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Private security forces and African stability: the case of Executive Outcomes

  • Herbert M. Howe (a1)


The end of the Cold War has had contradictory effects on African security. Southern Africa and Ethiopia clearly benefitted from the end of superpower rivalry, whereas central and western Africa have seen an upswing of violence during the 1990s. The withdrawal of foreign patronage, the post-Somalia reluctance of the West and the UN to intervene militarily, heightened external demands for economic and political reform, and the changing nature of African insurgencies, have placed additional pressure on already weak governments. Many African states have only weak militaries to defend their security, the collapse of Mobutu Sese Seko's Armed Forces of Zaïre providing the most recent example.

As recently as 1990, the idea of African states relying upon mercenaries from the former South African Defence Force (SADF) would have seemed both preposterous and insulting. Yet since 1993, Executive Outcomes (EO), the world's largest and best known ‘mercenary’ group, has marketed itself as a defender of African state security in this post-Cold War era. A private army with access to some 2,000 ex-South African Defence Force (SADF) combat veterans, EO has helped to defeat discredited insurgencies in Angola and Sierra Leone. Large sections of Africa need effective militaries and EO, which claims to fight only for sovereign governments, presents itself as a stabilising force for African development. To some observers, EO is ‘with the possible exception of the South African army, the most deadly and efficient army operating in sub-Saharan Africa today’.

This article examines the controversial Executive Outcomes military as a security option for African governments. It sketches EO's history, its military effectiveness, and its political loyalty, to assess whether EO threatens or assists African state stability. The article concludes by looking at EO's possible future, and the lessons which it offers about African security.



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