Mercenaries, or dogs of war as they are popularly known, are defined by the UN as combatants who are ‘motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation’. The first accounted use of such forces was by Pharaoh Ramesses II in ancient Egypt, who employed roughly 11,000 mercenaries in the 13th Century BCE. Throughout the middle ages, mercenaries became prominent throughout Italy where they were used by the city states to conduct their small scale conflicts.
The use of hired soldiers continued in to the second half of the twentieth century where the African continent became a popular destination for those seeking well paid military work. Post-independent Africa witnessed numerous inter-state and civil wars which created the opportunity for mercenaries to make use of their skill set. The Congo conflict in the 1960s saw mercenaries being hired by all sides of the conflict, setting the tone for the next forty years. The end of the apartheid was another notable event for mercenary activity. When racial-segregation ended in South Africa there were many white citizens who left the army. Their professional skill set saw them employed throughout the conflicts on the 1990s, including Sierra Leone. Companies such as Executive Outcomes made significant profits off of these wars.
Since the 1980s however, states and international institutions have placed increasingly high restrictions on mercenaries. The 1989 UN Mercenary Convention outlawed the practice, with other states creating their own legislation to prevent their citizens from becoming hired guns. With the decreasing instability of Africa and competing actors, do mercenaries still have a place?
 United Nations Mercenary Convention 4 December 1989
Private Military Companies (PMCs) are independent, registered, corporate actors who have risen in prominence and replaced mercenaries in their security function. PMCs are different to mercenaries in the sense that mercenaries will fight for the highest bidder. PMCs on the other hand will only work for legitimate governments and intergovernmental organisations such as the UN1. Their main roles include; support services, logical support, humanitarian support and the upholding of law and order and defensive military action2. PMC activity has seen corporations operating on behalf of the Somalian government training coast guards to deal with the threat of piracy which peaked in 20093. The legal status of PMCs, compared with mercenaries, makes them a preferable choice for the aforementioned tasks reducing the prominence of illegal hired guns.
1) Jefferies,I. ‘Private Military Companies- A Positive Role to Play in Today’s International System’, 2002 Pg.106
2) Jefferies,I. ‘Private Military Companies- A Positive Role to Play in Today’s International System’, 2002 Pg.107
3) Stupart,J. ‘Somalia’s PMCs: What’s the Big Deal?’, 2012
PMCs are just mercenaries under a different name, demonstrating a continued prevalence of the dogs of war in Africa. To escape the name, and the illegal status, of mercenary a PMC must only avoid one of the several clauses laid out by the United Nations Mercenary Convention4 While they are rarely hired for fighting roles, companies such as Military Professional Resources Inc. have demonstrated a willingness to engage in military operations; making them guns for hire5. Executive Outcomes’ operations in Sierra Leone equated to mercenary work, as they undertook offensive military operations with a force of foreign soldiers for profitable gain. In this sense, mercenaries still maintain their position on the continent.
4) Sheimer,M. ‘Separating Private Military Companies From Illegal Mercenaries in International Law’, 2009 Pg. 624
5) Milliard,S. ‘Overcoming Post-Colonial Myopia: A Call to Recognise and Regulate Private Military Companies’, 2003 Pg.16
Nation states and the United Nations have passed laws making mercenary activity illegal. Legislation against mercenaries prevent either seeking employment as a mercenary or hiring one. Western states such as Austria and Germany have made it illegal for citizens to become mercenaries, revoking their citizenship if they choose to do so anyway6. South Africa, a major source of hired guns, passed the ‘foreign military assistance act’ in 1998 which prohibited citizens from joining foreign wars with the exception of humanitarian intervention. In international law, the United Nations has outlawed mercenaries through the UN Mercenary Convention of 1989 which bans the use of foreign soldiers from fighting for profit. Finally, many African states have passed further legislation which restricts mercenaries operating in their countries. The trial of thirteen mercenaries in Angola and the arrests of Simon Mann’s unit Zimbabwe in 2004 were both due to their mercenary status. The increased legal pressure is a symptom of changing attitudes towards the use of mercenaries in Africa.
