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Soldiers of fortune Print

By Angelo Izama

According to various sources, Ugandan servicemen serving private military companies in Iraq have a good reputation. Their command of English offers an advantage over Asian and other competitors for non-combat guarding jobs. However in this billion-dollar industry, Ugandans share of the booty is being shared by the lack of malpractices at home- and the need for better regulatory oversight.

On the 7th of August 2006, a Ugandan security guard was admitted at South Victory TMC, a medical facility of the US military in Iraq with gunshot wounds. The attending physician, Dr David Steinbruner recorded that 32 year old, Eyotere George had sustained the injuries after another Ugandan “pointed an M-4 rifle at him. He grabbed the muzzle and started pushing it away from his face when it went off.” Luckily for George, the bullet entry and exit wounds on his cheek did not affect any major structures. He was discharged after only 5 days.

George is one of the hundreds of Ugandan guards seeking a fortune in war torn Iraq’s multi-billion dollar private security business. He had a contract with a Ugandan firm, Askar Security Services that had been sub-contracted to provide guards by Chicago based Beowulf International Inc. Beowulf itself was sourcing guards for one of the biggest names in the business; EOD Technology whose Iraq contracts are valued at 1.4 billion dollars to date according to a list provided by the Center for Public Integrity- a non profit. Ideally, the contract with Askar provides Eyotere and others like him with a monthly US$ 1000 income plus other perks including a limited insurance cover in case of injury and death. However bad business practices are threatening this potential business, yet another sign that maintaining standards of any kind is a major challenge for Uganda.

In a letter to the Commissioner for Labor in December, Eyotere said he is yet to receive his compensation from EODT and Askar Security. In an interview with me later he said he suspected the money (estimated at 40,000 dollars) was paid to Askar but never found its way to his account. In any case he is waiting to hear from the Labor office, Askar and EODT.

This is an all too familiar complaint against this company, which is run by Kellen Kayonga, the sister in law of General Salim Saleh- Minister of Micro finance and Patron of veterans and the reserve forces in Uganda. Saleh is also President Yoweri Museveni’s younger brother whose business Saracen Security Services was one of the pioneers in the domestic market for private security guards[ they number over 22,000 men and women, larger than the formal police force]

According to Eyotere, apart from never receiving his compensation, he fears his assailant Talemwa Lameck (a relative of Ms Kayonga) will never be brought to book despite being escorted back to Uganda under US military guard and handed over to the Ugandan authorities to face possible charges of attempted murder. The police has never taken the matter up and instead a complaint has been filed by one of Ms Kayonga’s rivals that the police officer to whom Eyotere’s case was assigned was harassing them.

Complaints by several other employees over pay and other irregularities have caused Askar’s client Beowulf to terminate its relationship with the company.

In a letter to Hon Mwesigwa Rukutana, the state Minister for Labor, Beowulf’s Chief Executive Officer, Donald Rector said while Ugandan guards had “ quickly impressed the US army” with their professional skills, problems emerged right from the start. One of their issues was proper pay reaching their accounts. Rector also said Askar was recruiting some unqualified personnel.

“ I heard from my client that a number of men admitted to having no military or police experience, when the contract with Askar required all guards to have that experience. Some of these men could not qualify to the US Army standard with their weapons, and had to be sent back home. One man even showed the client [EODT] his “Rambo” one-armed pose on how he thought his weapon should be fired. This embarrassed Beowulf and hurt the Ugandan image,” he complained.

He added that when EODT asked for K9 handlers, all the 15 sent by Askar had never worked with dogs. Beowulf has since started a new relationship with a freshly register company Migral Opportunities run by a former senior Askar manager- Sisto Andama. The Ministry of Labor is now investigating Askar for fleecing its guard force of up to US$ 748,000 (Shs1.37b) from illegal deductions in their pay. This internal management crisis at least in Askar poses a significant challenge for future contracts for other Ugandan companies. The capacity to maintain proper standards and sustain contractual obligations is crucial to any business but even more so for the security related service being provided in Iraq. Next year sources say non-combat guard contracts from Third Country Nationals (like Uganda) are bound to expand after the US government recently indicated it would remain longer in Iraq than was previously anticipated. The challenge for domestic regulation in almost every sector in Uganda is the weak capacity of regulators when they confront politically powerful operators like Kayonga. 

 
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