(by Stephen Mbogo, CNSNews.com) Nairobi, Kenya – Thousands of East Africans are heading to Iraq and Afghanistan to work in various armed roles, hired by American companies contracted to offer support services to the U.S.-led military missions there.
This is believed to be the first time that large-scale recruitment by such companies is being undertaken in this region. It involves recruitment of men and women with previous military training or law enforcement experience.
Lt.-Col. (Ret.) James Mwangemi, formerly of the Kenya Army and now an independent security consultant, said the use of armed ex-servicemen in “rear guarding” while the national armed forces are on the frontline has succeeded in Iraq and has set a precedent for other conflict zones.
“Previously, people who performed such tasks were seen as mercenaries. This is changing, and Iraq has fired up the change in perception,” he said.
Civilian contractors are given roles like guarding important facilities, escorting convoys and gathering security intelligence, roles that can expose them to enemy fire.
Although they are not meant to engage in a direct combat, the nature of their job exposes them to the likelihood that they will. The role of contractors is currently in the spotlight over a firefight in Baghdad involving personnel from the Blackwater security firm.
U.S. military contractor KBR, which describes itself as “a global engineering, construction and services company supporting the energy, petrochemicals, government services and civil infrastructure sectors,” was the first to start recruitment in East Africa.
KBR employs more than 50,000 people worldwide in locations that include Australia, Africa, the U.K., Asia and the Middle East.
KBR spokesmen could not be reached for comment, but the company has not said how many East Africans it has recruited or where they have been posted. KBR job vacancies advertised are for positions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.
Sentry Security of East Africa, a company registered in Pennsylvania but with a branch in Kenya, expects to deploy at least 1,200 “guards” from Kenya in Iraq and Afghanistan, starting this month.
Jack Kimuri, head of the East African branch, said the contractors will work under U.S. Department of Labor regulations, providing for a 10-hour working day, minimum pay and disability and death insurance.
The positions draw interest because salaries are about 30 percent higher than those earned by members of the armed forces here and five times more than salaries earned by policemen. They are almost 10 times more than those earned by private security guards in Kenya and Uganda.
Contractors are required to abide by U.S. military policies like strict restrictions on alcohol and drug use.
Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group, another U.S.-based company, has also been recruiting in the region, mainly in Uganda. The company has taken more than 3,000 East Africans to Iraq.
Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operators Association (IPOA) — a group representing private military companies and contractors — said there is nothing wrong with recruiting international employees for work in dangerous conflict and post-conflict environments.
“There are many risky jobs in the world, from coal mining to construction, from assembly line work to arctic fishing,” he said in an interview. “It is the responsibility of the company to inform individuals of the rewards as well as the risks associated with their employment, and it is the right of the individual to decide where and from whom to seek employment.”
But Charles Mwaura, a specialist in security and disaster management at the University of Nairobi, said contractors could pose a future security threat, particularly if there are no mechanisms to demobilize them after the task is done, including services to help them reintegrate back into civilian society.
“They may be former military people exposed to war, but we cannot ignore that they will come back directly to civilian life. Will they have enough savings? How shall we ensure they overcome the trauma of war? Could some of them seek to start new wars to ensure job continuity?” he said in an interview.
The IPOA says there are probably about 180,000 contractors working in Iraq, most of them Iraqis. Figures from the U.S. Department of Defense show that it has recruited at least 128,888 contractors in Iraq as of April this year; 20,819 were U.S. citizens, 42,733 were foreigners and the rest were Iraqis.
All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2007 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. Why are thousands of East Africans going to Iraq and Afghanistan?
2. What types of jobs are civilian security contractors doing in Iraq and Afghanistan?
3. a) Which civilian security company was the first to start recruitment in East Africa?
b) How does this company describe itself?
c) In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, in what other locations does the company have employees?
4. Since the security companies employing the foreign workers are American, the employees will work under U.S. Department of Labor regulations. What protections do these regulations provide for the employees?
5. How do the salaries of Kenyans hired to work in Iraq compare with those of security personnel in Kenya?
6. Re-read the comments made by those who support and oppose the idea of private military companies and contractors recruiting international employees:
-Doug Brooks in para. 15-16
-Charles Mwaura in para. 17-18
a) Does each man have legitimate points? Explain your answer.
b) With whom do you agree? Explain your answer.
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