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The Dog Of War Who Bites No More

Simon Mann was jailed for an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. He regrets that coup, but not being paid to wage war.

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Simon Mann, probably the 21st century’s most famous mercenary, is a small, neat man who looks nothing like he is supposed to.

The former special forces soldier, who did six tours in Northern Ireland with the British SAS and waged war for profit in Angola and Sierra Leone, shouldn’t look like a senior banker or bureaucrat.

And the man, whose mercenary career came to a crashing end when he was arrested in Harare in 2004 for his role in a planned coup in Equatorial Guinea, should not be wearing a turquoise Apple Watch (with matching earphones) in addition to his normal, more traditional, timepiece.

Simon Mann (L) the leader of the group of seventy foreigners arrested in Zimbabwe on charges of trying to topple the president of Equatorial Guinea leave a court set up at a maximum security prison 23 March 2003, in Harare. The 70 men were remanded until April 13. Man at right is unidentified. AFP PHOTO / STR

Mann talks quietly in an upper-crust British accent that tells of growing up in the heart of the British establishment. Born into a brewing dynasty, to a father who captained England in cricket and won two Military Crosses and a Distinguished Service Order during World War II, Mann attended Eton and Sandhurst before joining the Scots Guards.

Having been selected for the elite Special Air Service (SAS), he served in Cyprus, Germany, Norway and Northern Ireland before leaving in 1985. He was recalled from the reserves to fight in the Gulf War.

Mann is hard of hearing in his right ear, making conversation amid the hubbub in The Botanist, the posh Sloane Square pub he chose for the interview, difficult.

There is a natural reticence about him and he takes his time to answer even the simplest question. This is a man who speaks far differently than he writes. There is a modesty in person that is not there in Cry Havoc, his gung-ho account of the disastrous “Wonga Coup” attempt in Equatorial Guinea and his time in two of Africa’s most notoriously hellish prisons, Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi and Equatorial Guinea’s Black Beach.

Mann, and 69 other mercenaries, was arrested in Zimbabwe in 2004 when the Boeing 727 he had acquired for the coup in Equatorial Guinea landed in Harare with $180,000 on board to pay for the arms he had bought for the operation.

He was convicted in Harare of two counts of buying and selling weaponry, and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. After serving three years, he was released and extradited to Equatorial Guinea where he was jailed for the planned coup, having been found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 34 years imprisonment. He served a year before being pardoned on humanitarian grounds by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president he had been hired to overthrow.

Does Mann regret what he did? While he maintains that Equatorial Guinea was a “nasty” place, he thinks he should not have attempted the coup, and concedes it was a “bridge too far”. Mann believes that the situation is improving in the small oil-rich nation since the coup attempt, although he doesn’t connect the two things.

“It’s heading in the right direction, they’re making effort to get it right,” he says.

Mann has returned to Equatorial Guinea half a dozen times since his release. He says he is now “close” to Obiang who is, in his view, trying to set things right.

“I was very surprised when I was released,” he says, adding that he thought he’d be in jail for at least 10 years.

He has not been back to Zimbabwe and says he would require explicit assurances from the very top that it would be OK for him to do so.

Despite some circles criticizing the British government for washing its hands of the whole affair, Mann believes he was treated fairly.

“If you get involved in something like this and it goes horribly wrong, it is of your own doing.”

Mark Thatcher – the son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – on the other hand, is still not in his good books.

“I’m still very pissed off with him. He let me down. I’m not a fan,” he says.

In 2005, Thatcher admitted paying for a military helicopter used by the mercenaries but claimed that he believed it was to be used as an air ambulance. Thatcher paid a R3-million ($225,000) fine and got a four-year suspended sentence in South Africa where he had been living.

Mann’s adventures may have cost him a half a decade of his life but he remains unapologetic about the fact that he waged war for money across a continent that has seen too much conflict.

