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Last Updated: 01/03/2011
Dealing with the International Saracens
Oduesp Eman

Oduesp Eman comments on a controversial deal between the Somali Transitional Government and Saracen International, a private security contractors with a dubious record.

Especially in politics, history is both profoundly vital and relevant. Despite the broad disinterest on this topic, history drives interests and outlines the political fault lines. And, like the old cliché goes, he who neglects history is bound to repeat it.

Recently, the Associated Press (AP) broke the story that there were 1050 troops being trained in the north eastern region of Somalia, otherwise known as Puntland, by a mercenary group, or security contractors from South Africa known as Saracen International. Saracen as in Saracens? How ironic.

In Western history and literature, the Saracens were “barbarians” who were brutal and did not value life. They were considered the “horsemen of apocalypse”. The Saracens were ungovernable people.

While some historians claim that the term evolved from the Greek term Sarakenoi which means “tent dwellers”, others say that the term originated from the Romans and it means “not from Sarah” or those devoid of Sarah’s blood. This, of course, is in reference to the wife of the patriarch of monotheism, the Prophet Abraham. The term was used to discriminate the followers of Prophet Mohammed, who was the descendant of Ismail, whose mother was Hagar. And, over the years, the term was used to dehumanize and demonize Muslims. During the Crusaders, the term was widely accepted to mean Muslims regardless of their origin.

Ironically, many of the proponents of the Bush Doctrine, more specifically the neocons and the Right Wing extremisms, openly described the GWT (Global War on Terrorism) as an operation to subdue what they considered as the wrath of the Saracens. However, the name—Saracen International—alone does not prove a sinister motive. The organization could have been named out of ignorance of history.

At the end of the Apartheid era, many of the special forces and the notorious death squads of that regime ventured into various yet similar vocations and enterprises that offered lucrative, opportunities as well as providing absolute impunity. Never mind that “Mercenaries” as persons recruited for armed conflict by or in a country other than their own who are motivated solely by personal gain are outlawed under Article 47 of the Geneva Convention.

Saracen International is a complex web of businesses that sell luxury real estates properties as well as international investment opportunities. It is also the sanitized and newly improved version of the now defunct Executive Outcomes. The latter has a broad record in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. They were guns for hire; a private army to perform variety of “good” and “dirty jobs” necessary to enforce peace or silence dissent.

Major Lafras Luitingh is one of the founders and the former CEO of Executive Outcomes, and he now plays a key leading role in Saracen International. Major Luitingh—a man who has been implicated in a number of reports—was a board member of a clandestine killing machine called the South African Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB). Contrary to what the name might suggest, this was a government-sponsored covert operation; a hit squad during the apartheid era that operated under the authority of Defense Minister General Magnus Malan. This clandestine organization had three main objectives: to eliminate anti-apartheid activists throughout the world; to destroy ANC facilities both inside and outside South Africa; and, to circumvent the UN-imposed arms embargo. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee found the CCB guilty of numerous killings and other atrocities.

Ignorantly or perhaps recklessly insensitive to the historic role that the South African mercenaries have played in carrying out former dictator Siyad Barre’s persecution of particular dissenting clans in the north-western region of Somalia, the TFG again has signed a contract with mercenaries from South Africa.

According to Hussein Abdi Halane, Somalia’s Minister of Finance, who was interviewed by the VOA Somali branch, “Saracen will help the Somali government train some of its forces.” Among other things, this private security group would be training anti-piracy forces as well as the bodyguards of Somali government officials, drivers, and civil servants.

Ever since the AP report, concerns have been raised by a number of stakeholders ranging from UN, AU, AMISOM, US, and EU.

Concerns range from “Who will be financing this contract?” to “Is this going to violate the arms embargo imposed on Somalia since 1992?” However, the real concern, from the Somali perspective, ought to be: Since civilians are already exposed to great dangers with al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam’s mortar attacks on AMISOM and the latter’s counter attacks, and neither of the former militias (now one group) are waging their attacks from a jungle, how are they going to protect civilian lives from their advanced, state-of-the-art weaponry? Is this group going to uphold basic human rights and respect all international conventions? Who would have the responsibility and/or jurisdiction to prosecute any violation that may be made, such as reckless killing, rape, or any other unethical behavior? Would they be able to differentiate between civilian “Saracens” and combatant ones?

And, from the UN and the international community perspective, the concern ought to be: Would this group keep its hands off the uranium deposits in the central regions of Somalia where they are now allowed to operate freely?

It is quite apparent that the TFG has not done its due diligence. Among other things, the TFG agreed to not tax any of the goods and equipments that this group brings into the country, which is euphemism for not searching any and all they possess.

The more the facts emerge on this partnership made in hell, the more enraged the extremists become and the more public support they would garner. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the TFG to immediately end this contract, and upon the international community to pressure Saracen International and all other mercenary groups believed to be operating in "Somaliland" and “Puntland” to leave Somalia.

Oduesp Eman teaches political science in Turkey.