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)

Lesotho holds special election to try to resolve coup crisis

Previously from Arsenal For Democracy:
“Possible coup attempt in progress in Lesotho” – 8/30/14
“Lesotho military appears to fracture after coup attempt” – 9/8/14
“South Africa making headway in Lesotho crisis talks” – 10/26/14

As part of South Africa’s mediation plan to resolve the crisis following a failed military coup in Lesotho last August and an earlier suspension of parliament, the people of Lesotho voted this weekend in a special election for a new parliament. Most of the same faction leaders in the crisis are running again, but with their various security forces on the sidelines. Although the election seems to be going smoothly, it’s not clear it can actually bring any additional stability to the country.

Justice Mahapela Lehohla, chairman of Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission, said: “The voting has been proceeding peacefully and according to plan.”

There are 23 politicians vying for the top post, with another coalition likely, according to analysts.

A final result may not emerge for days due to the remoteness of some communities voting.

If nobody gets a majority and the same people are returned to power and opposition leadership (or the same unstable coalitions are formed again), I have a hard time seeing how this moves the country forward. The fear and mutual recriminations within the country’s elite are likely to continue, particularly in such a small country where everyone in politics knows everyone else in politics and have long (often bitter) histories with each other.

Michael J. Jordan, who styles himself on Twitter as “the lone Western foreign correspondent” in Lesotho, has reported extensively on the crisis, the mediation, and the new elections. His latest report (which was also published in Foreign Policy magazine) does not paint an encouraging picture either:

With shared roots in the country’s first post-independence party, the factions are distinguished more by personality than politics, with little difference between their ideologies. But as one civil servant who requested anonymity said, “Whichever side doesn’t get to be a part of the next government, I’m afraid they will cause some troubles — I think they’ll fight.”
“Lesotho is in some ways a victim of its narrative — as the ‘first coalition government in southern Africa’ — because it was a very fragile, shaky edifice, driven by personal splits within the parties,” says John Aerni-Flessner, a Lesotho specialist and professor of African history at Michigan State University. “It was never based on ideological unity, but on politics as convenience. To see it disintegrate isn’t as surprising for Lesotho-watchers as it is for those who bought into the narrative.”

Ironically, the seeds of unrest were planted by the success of the 2012 elections. The upending of the old power structure created an opportunity for the new government to pursue corruption cases against members of the ancien régime, who for years had acted with impunity, accused of fixing contracts and taking kickbacks for everything from agriculture and infrastructure tenders to diamond and water projects. Soon after taking office, Thabane (himself a survivor of 50 years in southern Africa’s rough-and-tumble politics), launched his crusade, digging into the purported crimes of his political rivals.

While Thabane’s critics accused him of conducting a vengeful witch hunt — and others accused him of hypocrisy for his own checkered record — his campaign opened the door for the small handful of local anti-corruption lawyers contracted by the state’s Director of Public Prosecutions, to take on a handful of top officials who had abused their power during the 14-year rule of former Prime Minister Mosisili.

By late 2013, prominent business, political, and security elites named in these investigations soon found they were being made targets. As more were forced to hire lawyers to avoid prosecution, the political fight boiled into violence, culminating on Aug. 30 with an attempted coup.

Jordan suggests, as well, that South Africa didn’t really try to solve the underlying causes of the crisis, but rather just tried to end the surface-level breach of constitutionality and lack of law and order. Hence the big push for quick and early elections that will probably just leave Lesotho waiting for the next shoe to drop. There are also serious, credible complaints that the election wasn’t conducted in a fair or clean manner.

Map of Lesotho's location in southern Africa. (CIA World Factbook)

Map of Lesotho’s location in southern Africa. (CIA World Factbook)

South Africa making headway in Lesotho crisis talks

South Africa’s government is continuing efforts to mediate between the competing political factions in the Lesotho crisis, and is now trying to resolve the military instability and leadership dispute by directly talking to the still dangerous and disaffected supporters of the unsuccessful power grab. Here’s the AFP report:

South Africa’s deputy president has held secret talks with a renegade Lesotho military commander, a defence official told AFP on Thursday [October 23], as an offer of partial amnesty is floated in the hope of ending a destabilising post-coup stand-off.

