Private Military Companies" (PMCs).
These companies now represent themselves as being capable of providing private "security" services to governments, agencies and private companies. With the deft assistance of smart public relations outfits in the West, the image of some of these companies has been undergoing serious laundering.
They have even formed an "International Peace Operators Association" (IPOA). They obtained an unusual ally when the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, no less, proposed that their activities should be legitimised.
According to The Economist, Straw claimed that in the post-Cold War world of what he called "small wars and weak states", there was "now a legitimate role for PMCs". For the state under threat from "armed insurgents" or from "criminal gangs, the swift intervention" of a PMC might be the only "realistic option".
But The Economist was having none of this. Straw's idea was for the benefit of the British government, not foreign governments, said the magazine.
The British government would like to regulate the activities of the PMCs. But how was this to be done? Would it set up a regulatory body -- in the manner of Oftel, Ofgas, etc -- and if so, would it be called Ofkill?
With such powerful backing from Whitehall, the PMCs did some aggressive PR of their own. After one of them, Sandline, came under attack in the British House of Commons, The Times (of London) wrote an editorial comment repeating the Straw line that PMCs had become "a fixture of the post-Cold War world" and that their relationship should be properly defined.
National armies were being "cut back" and the "public would not stand for casualties". The answer, said The Times, was not "to criminalise operators who have skills the world needs, (my emphasis) but to develop a coherent framework to make them more transparent and improve accountability".
"Skills the world needs?" Had the writer of that leader ever heard of the massacres carried out in Africa by the "dogs of war" led by "Mad" Mike Hoare or Bob Denard?
Taking up the theme advanced by its sister paper, the Sunday Times also opened its columns to William Shawcross, a commentator whose past access to the UN secretary-general might have led one to suppose that he was better informed -- in which he too supported the Jack Straw idea that international peace-keeping could be contracted to PMCs.
If Shawcross had discussed his views with his UN contacts, they could have told him that the UN Special Rapporteur On Human Rights, Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, had condemned mercenary activity in his report to the UN Human Rights Commission as long ago as 1994.
On the basis of his report, the Commission adopted a resolution which reaffirmed that the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries should be considered as offences of grave concern to all states.
The Commission urged UN member states to prevent mercenaries from using any part of their territories to destabilise or to threaten the territorial integrity of any sovereign state. It also called on member states to rectify the International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.
No doubt emboldened by the respectability given in London to the pro-PMC propaganda, Simon Mann of Sandline and other named PMCs recently embarked on a mercenary caper in Africa that was as audacious in conception as it was stupid in execution.
The cast, the plot, and the mechanics for overthrowing a government in the "backwoods of Africa" -- in this case, Equatorial Guinea, made extremely desirable by the discovery of oil there -- could not have been surpassed in absurdity if cobbled together to form the fabric of a novel written to satirise Graham Greene, John le Carre or Ian Fleming. Here is the cast of characters:
Mark Thatcher: (a.k.a. "Scratcher" beloved son of Margaret Thatcher or "The Iron Lady", the former British prime minister whose support of apartheid in South Africa nearly tore the Commonwealth apart in the 1980s.
Educated at Harrow, Mark Thatcher has dabbled in motor racing among other professions. He is reputed to have amassed a huge fortune by mainly trading on his mother's name, when she was in power, to sell arms and other projects to Arabs that brought him lucrative commissions. Rather than bring him to heel when he ran the risk of soiling her name, The Iron Lady is reported to have boasted that "Mark could sell snow to the Eskimos, and sand to the Arabs".
Mark has been living in Cape Town, South Africa, since 1995, after earlier attempts to settle in Texas and Switzerland proved abortive.
Now, South Africa is a country currently ruled by a government whose leaders had been described by his mother -- when she was in power -- as "terrorists". Yet Mark, having been graciously accorded residence in that country is accused of plotting from his South African base, to finance a mercenary takeover of Equatorial Guinea. He denies it, of course.
But never mind. Africans have short memories, don't they? Or they are more Christian than the Europeans who brought them Christianity. I mean, look at Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu: does anyone know better 21st century saints than these two? Margaret Thatcher's appeals to them on behalf of her "Scratcher" son, would never fall on deaf ears, would they?
Jeffrey Archer: "Oxford-educated" (sic!) writer and one-time British MP and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. He was jailed for four years for perjury, after lying in court that he didn't know a prostitute to whom he paid a considerable amount of money. Released from his jail term, he is alleged to have been approached to help finance the mercenary adventure in Equatorial Guinea and had allegedly put up a considerable sum of money to make the adventure possible.