The moral boundaries of being guns for hire have always been blurry, but Mann is prosaic about it. He bundles his critics into a catch-all of “Guardian readers”, after the left-leaning British newspaper, who he says are pre-programmed to dislike “Old Etonian former Scots Guards” like himself.

Was Equatorial Guinea his last big coup? “Something like that,” he responds.

Mann says that the world has moved on, in a good way. He explains that the way to effect regime change is peaceful democratic elections, and that forced regime change only comes about because it is needed.

He agrees that the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea was morally ambiguous, a far more generous interpretation than his critics had.

“It was controversial,” he admits, “… there was no war, so we can’t argue that we ended a war, we were going against an internationally recognized sovereign government.”

But he is steadfast that he was not wrong when he worked as a mercenary elsewhere on the continent and says that this is a very old profession. In Angola and Sierra Leone, where he was far more successful, he believes he was on the side of the angels – not least because he had been hired by the government of the day. These conflicts passed his moral test.

“I’m not saying we did things for entirely humanitarian reasons but it was self-defence for the… government.”

He claims that Executive Outcomes, the private military company (PMC) he was instrumental in founding, shortened the wars in both Angola and Sierra Leone. He was, he argues, in fact saving lives.

“Executive Outcomes saved the people of Sierra Leone from some real bastards.”

Mann is honest enough not to pretend that his motives were pure. He was in it for the money. While he felt sorry for the people in those countries, and says he was improving their lives, the major driver was monetary.

British mercenary Simon Mann (2ndL) stands with co-accused on July 7, 2008 at Malabo’s courthouse. Mann was sentenced on July 7 by Malabo court to 34 years and four months in prison for leading an abortive coup in Equatorial Guinea. AFP PHOTO/ RODRIGO ANGUE NGUEMA

Asked how you can justify being a mercenary, he quotes a poem by British poet A.E. Housman that sums it up. “This says more in two verses than most can say at all.”

However, he admits that PMCs shouldn’t be necessary and the work that they do would be better done by governments. Large-scale fighting isn’t a job for the private sector.

Putting business prerogatives into military situations can lead to a horrific moral dilemma. Why is this? The chain of command in an official army in a democratic state gives an audit trail of how things happen, and this leads to a better conclusion from moral, legal and philosophical aspects. Doing it as a business is completely different. But if official forces aren’t up to the job, then it is inevitable that PMCs will be there.

“Let’s say you are walking along a road and see a house on fire. If you’re asked to help you will say yes. But if a factory is on fire and you need men and equipment to fight that fire, you will do it as a business,” says Mann.

The nature of our conversation inevitably leads on to how to defeat Islamic State (IS) and other fundamentalists who are wreaking terror and misery across vast swathes of the Middle East and Africa.

For Mann it’s fairly simple, albeit not easy to execute. There are proven ways to win a war. You have to separate the guerrilla forces from people who are willing to support them, thus stopping the mechanism.

“This is hard to do against fundamentalists” who are a part of the communities that they terrorize but it’s better than being “cynical and saying to hell with it.”

Mann is, however, adamant that if western governments are not prepared to do what is required to defeat IS then private military companies should do it. PMC personnel are, after all, all ex-military and can get the job done without the political fallout. But why create soldiers if you are going to let them retire only to pay the private sector to deploy them?

“If society feels it has a moral right and duty to deal with IS then there should be support for boots on the ground.”

Part of that includes the fact that some of your people will inevitably die. War is not romantic and fighting wars is dreadful.

Is there a political will to do it? Mann believes so.

“Society has become far more interfering, and we have taken the approach of ‘if we can help, why not?’… Why care more about someone in Liverpool than in Mosul?”

And if governments are not going to care, there will be men who will be willing to care… for a fee, of course.

But it won’t be Simon Mann. He says his days of being a hired gun are over. He is now only involved in running his businesses and writing a novel which he describes as an adventure thriller modelled on John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps but set in modern times and with a female hero.

Time will tell.

Focus

Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?

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How much climate change is natural? How much is man made?

