Africa’s Deadly Merry-go-round

Following the arrest of the notorious gun-runner Victor Bout I decided to look into his connections with the Kenyan Sanjivan Ruprah more closely and the following is what was thrown up. It’s only a partial description of the viper’s nest at the heart of the African mining and arms trade and it’s not pretty.

“you find the gap in which … less well-developed governments and military forces, require some military expertise and support … the Sandline idea was to be able to provide that … I mean obviously, in our business we keep a fairly good database of conflict or potential conflicts …” Tim Spicer, Sandline International

It’s a complex spider’s web of international companies that all have one interest – to get their hands on Africa’s mining rights. It’s naked neo-colonialism but this time carried out by a comprador class of corrupt African elite who sell off resources belonging to their people to mercernary firms in exchange for great riches and power. The vast majority of Africa’s people remain poor despite being heirs to the most minerally rich part of the world and not only that, their lives have become expendable in the rush to accumulate even greater wealth. In Angola 500,000 people died while Angola’s diamonds were used to fund both sides of the civil war and in Sierra Leone 50,000 people were massacred. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the figure is estimated to be 5,000,000.

At the heart of Africa’s conflicts over oil and gems was a South African mercenary outfit called Executive Outcomes. It remains one of the more visible mercenary companies to be employed by weakened regimes or rebel groups in regions of Africa where western mining interests were threatened.

One of the company’s first ventures was into Angola where it was tasked with recapturing Chevron and Sonangol’s oil facilities from Jonas Savimbi’s Unita rebels.

The now defunct EO was founded by Eeben Barlow a former commander of the South African Buffalo Battalion following the end of apartheid. Fellow directors of the company included Simon Mann an ex-SAS officer, and British financier Tony Buckingham. EO employed soldiers from the infamous South African Buffalo Battalion and Koevoet whose function was to assassinate anti-apartheid activists in the era of apartheid and whose motto was “Shoot to kill”.

Simon Mann is currently languishing behind bars following a botched attempt at trying to overthrow the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in March 2004.

Mann was caught red-handed after his $3 million 727 landed on the tarmac of Harare Airport with 68 mercenaries on board in order to pick up $200,000 worth of arms bound for Equatorial Guinnea. Mann was held at Chikurubi maximum security prison in Zimbabwe for four years until his recent secret extradition to Equatorial Guinnea where he is expected to face further charges.

Mann initially pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted coup instead claiming that the weapons were intended for use in protecting a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He now admits, “I was the manager, not the architect, not the main man.”
Simon Mann and friends
Mann shackled.

Mann places ex-premier Margaret Thatcher’s son, Sir Mark (“Scratcher”) at the heart of the coup attempt claiming Thatcher was obsessed with how best to exploit the country’s oil riches after deposing of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. He also accuses London-based oil dealer Eli Calil of setting him up. These allegations were due to be broadcast by Channel 4 just recently but his wife, Amanda Mann, obtained a last minute High Court injunction preventing the programme from being aired. Amanda Mann claims that his allegations have been made “under duress”. Mann’s lawyer Anthony Kerman states:

“We believe that Mr Mann’s interests could be irreparably harmed if the broadcast takes place. I haven’t seen the piece but we do believe that there may be admissions which he makes against his own interests and there may be allegations in the piece, too. [Channel 4] says that he talks frankly about the events leading up to his arrest. I’m told by other people that he may have said very considerably more than that, but that is sufficient for me to be very concerned.” The injunction prohibits the channel from broadcasting its interview because “it is not apparent he could properly consent to the interview taking place”.

Anthony Kerman is a friend of Calil and it is more likely that Mann’s revelations would land Calil in it than compromise Mann’s defence any further. Mann was surprised to learn that the lawyer his wife appointed to represent him is connected to Calil. Some of Mann’s claims implicate members of the establishment (Would hearing that one Lord Archer. “JH Archer”, that’s Jeffrey Howard Archer, was involved surprise you? But now Mann feigns bewilderment that Archer’s name and that of EU commissioner Peter Mandelson were ever raised in connection with the coup.)

Both were friends of Calil. Asked if they had any involvement Mann said, “They’ve got none at all. God knows where that came from.” So clearly frank discussions on the failed coup and it’s backers would not be welcome right now in certain quarters. South Africa and Spain are also implicated, Mann states that they encouraged him to overthrow Obiang.

Spain, the former colonial power of Equatorial Guinnea, which sought oil contracts in EQ and which has given refuge to Guinnea opposition leader, Severo Moto, says that Mann’s claims are “completely baseless”.