6) Mian,Q. ‘Legal status of mercenaries’
The majority of these laws have done little to prevent citizens from seeking a career as a mercenary. While they are commendable on principle, mercenary specific legislation has not translated in to a high number of prosecutions for mercenarism in Africa7. Examples such as Angola and Zimbabwe are rare exceptions. Mercenaries generally operate in conflict zones, where government control is weak. This makes it difficult for the state to enforce such laws, especially as the mercenaries may be working for opposition factions.
7) Fallah,K. ‘Corporate actors: the legal status of mercenaries in armed conflict’, 2006 pg. 610
The decline of conflicts and mercenary freedom on the African continent has meant less work for mercenaries. The Congo conflict of the 1960s, is seen as the first mercenary age8. Hired guns fought on all sides of the conflict and enjoyed the freedom to act at their discretion. The 1976 execution of mercenaries in Angola was seen as a symbolic ending of this age. That said, mercenaries were still prevalent into the 1990s and early 2000s.
Since the peak of the 1990s, however, there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of conflicts in Africa from 27 civil wars and 9 interstate wars to 5 major civil wars and no interstate wars9,10 . As wars and civil unrest are an obvious source of employment for mercenaries; this decrease in conflict leaves them with fewer opportunities. The African Union’s promise to end war on the continent by 2020 also puts the future prospects of mercenaries in to question.
8) Keane,F. ‘There will be work for mercenaries in Africa until democracy replaces dictatorships’ 2004
9) The World Bank ‘World Development Report 2011’ pg.52
10) Wikipedia ‘List of ongoing armed conflicts’
There are still enough wars and rebel movements to provide opportunity for employment. By 2013 there were 23 conflicts in Africa, with many other small militia groups actively fighting low-intensity wars. This stream of conflicts has ensured revenue for mercenaries. Reports have surfaced that ex-commander for the anti-terror unit in Liberia, Benjamin Yeaten, raised a mercenary force to fight against the army of the Ivory Coast between 2012 and 201311 With the prediction of ‘forever wars’ by Gettlemen12, where rebels have no object except banditry, mercenaries could maintain their prevalence in Africa for a long time.
11) Heritage ‘Liberia: UN reports- Yeaten remains a threat to peace and security in Liberia’ 2013
12) Gettlement,J. ‘Africa’s Forever Wars’ Foreign Policy 2012
The increased presence of democracies on the African continent has led to greater security. Mercenary activity is usually associated with the presence of bad governance, which is most commonly featured in dictatorships. Dictatorships generally lead to corruption, unrest and economic collapse. The dispossessed in society then begin to resist, with the ensuing conflict providing employment opportunities for mercenaries. A prime example of this being Equatorial Guinea, where mercenary Simon Mann planned to use popular support to remove the infamous Teodoro Nguema13. Since the first mercenary age, however, the number of democracies has increased from 3 to 25 which has reduced instability on the continent in some regions, reducing opportunities for mercenaries.
13) Keane,F. ‘There will be work for mercenaries in Africa until democracy replaces dictatorships’ 2004
More than half of African countries are ruled by dictatorships. Authoritarian regimes remain numerous enough, and the opposition still prominent enough, for there to be adequate instability for mercenaries to gain employment. During the Libyan revolution, caused by the poor governance of Gaddafi’s regime, South African mercenaries attempted to extract Gaddafi from Libya with supposed Tuaregs joining his force as guns for hire14.
14) Hicks,C. ‘Tuareg rebels make troubled return from Libya to Mali’ 2012
Mercenaries are finding a more ethical role in the form of humanitarian missions. The idea of humanitarian mercenaries is a concept of hired guns employed by governments and the United Nations to prevent genocide in the place of nation state militaries. The major benefit of using mercenaries would be the absence of a political cost should there be mercenary causalities as seen in Iraq15. There will not be waning political support from the military’s home country. Early examples include the use of mercenaries in Sierra Leone. When the Revolutionary Unified Front (RUF) was advancing on the capital Executive Outcomes and other mercenaries held back the RUF, preventing a massacre. They would later seek out and destroy elements of the rebel group. The lack of political cost makes them ideal for operations where other countries have no domestic political will to intervene.