As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and not surprised that I was asked to write on this topic by The Conversation. For nearly all climate scientists, the case is proven that humans are the overwhelming cause of the long-term changes in the climate that we are observing. And that this case should be closed.

Despite this, climate denialists continue to receive prominence in some media which can lead people into thinking that man-made climate change is still in question. So it’s worth going back over the science to remind ourselves just how much has already been established.

Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – mandated by the United Nations to assess scientific evidence on climate change – have evaluated the causes of climate change. The most recent special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees confirms that the observed changes in global and regional climate over the last 50 or so years are almost entirely due to human influence on the climate system and not due to natural causes.

What is climate change?

First we should perhaps ask what we mean by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as:

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

The causes of climate change can be any combination of:

  • Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system – like the atmosphere and ocean – vary on their own to cause fluctuations in climatic conditions, such as temperature or rainfall. These internally-driven changes generally happen over decades or longer; shorter variations such as those related to El Niño fall in the bracket of climate variability, not climate change.
  • Natural external causes such as increases or decreases in volcanic activity or solar radiation. For example, every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips and this can cause small fluctuations in global temperature, up to about 0.2 degrees. On longer time scales – tens to hundreds of millions of years – geological processes can drive changes in the climate, due to shifting continents and mountain building.
  • Human influence through greenhouse gases (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane), other particles released into the air (which absorb or reflect sunlight such as soot and aerosols) and land-use change (which affects how much sunlight is absorbed on land surfaces and also how much carbon dioxide and methane is absorbed and released by vegetation and soils).

What changes have been detected?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showed that, on average, the global surface air temperature has risen by 1°C since the beginning of significant industrialisation (which roughly started in the 1850s). And it is increasing at ever faster rates, currently 0.2°C per decade, because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have themselves been increasing ever faster.

The oceans are warming as well. In fact, about 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the oceans.

A warmer atmosphere and oceans are causing dramatic changes, including steep decreases in Arctic summer sea ice which is profoundly impacting arctic marine ecosystems, increasing sea level rise which is inundating low lying coastal areas such as Pacific island atolls, and an increasing frequency of many climate extremes such as drought and heavy rain, as well as disasters where climate is an important driver, such as wildfire, flooding and landslides.

Multiple lines of evidence, using different methods, show that human influence is the only plausible explanation for the patterns and magnitude of changes that have been detected.

This human influence is largely due to our activities that release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well sunlight absorbing soot. The main sources of these warming gases and particles are fossil fuel burning, cement production, land cover change (especially deforestation) and agriculture.

Weather attribution

Most of us will struggle to pick up slow changes in the climate. We feel climate change largely through how it affects weather from day-to-day, season-to-season and year-to-year.

The weather we experience arises from dynamic processes in the atmosphere, and interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface. Human influence on the broader climate system acts on these processes so that the weather today is different in many ways from how it would have been.

One way we can more clearly see climate change is by looking at severe weather events. A branch of climate science, called extreme event or weather attribution, looks at memorable weather events and estimates the extent of human influence on the severity of these events. It uses weather models run with and without measured greenhouse gases to estimate how individual weather events would have been different in a world without climate change.

As of early 2019, nearly 70% of weather events that have been assessed in this way were shown to have had their likelihood and/or magnitude increased by human influence on climate. In a world without global warming, these events would have been less severe. Some 10% of the studies showed a reduction in likelihood, while for the remaining 20% global warming has not had a discernible effect. For example, one study showed that human influence on climate had increased the likelihood of the 2015-2018 drought that afflicted Cape Town in South Africa by a factor of three.

Adapting to a changing climate

Weather extremes underlie many of the hazards that damage society and the natural environment we depend upon. As global warming has progressed, so have the frequency and intensity of these hazards, and the damage they cause.

Minimising the impacts of these hazards, and having mechanisms in place to recover quickly from the impacts, is the aim of climate adaptation, as recently reported by the Global Commission on Adaptation.

