In Nigeria, White South African mercenaries fill a void

“Relics” of the feared and hated Apartheid-era “South African Defence Force” are secretly (and illegally) fighting Boko Haram for Nigeria, according to recent reporting by The New York Times:

Hundreds of mercenaries from South Africa and other countries are playing a decisive role in Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram, operating attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages captured by the Islamist militant group, according to senior officials in the region.
A senior Western diplomat confirmed that the South Africans were playing “a major operational role,” particularly at night. Equipped with night-vision goggles, the mercenaries “are whacking them in the evening hours,” the diplomat said.

“The next morning the Nigerian Army rolls in and claims success,” the diplomat added. The mercenaries “are doing the heavy lifting,” said the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Another diplomat, also unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, said he believed the mercenary force was composed of fighters from other countries as well, but mainly South Africa.
Photographs showing white soldiers atop armored vehicles on what appears to be a major road in Maiduguri have been posted in recent days on Nigerian Twitter feeds. A correspondent for The New York Times in Maiduguri identified the location as the Baga Road. The correspondent has seen the South African mercenaries jogging around Maiduguri’s airport, now closed, where they are encamped.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of optimistic propaganda reports from the Nigerian military (and from President Goodluck Jonathan) has taken credit for victory after victory in the campaign against Boko Haram in the country’s northeast, ahead of the postponed elections. This once again undermines the already shaky credibility, on multiple levels, of Nigeria’s armed forces.

An extensive report from South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies speculates that many of the ex-SADF mercenaries are likely veterans of the brutal counterinsurgency campaign that Apartheid South Africa waged in Angola and in South African-occupied South West Africa (now Namibia).

[…] the sort of operations that the ex-SADF soldiers would be conducting against Boko Haram would be very similar to some of the operations they had conducted against the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), namely ‘very high mobility operations by small forces, heavy in firepower and in protected vehicles, and based on the prompt and quick exploitation of intelligence; backed up by air assault or even parachute insertion of stopper groups.’

The contract with SADF veterans — prohibited by South African law from undertaking military operations for hire abroad — also raises more questions about the repeated attempts by Nigerian officials to bring or transfer huge amounts of money into South Africa last fall (example) for undisclosed “purchases” relating to the war against Boko Haram.

Elsewhere, the military of neighboring Chad also continues to conduct quasi-authorized (but mostly unilateral) operations against Boko Haram on Nigerian soil.

Ensign of the South African Defence Force 1981-1994 (via Wikimedia)

Ensign of the South African Defence Force 1981-1994 (via Wikimedia)

Jimmy Carter’s election prevented a disastrous war in Cuba

Amid post-Vietnam War plans to rebuild relations secretly with Cuba, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a sudden U-Turn and began planning for an overwhelming attack on Cuba, following Castro’s intervention in the Angola Civil War, say historians in a new book reviewing a new round of declassified documents (reported on in The New York Times).

Kissinger was furious by early 1976 — as President Ford was seeking his own term after the fallout of Watergate and battling a primary challenge by Ronald Reagan — about the Cuban opposition to the U.S.-supported Apartheid South African military interventions being staged from neighboring Namibia (then Apartheid South Africa’s illegally-occupied territory of South-West Africa). Zaire’s dictator, Mobutu, was also being encouraged by the United States to invade Angola. Communist China — in the middle of more public U.S. outreach efforts — was also providing military advisers earlier than Cuba, but they were being provided to help the same sides of the civil war that the U.S. and its allies had decided to back, because China wanted to oppose the Soviet/Cuban-supported side. Military advisers from the CIA were also on the ground, alongside the South African regime’s advisers. Most of the U.S. involvement in Angola at the time was a secret, whereas the Cuban deployment of advisers and then thousands of combat troops was very public. The U.S. also mistakenly believed there was a much greater level of cooperation between Cuba and the USSR on the intervention than later proved to be the case.

Here’s the BBC summary of the development regarding a proposed U.S. attack on Cuba in response to the Angola situation:

But the newly released documents show he was infuriated by Cuban President Fidel Castro’s decision in late 1975 to send troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.
“I think we are going to have to smash Castro,” Mr Kissinger told Mr Ford in a White House meeting in February 1976, adding Mr Ford should defer action until after the presidential election that November. “I agree,” Mr Ford said.

US contingency plans drawn up on the options warned any military aggression by the US in Cuba could lead to a direct confrontation with the USSR.

“The circumstances that could lead the United States to select a military option against Cuba should be serious enough to warrant further action in preparation for general war,” one document said.

The plans were never undertaken, as Jimmy Carter was elected president that year.

The bottom line here is that the election of President Carter in November 1976 — in a very hard-fought campaign Ford nearly won — appears to have stopped a U.S. war with Cuba and possibly the USSR itself.

But there are more details (see the full New York Times report) indicating knowledge that the assault might fail to topple the regime, would probably result in the destruction or abandonment of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, and force huge military adjustments in the Caribbean (especially in Puerto Rico), even if the USSR didn’t enter the war. Even so, that didn’t seem to put much of a damper on the plans, as far as we know, even in light of both the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Cuban Missile Crisis in the not-so-distant past at the time, as well as the recent debacle in Vietnam.

Map of Cuba, Angola, South Africa, and South African-occupied South West Africa. Adapted from Egs - Wikimedia

Map of Cuba, Angola, South Africa, and South African-occupied South West Africa. Adapted from Egs – Wikimedia

Democratic competition in South Africa at last?

anc-logoSouth Africa’s biggest union has announced it will not be endorsing the ANC in upcoming elections for the first time in the post-apartheid era. It plans to remain neutral.

This is actually really important and (hopefully) positive news for South Africa. Their biggest obstacle to achieving full democracy in the post-apartheid period has been that the ANC party has always held complete control, through a permanent election coalition with the trade-unions and the Communist Party.

This is not because they are autocratic, but rather because they have just mathematically absorbed everyone who might otherwise be running against them. In the first several elections, a unity government coalition led by the ANC even included many of the whites from the apartheid-era ruling party and its successor party.

Today, South Africa’s largest opposition party (Democratic Alliance, mostly former anti-apartheid White activists) is a distant and uncompetitive second, with about 16% of the seats at the national level, compared to the ANC’s nearly two-thirds control. So there’s never really been much pressure outside the ANC to be responsive and accountable.

Introducing genuine competition in South African elections — by ending de facto single-party rule through the splitting of coalitions and perhaps the ANC itself — would be a big step forward toward cleaning up corruption and making South Africa a fully functioning democracy.

Single-party rule, even if popularly elected repeatedly in free elections, is never healthy in the long term for any country.