Slaves to the private military in Iraq Cheap help from Uganda
Private security firms won lucrative contracts to supply support staff and security guards to back up US forces in Iraq. They recruited Ugandans and pushed them to the limit, on low pay and no benefits
Like all foreign nationals working for PMCs under contract to the Pentagon, sick or wounded Ugandans repatriated from Iraq are, in principle, covered by the Defense Base Act, which guarantees that their employer’s insurer will reimburse their medical expenses. It also provides for disability pay for the most unfortunate. “But, all too often, the Ugandans do not receive the medical care and disability that they are supposed to,” American lawyer Tara K Coughlin told me.
by Alain Vicky LeMonde Diplomatique May 6, 2012
“I realised immediately that I’d just made the worst mistake in my life. But it was too late. I’d signed up for a year. I had to take it like a man,” said Bernard (1), a young Ugandan who worked for an American private military company (PMC) operating in Iraq. He was part of the “invisible army” (2) recruited by the US to support its war effort. Bernard returned to Uganda last year. He is ill, but has been denied the welfare and healthcare benefits promised in his contract.
White recruits — from the US, Israel, South Africa, the UK, France and Serbia — hired by PMCs that have won contracts with the Pentagon (worth $120bn since 2003) have received substantial pay, often more than $10,000 a month; “third country nationals” (TCNs) like Bernard have been treated badly and their rights as employees have been abused. Some, sent home after being wounded, get no help from their former employers.
In June 2008, when the US began its withdrawal from Iraq, there were 70,167 TCNs to 153,300 regular US military personnel; in late 2010 there were still 40,776 TCNs to 47,305 regulars. TCNs (men and women) were recruited in the countries of the South to work on the 25 US military bases in Iraq, including Camp Liberty, an “American small town” built near Baghdad, which at its peak had a population of over 100,000. They made up 59% of the “basic needs” workforce, handling catering, cleaning, electrical and building maintenance, fast food, and even beauty services for female military personnel.
Some, especially African recruits, were assigned to security duties, paired up with regular troops: 15% of the static security personnel (guarding base entrances and perimeters) hired by the PMCs on behalf of the Pentagon were Sub-Saharans. Among these low-cost guards, Ugandans were a majority, numbering maybe 20,000. They were sometimes used to keep their colleagues in line: in May 2010 they quelled a riot at Camp Liberty by a thousand TCNs from the Indian subcontinent.
The high ratio of Ugandans was due to the political situation in central Africa in the early 2000s. In western Uganda the war in the Great Lakes region was officially over. In northern Uganda the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels had been brought under control. In neighbouring Sudan the civil war was over, opening up the way to independence for the south (3). More than 60,000 Ugandan troops were demobilised; Iraq seemed like an opportunity. The Ugandan government, a key ally of the US in central Africa, was one of the few to support the Bush administration when the Iraq war began in 2003. US and Ugandan armed forces have collaborated since the mid-1980s. Ugandan journalist and blogger Angelo Izama (4) told me that in 2005 the US needed more paramilitary security — “They were looking for reliable labour from English-speaking countries, veteran labour” — and turned to Uganda.
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