Simon Mann: (Aged 51, the same age as Mark Thatcher, his neighbour in Cape Town). "Eton-educated", he is held in better esteem in England than Mark Thatcher who could only bag Harrow! Former captain in the famous British SAS regiment. Son of a former England cricket captain who made a fortune from the Watney's brewing empire.
According to The Guardian [London], "Simon Mann has spent all his adult life in the murky worlds of Special Forces and mercenaries." From Eton, he went to Sandhurst and then joined the SAS. He left the British army in the early 1980s, and moved into the security business.
In 1993, he jointly set up the PMC, Executive Outcomes, with an entrepreneur called Tony Buckingham. It made millions protecting oil installations in Angola from Unita rebels, and operated against the RUF for the Sierra Leone government. Mann set up with Col Tim Spicer, a subsidiary of Executive Outcomes called Sandlines International.
Sandline was used to ferry arms to Sierra Leone in contravention of a UN embargo. Mann went to Zimbabwe in March this year and tried to buy a load of weapons which, he claimed, were to be used in "guarding" a mining company in DRCongo.
Later, an aircraft he had purchased, arrived in Harare to collect the arms. On board were 69 mercenaries. Mann was arrested with them and charged with attempting to take the arms and the men to Equatorial Guinea to overthrow the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
On 10 September, Mann was sentenced to seven years in prison by a Zimbabwe court for attempting to buy arms to overthrow Nguema's government. According to a list of his collaborators seen by The Guardian, Mann paid US$500 000 towards the coup, while Ely Calil, a London-based Lebanese oil millionaire (see below), is alleged to have raised another US$750 000. Calil's lawyer has denied it all.
Ely Calil: A former oil dealer with connection to the Nigerian oil industry. The Equatorial Guinea government believes that he helped to organise the abortive coup from his home in west London. According to The Guardian, he has "developed discreet links with senior Tory and Labour politicians".
At one time he was financial adviser to Lord [Jeffrey] Archer. In June 2002, Calil was arrested by French police in connection with the payments of millions of pounds in illegal commissions in 1995 by a subsidiary of the French oil grant, Elf Aquitaine, to the late Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha. He was released on appeal without charge, although the payments are still under investigations.
David Hart: An Old Etonian business man with links to the Thatcher family. He was Margaret Thatcher's "chief enforcer" during the British miners' strike in 1985, handing out money to strike breakers. He served as a special advisor to two former Tory ministers, Malcom Rifkind and Michael Portilio.
According to The Guardian: "Hart is known to have excellent access to the US administration and worked closely with the former CIA director, William Casey." He currently operates with so-called "defence contractors".
Nick du Toit: A former member of South African Special Forces who is believed to have worked with Mann at Executive Outcomes. Du Toit has also carried out undercover mercenary activities in Sierra Leone and Angola.
He led 14 other men to Equatorial Guinea on the pretext of embarking on a fishing and tourism enterprise. They were in fact to form the advance guard of the coup group that Mann was trying to bring over from Harare. Du Toit's group was picked up by the Equatorial Guinea government, presumably on a tip-off from the Zimbabwe authorities.
He has confessed to being part of the plot and is Equatorial Guinea's star witness. He has spilled the beans on the contribution that Mark Thatcher and his friends played in the financing of the plot hatched by Simon Mann.
And finally, Severo Moto Nsa: Equatorial Guinea politician in exile, who had close contacts with the former rightwing government of Spain. He was being flown to Mali to wait there under the pretext of doing business, until the coup in Equatorial Guinea has succeeded. He would then have flown there to make the usual "Fellow countrymen coup broadcast".
The plot came to nothing because the South African authorities, on learning of it informed their Zimbabwe counterparts, who also tipped off the Equatorial Guinea government. Trials have been taking place in Harare and Malabo (capital of Equatorial Guinea) and we must allow justice to take its course in both capitals.
There will also be trials in South Africa, especially of Mark Thatcher. Some of the plotters will go to jail, of course.
But the more important issue is this: Having been provided the opportunity, are the governments of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea going to use it to send out a loud and clear message that the Africa of today will not tolerate interference in its affairs by any latter-day incarnations of Cecil Rhodes who think Africa was created for them to reap profits from it?
Cameron Duodu is an associate editor with New African magazine. This article was extracted from the magazine's October edition.
Reprinted for fair use only from: http://www.zimbabweherald.com/index.php?id=37510&pubdate=2004-11-08