As the Commission explains, investing in adaptation makes sense from economic, social and ethical perspectives. And as we know that climate change is caused by humans, society cannot use “lack of evidence” on its cause as an excuse for inaction any more.

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Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

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Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.


As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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Current Affairs

Quality Higher Education Means More Than Learning How To Work

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When people talk about quality education, they’re often referring to the kind of education that gives students the knowledge and skills they need for the job market. But there’s a view that quality education has wider benefits: it develops individuals in ways that help develop society more broadly.

In Zimbabwe, for example, the higher education policy emphasises student employability and the alleviation of labour shortages. But, as my research found, this isn’t happening in practice.

University education needs to do more than produce a graduate who can get a job. It should also give graduates a sense of right and wrong. And it should instil graduates with an appreciation for other people’s development.

Tertiary education should also give students opportunities, choices and a voice when it comes to work safety, job satisfaction, security, growth and dignity. Higher education is a space where they can learn to be critical. It must prepare them for participating in the economy and broader society.

This isn’t happening in Zimbabwe. Graduate unemployment is high and employers and policy makers are blaming this largely on the mismatch between graduate skills and market requirements.

Investigating Zimbabwe’s universities
My research sought to examine how a human development lens could add to what was valued as higher education, and the kind of graduate outcomes produced in Zimbabwe. I investigated 10 of the universities in Zimbabwe (there were 15 at the time of the research). Four were private and six public.

I reviewed policy documents, interviewed representatives of institutions and held discussions with students. Members of Zimbabwe’s higher education quality assurance body and university teaching staff were also included.

I found that in practice, higher education in Zimbabwe was influenced by the country’s socio-political and economic climate. Decisions and appointments of key university administrators in public universities and the minister of higher education were largely political.

In addition, resources were limited and staff turnover was high. Universities just couldn’t finance themselves through tuition fees.

Different players in the higher education system – employers, the government, academics, students and their families – have different ideas about what “quality” means in higher education. The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education understands quality as meeting set standards and benchmarks that emphasise the graduates’ knowledge and skills.

To some extent, academics and university administrators see quality as teaching and learning that gives students a mixture of skills and values such as social responsibility.

But lecturers must comply with the largely top-down approach to quality. They tend to do whatever will enhance students’ prospects of getting employment in a particular market.

The educators and students I interviewed acknowledged that developing the ability to work and to think critically were both central to higher education. But they admitted that these goals were hard to attain. This was because of the country’s constrained socio-political and economic environment. Academics and students felt that they couldn’t express themselves freely and critical thinking was suppressed.

Stuck on a road to nowhere
The study illustrates how an over-emphasis on creating human capital – skilled and knowledgeable graduates – limits higher education’s potential to foster broader human and social development.

University education should do more, especially in developing countries such as Zimbabwe that face not just economic, but also socio-political challenges. Before building more universities and enrolling more students, authorities and citizens should consider what quality education means in relation to the kind of society they want.

It’s possible to take a broader view of development, quality and the role of higher education. This broader approach – one that appreciates social justice – can equip graduates to address the country’s problems.

The road ahead
Universities can’t change a society on their own. But their teaching and learning practices can make an important difference.

Because quality teaching and learning means different things to different people, people need to talk about it democratically. Institutional and national policies must be informed by broad consultations to identify the knowledge, skills and values they want graduates to have.

University teaching and learning should emphasise freedom of expression and participation so that students can think and act critically beyond university.

Also, academics don’t automatically know how to teach just because they have a PhD. Universities should therefore ensure that academics learn how to teach and communicate their knowledge. Curriculum design, student assessment and feedback, as well as training of lecturers should all support this goal of human development.

When universities see quality in terms of human development, their role becomes more than production of workers in an economy. It gives them a mandate to nurture ethically responsible graduates. These more rounded graduates are better equipped to imagine an alternative future in pursuit of a better society, economically, politically and socially.

Patience Mukwambo: Researcher, University of the Free State

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