While I can only imagine that the likes of Buckingham and his network will be spitting blood at the thought. It is puzzling that Amanda Mann is helping to facilitate suppressing her husband’s attempts to clear his name.

The Channel 4 interview was however broadcast on 11th March 2008 following the collapse of the case in the High Court. Channel 4 reporter, Jonathan Miller, says that it was indeed the wish of Mann that the interview be broadcast. Watch here. Speaking from Black Beach Mann sings “like a canary.”

Mann has a long and colourful history involving conflicts across the African continent. He was one of Executive Outcomes movers and shakers.

Executive Outcomes becomes the first corporate army to set foot in Africa since the 19th century

Executive Outcomes was described as the military wing of Branch Energy. It is ‘arguably the world’s first corporate army… the advance guard for major business interests engaged in a scramble for the mineral wealth of Africa.’

“Mercenary companies are increasingly being hired to play a direct role in controlling or changing the balance of power in Africa. Corporations provide the funds for cash strapped client governments or rebel armies and in return they are rewarded with access to strategic mineral and energy resources.”

Mann, through Executive Outcomes, is deeply implicated in the Sierra Leone civil war. But it was a Kenyan businessman, Sanjiyvan Ruprah, that first introduced Executive Outcomes to the Sierra Leone government of Valentine Strasser in 1995. EO was tasked with driving away the Revolutionary United Front. Executive Outcomes also owned Branch Energy, Ruprah managed its Kenyan subsidiary. Branch Energy was promised diamond concessions in the Koidu mines in exchange for their services. On 22 July 1995 a 25-year mining lease over the diamond field was granted to Branch Energy.The RUF were defeated in 1996 and Ahmed Tehan Kabbah came to power following elections. Kabbah promptly cancelled EO’s contract with the government. A subsidiary of Executive Outcomes named Lifeguard stayed behind to guard Branch Energy’s diamond concessions and UN facilities in Freetown.

Branch Energy was shortly afterwards bought out by “Toxic” Bob Friedland’s Canadian based DiamondWorks (DW) company, originally known as Carson Gold. Friedland is a major shareholder in DiamondWorks through his control of Madras Holdings which holds a 21.2 percent interest. Naturally, DW became sole beneficiary of the Koidu diamond leases. A fact Friedland prefers to play down.

Tony Buckingham formerly the chairman of Branch Energy holds 125,000 share options in DW through two of his other companies, Hansard Management Services Ltd. and Hansard Trust, making him the biggest potential shareholder in Diamondworks. And yes, you guessed it! Simon Mann was right in the thick of it too, acting as DW’s chief operations officer.

In 1997 President Kabbah was overthrown by Johnny Paul Koroma’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Kabbah fled to Conakry, Guinea where he remained in exile temporarily. The AFRC quickly sided with the RUF. It was at this point that the international community placed an arms embargo on Sierra Leone.

British officials then plotted with Kabbah to take back the government. As the contract with Executive Outcomes had ended the job was given to Sandline International. Unfortunately there are no prizes for taking an educated guess at who owned Sandline International. Sandline’s mission was to provide security for western business interests in Africa by propping up governments that supported their interests and overthrowing those that got in their way.

While Koroma was in power none of the mines could operate properly. The UK government under Tony Blair used Sandline to smuggle weapons into Sierre Leone in direct contravention of the UN arms embargo in what became known as the “African Arms to Africa” affair. Thirty tons of Bulgarian arms were shipped to forces backing Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the Sierre Leonian president in exile. Sandline sub-contracted EO mercenaries to Kabbah in exchange for diamond mining rights.

In Kenya, DW had interests in the country’s gold and diamonds. Their man in Kenya was initially Raymond Moi who partnered up with Ruprah in the failed aviation company Simba Air owned by it’s associate Ibis Air (registered in Kenya and Angola) which in turn was owned by Executive Outcomes. Ibis Air’s fleet was impressive and included two MI-17 helicopters, two Hind M24 gunships, two jet fighters, several Boeing 727 transports together with a number of other small aircraft. A potent force for any embattled ruler or rebel group.

Ruprah was also a business partner of Victor Bout. It could only have been Victor Bout who flew illegal weapons into Sierra Leone under the UN arms embargo. Only Victor Bout enjoyed close relations with the Bulgarian government and had the capacity to carry those weapons. Further damning proof comes from the Bulgarian government who informed the UN that with only one exception Victor Bout’s company Air Cess was the main transporter of Bulgarian weapons to Africa. See here.