15) Raffin,R. ‘Humanitarian Mercenaries’ 2008
Firstly, the emergence of the African Union (AU) as a peacekeeping force on the continent negates the need for mercenaries. The AU’s has become increasingly involved in peacekeeping since 200316. They are more willing to involve themselves in African affairs than the West, and have deployed the lion’s share of soldiers in peacekeeping operations as in the Central African Republic17.
Secondly, the UN has condemned mercenary use in general and it would seem hypocritical to begin hiring them. The UN’s weaker states have been reluctant to agree to UN mercenaries for fear they could be used against them18. The UN has actively criticised humanitarian mercenaries in the past for their lack of appreciation of conflict dynamics19, making them unlikely to employ dogs of war.
16) Pan,E. ‘African Peacekeeping Operations’ December 2005
17) Felix,B. ‘Militia attack Muslim neighbourhoods in Central African Republic’s Capital’ 2013
18) Avant,D. ‘Mercenaries’ pg.26
19) Chrisafis,A. ‘UN and aid groups criticise “Humanitarian Mercenaries’ 2007
African Mercenaries have been crucial to the success of many coups in the 21st Century, and are a ‘ubiquitous factor in the continent’s conflicts over the years, often determining the duration or outcomes of such conflicts’20. The 2013 coup in the Central African Republic saw President Francois Bozizi ousted from power and was accomplished with support of mercenaries from Chad and the Sudan21. An attempted coup by Simon Mann against Equatorial Guinea failed in 2004 and Bob Dernard’s five coups against the Comoros22 demonstrate that mercenaries still have a role in the changing of political leaders within Africa.
20) Mwagiru,C. ‘Mercenaries: Are the ‘dogs of war’ still prevalent in Africa?’ 2012
21) Melly,P. ‘Central African Republic: France and the CAR- Now Comes the Hard Part’ 2013
22) Mwagiru,C. ‘They Kill Africans, paid by Africans’ 2012
Coups are becoming less frequent and less successful. The number of coups, which some mercenaries headed personally, has decreased from an average twenty per decade between 1960 and 1990 to ten a decade23. Success has also been less forthcoming; Simon Mann’s attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea was met with failure when he was arrested in Zimbabwe, and Bob Denard was eventually arrested by French forces for disgracing France’s reputation abroad with his frequent coups24.
23) August,O. ‘Africa Rising: A Hopeful Continent’ 2013
24) Mwagiru,C. ‘They Kill Africans, paid by Africans’ 2012
Non-Governmental organisations struggle to operate in conflict zones, and still hire mercenaries to protect them. Extractive industries also require security for their installations and operations in unstable regions25. The massacre of 74 civilians at a Chinese oil field in Ethiopia in 2007 and the 2013 Amenas siege demonstrate the continued need for security, which mercenaries can provide. Charities have employed mercenaries in the past to ensure better security. In 2002, mercenaries were hired by the African Rainforest and Rivers Conservation Organisation to seek out elephant poachers who they could not pursue themselves26.
25) Avant,D. ‘Mercenaries’2004, pg.26
26) Astill,J. ‘Charities hire gunmen to stop elephant poachers’ 2002
NGOs are actively discouraged from hiring mercenaries. In 2003, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw strongly advised against the use of mercenaries by British companies on the Ivory Coast. In addition to government deterrence, many charities are more likely to depend on the United Nations to secure conflict zones before they operate. In Darfur, aid agencies relied upon the United Nations to set up refugee camps in the region rather than seek protection from mercenaries27.
27) Pham,J. ‘Send in the Mercenaries’ 2006
There is a new form of mercenary appearing on the continent which is hired to use technology, rather than a gun, to fight. Cyber mercenaries are a relatively recent phenomenon. In 2013, British intelligence service GCHQ stated that nations were beginning to employ hackers to ‘attack their enemies’28. Kenya experienced attacks by cyber mercenaries in 2013, with 91% of its organisations coming under attack from these hired hackers29. There is potential for this to become a substantial form of mercenary work in the future.
28) The Age ‘Hackers turn into cyber-mercenaries as nations battle a virtual war’ 2013
29) Murule,R. ‘Kenya: Firms Battle Cyber Crime’ 2013
Hired hackers don’t count as real mercenaries. While it is true that they are not a citizen of either state’s military structure and that they seek to gain profit from their venture, they do not qualify under the UN mercenary convention. To be a mercenary, one must qualify under all the conditions listed in the convention. Cyber mercenaries are not directly involved in acts of violence, which disqualifies them under Article 1, sub-section 2.A of the UN mercenary convention30. Definitions will have to be updated in the future if cyber-mercenaries are going to be considered anything other than criminals.
