An interesting topic that I came to by way of my African Studies professor. In a meeting of the Michigan Action Network on Africa (MANA), he was listing off a number of woes for Africa and among that list was a quick comment about many South Africans working in the controversial security firm Blackwater USA. I could hardly believe it. Could the US security firms really be recruiting from South Africa? I then caught an article in glancing and noticed that foreign diplomats believed that the best security personnel were the South Africans. I had to look into it further. While I could not find the article again I have found a few others that were just as helpful in my knowledge search.
Being involved in the private military or security business is not something to let everyone know. When Mrs. Durant’s husband was kidnapped in an ambush in Iraq she had no support group of weeping war wives to turn to. All she had was her silence. What the Chicago Times called South Africa’s silent war in Iraq has been a very vocal war in the US especially with the controversy over Blackwater’s killing of Iraqi civilians. However, former military and police in South Africa are not new to harsh conflict. In the 1990s thousands of white military personnel left with the apartheid transition. Many of those unemployed officers and soldiers join private security firms and became involved in wars all across Africa, including Sierra Leone and Angola. So it is not surprising that working in a private security firm is something that is not talked about in South Africa. I am sure it holds a very sore spot in the country’s history.
It seems that Blackwater will search every inch of the earth to find good mecenaries. From Chile to Brazil and now South Africa. The UN recently reported that South Africa is one of the
top three suppliers for security personnel in Iraq. One South African security company received a multi-million dollar contract to train military recruits in Iraq. There are almost 43,000 South African private security personnel working in Iraq. The Institute for Security Studies wrote and article and in it mentioned the story of a doctoral student heading to Iraq to do research and a friend told him to make sure he was placed with the South African security because they were the best.
This may not mean much for South Africa because this is a practice that is not publicized. If you are involved in private security then it is best not to let that be known. You will not be welcomed home as a hero. Many note that after the ‘troop’ surge (or private security surge?) that South Africans will be again be out of security jobs, but maybe the Iraqi government will sign them on after to continue helping at oil stations. At any rate this becomes a larger issue for the US. How can the US government, using private security firms, allow security and war to be outsourced even more? How can there be any more accountability if they are signing on former, white army officers who supported apartheid? It can’t be long before people get fed up with outsourcing in the war-industry, especially the lesser paid and trained soldiers on the ground. It is a very worrisome topic for both the US and South Africa. South Africa seems to have an influx of military personnel, who gained no further skills after apartheid. The US looks to have an issue of controlling said security firms in their actions.
Is the Iraq conflict now seen as a humanitarian crisis as much as the more well-known Darfur genocide? How can the two be compared. For starters we can look at US commitments to both conflicts. Back in 2000 when Bush was handed a press release about the Rwandan genocide, he wrote, “not on my watch” in the margin. In 2003 we became involved in Iraq to fight terrorism? The polls now tell us taht Americans would rather be involved in Darfur than Iraq. Why? Maybe because we would rather save lives than assist in their destruction. David Bosco of the LA Times writes of the ugly truths in his blog on the Foreign Policy website. Recent UN findings have totaled over 34,000 Iraqi deaths in just 2006. “The death toll for Darfur has become a political football, but the U.S. State Department’s most recent estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since it began in 2003, and over 2 million people have been displaced,” writes Bosco. However the estimates vary and many state that over 400,000 have been murdered in Darfur. Bosco wants is trying to make us think of the possibilities of our actions in both Iraq and Darfur. Is it too late in either case? Is one life more valuable than another? His closing statement sums it all up, “Yet, while it’s not clear to me that the U.S. military is doing “no good” in Iraq, absent a more realistic regional strategy from the White House, what little it is accomplishing by staying is probably not worth the costs.”
Accompanying the cry for US military action in Darfur is a push to divestment from Sudan, much like what was done during apartheid South Africa. The US congress has called for sanctions and divestment, yet has ‘suprisingly’ taken no action to move divestment along. Yet again the US policy on Africa entails the action of a pen to paper. There have been numerous campaigns and petitions within the government and also outside the government to pressure the US government to drop interests in Sudan. Check out the full report by Africa Action (here).
More recently the insecurity of the region is driving out aid to millions as aid agencies leave to ensure their own safety. This will only intensify the humanitarian crisis already pushed beyond the tipping point. This crisis has met the drowning victim under the sinking boat level. We need to be the skilled rescue divers who can turn turn this conflict around through actions on the ground in the US and Darfur. There have also been reports that the Sudanese government continues to bomb the people of Darfur without holding back.
Yesterday I attended an amazing Hip Hop concert sponsored by the Spartans Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) chapter at Michigan State University. MSU was just one stop on the national Save Darfur Tour. It was a great show with a fair attendance. The artists such as Alexipharmic and Freestyle spoke to the real issue at hand and our potential to make a difference. Besides being the best performers of the night, in my opinion, they also understood the complexity of the Darfur genocide. Freestyle of the Arsonists was an amazing performer. He had great beats with great lyrics and knew how to really involve the crowd of mostly stiff white college kids who had no idea what hip-hop was all about. I am not going to lie I was standing there in my shirt and tie (after coming from meetings all day) putting my hand in the air and feeling the beats. That made me think – what is the color of hip-hop? I concluded that hip-hop obeys no set rules so therefore it is not an only-black, or only-white thing. Freestyle also spoke to the myth that hip-hop is dying. Let me tell you hip-hop is alive and well, check out the artists of underground hip-hop and learn the history and ideal behind the movement. Hip-hop is not dead, I have seen it alive and well, knocking on the front door of my consciousness and directing my compass of compassion to empower the world!