Ruprah’s tentacles prior to his Belgian arrest stretched into the Democratic Republic of Congo and reveal some further interesting connections. Ruprah had controlling shares in Little Rock Mining, Tenfield Holdings, Colliers Ventures, Sapora Mining and Intermarket which were engaged in mining around North Kivu and the diamond mining town of Kisangani. It is therefore no surprise to learn that the military chief of Congolese rebels, James Kabare, and Rwanda president Paul Kagame also had interests in those mining operations. I’ve written about Kagame and this business here.

DiamondWorks was dissolved after facing near bankruptcy in 2001 and became Energem Resources. Energem has just launched itself on the London stock market as a renewable-energy business.

Tony Teixeira is the deputy executive chairman of Energem. Teixeira you may recall was dubbed the “merchant of death” by Labour mp Peter Hain who accused him in 2000 of being involved in the illegal movement of diamonds and fuel in Angola. Interestingly, Energem have recently denied that Buckingham is or has ever been a director, actually they say it is not known whether he was ever a director! Teixeira has also challenged Peter Hain to make his allegations against him outside of Parliament. Hain was recently forced to step down after some irregularities concerning undeclared contributions

Energem owns the Kisumu Ethanol Plant which belonged to the Odinga’s. The Odinga’s company Spectre International acquired the Kisumu Ethanol Plant five days after Kanu and Odinga’s National Development Party entered into a partnership that eventually led to a merger of the two parties under Kenya’s second president Daniel Arap Moi.

Former Commissioner of Lands Mr Sammy Mwaita sold the plant to the Odinga’s for a paltry $55,000 in 2001. By June that year Odinga was minister for Energy. Odinga then struck a deal with Energem in 2003 who acquired a 55% stake in the family firm Spectre International for $2 million. The Odinga’s claim that Spectre International is wholly ownded by Energem. However, Raila’s elder brother Dr Oburu Odinga and his sister Ruth presently sit on the board of Energem and the molasses plant is now being used to produce ethanol. The firm today is valued at $100 million.

All these companies, Executive Outcomes (now trading as Aegis Defence Systems), Sandline Interational, Branch Energy, Energem (previously DiamondWorks) all these firms under their various guises are controlled by a shadowy trading group called Plaza 107 which has a suite in Chelsea, London on the King’s Road, which it shares with Heritage Oil and Gas. Energem claim that they merely rent office space on the King’s Road and have nothing to do with Plaza 107 belying the fact that much of the work is sub-contracted out to affiliates and subsidiaries of these companies. Plaza 107’s sister company in South Africa is Strategic Resources Corporation Africa.

EO was employed to protect the mining interests of Heritage Oil and Gas, a firm listed on the Canadian stock exchange and currently involved with drilling oil and gas in the Great Lakes region. Heritage’s president was one Tony Buckingham. And so it goes on and on.

Poverty is central to Africa’s conflicts. It is therefore imperative that Africa’s resources be used to develop the continent, until that happens conflicts will continue to tear the continent apart. Furthermore, what is worrying about the trend to increasingly privatise conflicts as we have seen in Angola, Sierre Leone and DRC is that as private mercenary companies become ever richer and more powerful they will be able to use this power to prop up unfavourable military juntas and despots for access to Africa’s oil and mineral resources.

Whole chunks of Africa are being handed to these private mercernaries and it’s time their activities are addressed by international bodies. A recent intelligence report states that EO gained a reputation for efficiency particularly with rulers of smaller African countries who saw the UN as slow and cumbersome with it often getting bogged down in operations that maintained the status quo rather than allowing one side to resolve the issue.

Time is running out for Africa and if nothing is done to squash private mercenary companies now Africa will continue to remain a prisoner to the greed of an elite, that sadly contains Africans who are more than happy to employ these companies to further their own interests. I have steadfastedly avoided describing these mercenary companies as “private military companies,” the new acceptable face of neo-colonialism because the new expression hides the fact that they are “dogs of war.”

Check what Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary of the time said about the PMCs “…[a] reputable private military sector might have a role in enabling the UN to respond more rapidly and effectively to crises” or “Today’s world is a far cry from the 1960s when private military activity usually meant mercenaries of the rather unsavoury kind involved in post-colonial or neo-colonial conflicts.”

Limbs hacked. Children soldiers. Failed regimes. Who would have thought that a Labour government could betray so many beyond our shores?

Just as “collateral damage” hides the dead bodies, PMCs also hides the truth that a new scramble for Africa is on.

P.S. Sandline has now gone on to acquire a new identity as Aegis Defence Systems and is currently working in Iraq where it was given a $293 million security contract. A few years ago it was involved in criminal actions involving its contractors who were shown in a “trophy” video spraying Iraqi civilian vehicles with bullets.

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