General Kamoli remained at a secret hideout with a small but heavily armed band of supporters after fleeing there following his attempted coup d’état at the end of August.

Any amnesty deal would relate to the crimes of the attempted coup itself, but might also include various incidentals:

Lesotho police are investigating him for two crimes linked to the 30 August assault: high treason and murder.
Mohasoa said authorities would be willing to provide the suspected coup leader his full retirement package “though we aren’t obliged to for a dismissed official.”

But more sensitive is the amnesty – perhaps for high treason, but not for murder.

“We can discuss possible amnesty for politically motivated reasons,” he said. “But not for what’s considered purely criminal actions.”

Whether Kamoli will accept the offer – which may include prosecution and perhaps jail-time – “That’s the million-dollar question,” said Mohasoa.

The other big thing, besides amnesty and clearing up where the military’s rank and file has placed its loyalties, will be trying to persuade the country’s police force to go along with it. They supported the prime minister and his ruling party against the failed coup and are understandably angry about the consequences of that, which continued to play out a month afterward:

Kamoli aside, Ramaphosa will also have to try to re-build trust between the country’s two most important security services – the Lesotho Defence Force and Lesotho Mounted Police Service.

In just the latest in a series of clashes on 30 September, a night-time shoot-out between soldiers and police on the outskirts of the capital Maseru left two more officers shot and wounded.

A top Lesotho police official told AFP he saw no major obstacle to rebuilding ties with the military if the coup leader and his allies, who have stymied criminal probes into transgressions by troops, are removed.

The South African mediation has also been making progress on the political front to resolve the critical, underlying factors that spurred the coup attempt:

Ramaphosa, mediating on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, has already reached a deal that allowed the re-opening of parliament – which had been shuttered for four months. As part of the agreement elections have been moved up two years to February 2015.

The ongoing closure of parliament was the main complaint held up by General Kamoli as justification for his purported goal of “disarming” the police and “escorting” the prime minister to the King of Lesotho to force parliament to be called back into session. The real reason, of course, was the prime minister’s decision to fire him as head of the armed forces the night before.

Update for Clarity, 10/28/14: According to the AFP’s Michael J. Jordan, who wrote the story I quoted above, the partial deal described above was signed late last week with the various co-conspirators and targets all in a room together (which must have been quite uncomfortable!). Kamoli will leave the country for a while and leave the military, while his police counterpart will also step down. But the unresolved details outlined in the post above remain a problem. Jordan believes the crisis is not finished yet.

Map of Lesotho's location in southern Africa. (CIA World Factbook)

Map of Lesotho’s location in southern Africa. (CIA World Factbook)

Lesotho military appears to fracture after coup attempt

Map of Lesotho's location in southern Africa. (CIA World Factbook)

Map of Lesotho’s location in southern Africa.

In the aftermath of the August 30th attempted coup d’état by a disgruntled general (see our background report), Lesotho is now bracing for a conflict among units of the small, southern African country’s armed forces.

Eyewitness News of South Africa reports that Lesotho’s General Kamoli — fired from the head of the military just before he attempted to seize power — has taken off with stolen weapons and supporters:

Former Lesotho military commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli has reportedly seized army weapons in preparation for a possible stand-off.

He is accused of destabilising the mountainous country last week after he apparently plotted a coup and has refused to step down as the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force.

Reports from Lesotho are that Kamoli has seized an unknown number of weapons from state armouries in order to prepare for offensive and defensive operations.

Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao says Kamoli has refused to vacate military offices after he was sacked by Prime Minister Tom Thabane.

Eyewitness News also reported that 150 government officials are still in hiding in case the pro-coup forces regain the upper hand. Prime Minister Thabane, however, did return from his temporary refuge South Africa with South African police protection. Negotiations, brokered by South African leaders, continued in an effort to resolve the political crisis peacefully. Thabane had angered members of the military and political opponents for suspending parliament earlier this year and refusing to re-convene it.

An AFP report suggested that the political talks are going poorly. Thabane is still uninterested in bringing parliament back into session, and those military commanders who have remained loyal to his authority are now saying they will be imminently launching operations against Kamoli, the rogue general who has fled into the mountains. They are only waiting now to see if outside armed forces will be assisting.

