Mostly for logistical and political reasons, contractors from America and mercenaries from Russia are the sharp end of the stick for their respective nations in what amounts to a modern-day Scramble for Africa.
In fact, the ratio of contractors to servicemembers is almost one to one in many places. As they do in other parts of the world, some contractors fill critical support roles while others engage the enemy in combat. Due to the increased interest, some people opine that history is repeating itself.
Flashback: The First “Scramble for Africa”
In 1870, European nations directly controlled only about 10% of Africa. The few colonies, like French Algeria and the UK’s Cape Colony (part of present-day South Africa), hugged the coastlines. By 1910, the entire continent, with the exception of Ethiopia, Liberia, and the Dervish State (part of present-day Somalia), was a European colonial territory.
Part of the impetus was economic. A continent-wide depression which began in 1873 led to protectionism, which closed many markets. Africa, especially the Sahel, represented a large and accessible market. Many African countries were also cheap sources of raw materials, like cotton, copper, and tin.
There were political motivations, as well. There was an intense ongoing rivalry between Great Britain, France, and Germany during this period. These nations viewed African colonies as a way to expand their military presence, an increase of their national prestige, and useful bargaining chips in “balance of power” negotiations.
Things began falling apart with the First Moroccan Crisis in 1905 and the Second Moroccan Crisis in 1911. Then, everything came crashing down in August 1914, when World War I began.
Colonialism scarred the continent. The most ignominious incident may have been Belgium’s treatment of the people in the Congo. A combination of ruthless wars, a campaign of starvation, and neglect may have killed eight million of the estimated 16 million native Congolese people.
The Second “Scramble for Africa”
A little over a hundred years later, foreign powers are once again jockeying for position in Africa, but the players and the agendas are a little different this time.
- United States: Africa in general, and the Sahel in particular, is one of the newest fronts in the War on Terrorism. So far, U.S. forces have done little but conduct drone strikes and assist friendly forces, but things are getting more intense. In October 2017, 10 U.S. service members and a private military contractor were killed when ISIS forces ambushed a Nigeran column on a routine reconnaissance mission. A private military contractor also evacuated wounded soldiers from the combat zone.
- Russia: Wagner Group mercenaries protect Russia-friendly leaders in places like the Sudan and the Central African Republic. Not coincidentally, these forces also “guard” the large diamond mines and other natural resources in these countries. Wagner mercenaries are also making inroads into Libya, and a Libyan-Russian alliance would be an unholy one indeed.
- Ukraine: No one is exactly sure what Ukrainian mercenaries are doing in Burkina Faso and some other West African countries, but companies are paying mercenaries up to $14,000 a month to work there. Many believe that these firms may be training guerilla fighters in the Sahel.
Some former European colonial masters, most notably the French, still have a presence in Africa, as well.
The goals in the First and Second scramble are quite similar. While the U.S., Russia, and the Ukraine do not want to directly rule African countries and take their natural resources, they do want political and economic influence. Their motives may be pure or impure, largely depending on your perspective.
The Role of Contractors in Africa
ISIS and other terrorist groups are very active in West Africa, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. So, the DoD wants a strong presence in these areas. The problem is that AFRICOM is not particularly welcome in these areas or any other parts of Africa. In 2008, U.S. officials insisted that eight countries, mostly in central Africa, were “very interested” in playing host to the organization. But thus far, AFRICOM has only one installation on the entire continent.
So, American contractors play a lead role in Africa. As they do in many other places, these individuals give the U.S. a presence in places that traditionally shun Americans as imperialists.
Political distance has long been a calling card of American contractors. Since their casualties do not count in the official statistics, contractors make active war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan seem less violent. Since they have a lower profile than regular servicemembers, contractors allow foreign governments to downplay the U.S. presence. They can tell their citizens that there are only a handful of American troops in the country. Additional reassurance comes from the fact that there are usually fewer permanent military facilities associated with contractors.
There are some practical advantages, as well. Many contractors speak the language and know the culture. Moreover, although they earn more initially, contractors are a lot cheaper over the long term.
Injury Compensation Available for American Contractors in Africa
Contractors in Africa bear the same risks as regular service members. When contractors are injured overseas, they can count on the Defense Base Act to provide the financial resources they need to recover from their injuries. These resources include:
- Lost Wages: Contractors usually earn top pay while they are deployed. Their families rely heavily on this large income stream. So, the Defense Base Act usually pays two-thirds of the contractor’s average weekly wage during a period of temporary disability.
- Medical Bills: In addition to lost wages, the DBA pays for all medically-necessary expenses. In addition to emergency care in the field, that also includes hospitalization in a larger facility as well as later physical or occupational rehabilitation. Injured victims are not financially responsible for any unpaid charges.
Most injured victims can chose their own physicians and change doctors at any time during their course of treatment.
For more information about eligibility for Defense Base Act benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.