30) United Nations ‘United Nations Mercenary Convention’ 1989
The Age ‘Hackers turn into cyber-mercenaries as nations battle a virtual war’ 12 July 2013 http://www.theage.com.au/it-pro/security-it/hackers-turn-into-cybermercenaries-as-nations-battle-a-virtual-war-20130712-hv0ti.html
Astill,J. ‘Charities hire gunmen to stop elephant poachers’ The Guardian 13 May 2002 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/may/13/jamesastill
August,O. ‘Africa Rising: A Hopeful Continent’ The Economist 2 March 2013 http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21572377-african-lives-have-already-greatly-improved-over-past-decade-says-oliver-august
Avant,D. ‘Mercenaries’, Foreign Policy,No.143, 2004, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4152906?seq=5
Chrisafis,A. ‘UN and aid groups criticise “Humanitarian Mercenaries’ The Guardian 26 October 2007 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/oct/26/france.sudan
Fallah,K. ‘Corporate actors: the legal status of mercenaries in armed conflict’, International Review of the Red Cross Vol 88 No.863 2006 pg. 599-611 http://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/irrc_863_fallah.pdf
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Gettlement,J. ‘Africa’s Forever Wars’ Foreign Policy 16 April 2012 http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/02/22/africas_forever_wars#sthash.PpB22crG.dpbs
Heritage ‘Liberia: UN reports- Yeaten remains a threat to peace and security in Liberia’ 10 December 2013 http://allafrica.com/stories/201312100818.html
Hicks,C. ‘Tuareg rebels make troubled return from Libya to Mali’ BBC 29 February 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17192212
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Melly,P. ‘Central African Republic: France and the CAR- Now Comes the Hard Part’ Chatham House 10 December 2013 http://allafrica.com/stories/201312110762.html
Mian,Q. ‘Legal status of mercenaries’ date accessed 18/12/13 http://www.pja.gov.pk/system/files/Legal_Status_of_Mercenaries_(Blackwater).pdf
Milliard,S. ‘Overcoming Post-Colonial Myopia: A Call to Recognise and Regulate Private Military Companies’, 51st Judge Advocate Officer Graduate Course April 2003 Pgs.1-105
Murule,R. ‘Kenya: Firms Battle Cyber Crime’ CAJ News Africa 10 December 2013 http://allafrica.com/stories/201312101510.html
Mwagiru,C. ‘Mercenaries: Are the ‘dogs of war’ still prevalent in Africa?’ Daily Monitor 16 September 2012 http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/ThoughtIdeas/Mercenaries--the--dogs-of-war--still-prevalent-in-Africa-/-/689844/1507856/-/143rwar/-/index.html
Pan,E. ‘African Peacekeeping Operations’ Council of Foreign Relations 2 December 2005 http://www.cfr.org/world/african-peacekeeping-operations/p9333
Pham,J. ‘Send in the Mercenaries’ World Security Network 8 May 2006 http://www.worldsecuritynetwork.com/Other/J.-Peter-Pham-and-Michael-I.-Krauss-/Send-in-the-Mercenaries
Raffin,R. ‘Humanitarian Mercenaries’ The Stanford Progressive, September 2008 http://progressive.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/article.php?article_id=227&archive=1
Sheimer,M. ‘Separating Private Military Companies From Illegal Mercenaries in International Law’, American University International Law Review,2009, Volume 24, Issue 3 Pgs. 609-646
Stupart,J. ‘Somalia’s PMCs: What’s the Big Deal?’ Africa Scene 31 July 2012 http://www.africanscene.co.za/2012/07/somalias-pmcs-whats-the-big-deal/
United Nations ‘United Nations Mercenary Convention’ 4 December 1989 http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/44/a44r034.htm
Wikipedia ‘List of ongoing armed conflicts’ date accessed 20 December 2013 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_armed_conflicts
The World Bank ‘World Development Report 2011’ 2011 http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWDRS/Resources/WDR2011_Full_Text.pdf