As part of last week’s agreement Zuma has deployed South African police to protect Thabane and some of his key allies, but Lesotho’s leaders are calling for a more robust force to hunt renegade general Kamoli.

Lesotho’s army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao told AFP on Sunday that military action was now the only option against Kamoli.

“Negotiations have failed as far as we are concerned. At this point in time I think we are left with no option but military operations.”

The army chief was frank about the difficulties he would face in taking on Kamoli, who has taken to the mountains with a seized cache of weapons including artillery, mortars and small arms.

However, “it would definitely be very helpful” to get military support from the Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation regional bloc.

“I have asked the relevant body in SADC to consider coming to our assistance,” Mahao said.

This new development eerily begins to mirror the situation in nearby, much larger Mozambique, where political disputes between various leaders and political parties had devolved over the past year into low-level insurrection against government forces, after opposition members re-took up arms and disappeared into the rural mountains to harass the government. A ceasefire deal there was reached recently ahead of elections and some of the people hiding in the mountains returned to the capital.

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.

AFD 66 – Mandela

Latest Episode:
“AFD 66 – Mandela”

I reflect on Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Guest Neal Carter talks about Millennials of Color. Then, I defend the minimum wage and unemployment insurance, and I pitch “Pelosi for President.”

Related links:

– AFD: Republican confusion on Mandela
– AFD: In defense of the minimum wage
– The Atlantic: Rand Paul Couldn’t Be More Wrong About Unemployment Insurance

Republican Confusion on Mandela

Most of the world has united to mourn the passing of South Africa’s former president and anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela. Global opinion is pretty consistently sure about how to come down on this one person’s legacy, and that’s favorably.

But one pocket of confusion remains. Lots of Republicans right now seem to be unsure whether to praise Nelson Mandela or call him a commie terrorist. On that latter point, I was shocked to see former Speaker Newt Gingrich not only praising Mandela but actually on CNN defending his ties to communist activists (who were partners in the fight against apartheid when the U.S. was too busy calling the regime a Cold War ally). In general, regardless of many of their past views, GOP leaders have been saying the right things, even if their base is furious about it.

I guess Mandela was always confusing for Republicans. If you’re a Republican, there have always been two schools of thought. You could go with the Republican Senators in 1986 who voted in favor of sanctions on the apartheid government. Or you could go with the Republican intellectuals and Saint Reagan who not only vetoed the sanctions (which was overridden by the Republican Senate majority and Democratic House) but recruited the South African Foreign Minister from the all-white Nationalist government to call U.S. Senators to urge them not to override his veto.

I can’t even fathom what would make Reagan think that idea was a brilliant plan. I suspect we would be seeing impeachment proceedings under way if the U.S. President right now tried to enlist (for comparison) Iran’s foreign minister to make personal calls to members of Congress on not raising nuclear sanctions. It would nonsensical at minimum.

One almost wonders if Reagan thought “South Africa” was a vital part of the “Southern Strategy.” Appeal to one bunch of racist institutional segregationists as defenders-of-freedom, might as well appeal to them everywhere?

Don’t miss, by the way, that great time capsule of a New York Times article from October 1986 (also linked above). Tells you a lot about what specifically was going on at the time of the veto override, the surrounding Cold War politics that warped our policies toward so many regimes, and Reagan’s very bad decision-making on this issue. And it also has some great quotations from past and present Senate bigwigs, like then-freshman Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, who is now the Republican Minority Leader.


In any case, it’s certainly quite “curious” how Republican internet commenters are always ready to complain when anyone seeks to introduce nuance to discussion of famous white historical figures and leaders, who held problematic views in addition to some of their better positions/records for which we hail them today. And yet as soon as the discussion turns to someone like Nelson Mandela (or Barack Obama, particularly during both presidential campaigns), these same commenters are eager to make sure “the truth” about these figures — past associations or problematic views — is brought to light and even emphasized against the good.

The reality is that most historical figures are indeed complex figures, and they often make mistakes or hang out with the “wrong” people at some point in their lives. But it’s absurd and racist to try to hold everyone to a standard where White figures are revered and can’t be discussed accurately, while Black figures must be torn down and cannot be celebrated for even a moment without complaints.