Ugandans in Iraq: Soldiers of misfortune?

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 August 7, 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, Mr George Eyotere 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 five days.

Mr Eyotere 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 to date according to a list provided by the Center for Public Integrity- a non profit company. Ideally, the contract with Askar provides Mr Eyotere and others like him with a monthly $ 1,000 (about Shs1.8m) income plus other perks including a limited insurance cover in case of injury and death. However bad business practices are threatening this potential business.

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 Daily Monitor he said he suspected that the money (estimated at 40,000 dollars) was paid to Askar but never found its way to his account. This is an all too familiar complaint against the company, which is run by Ms Kellen Kayonga, the sister-in-law of General Salim Saleh, Minister of Microfinance, Patron of veterans and the commander of the Reserve Forces in Uganda.

Gen 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 today numbering over 22,000 men and women. Eyotere says 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.

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 Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana, the State Minister for Labor, Beowulf’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Donald Rector, said, while Ugandan guards had “ quickly impressed the US army” with their professional skills, problems emerged right from the start. One of these 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 [trained dog] 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 $ 748,000 (Shs1.37b) from illegal deductions in their pay. Moreover, investigations reveal that aside from untrained personnel the company may also be recruiting active military and police officers. A list obtained by Daily Monitor shows the following persons believed to still have a relationship with the Ugandan security services:
– Capt Mombasa Jackson (a former tank commander with the Presidential Guard
– Rutukana Jackson, Kankyiriho Coteb and
– Lt Mugisha Herbert (former PGB and chairman of the Ugandan guards in Iraq
according to sources).
The others are:
– Muhoozi Boaz (UPDF 5th Division, Kashumbusha Benjamin (UPDF 5th Division),
– Abu Raymond (Uganda Police),
– Mutaaki Moses (Uganda Police),
– Nayebare Timothy,
– Rugunda Nobert,
– Mwesigwa Ivan,
– Mugumya Hilary,
– Tukahigwa Geofrey (PGB) and
– one Matsiko Arthur (this could be an alias).

One key problem here is that no policy is in place to make it easy for ex-servicemen who automatically belong to the Reserve Forces to leave the Army and go work in Iraq. When contacted for this story, the UPDF spokesperson said, “ No active military officers are in Iraq as far as the army is concerned”. He however admitted that a policy would be necessary to enable ex-officers to go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pay levels in the army and the police are relatively much lower than prospects in Iraq applying pressure on even active military personnel to go AWOL [Absent without leave]. Pay levels with domestic private security companies (between 60-120,000) are so low that they have been identified by the police this year as one reason as to why crimes by their guards are on the rise. Considering the opportunities presented by the abilities of Ugandan personnel proper incentives including regulation of the companies involved is an urgent issue.

This internal management crisis at least in Askar poses a significant challenge for future contracts for other Ugandan companies. 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.

Askar has maintained a relationship with EODT because of the value of the Ugandan guards; but already sources in the industry indicate that Askar and its contacts are frustrating competition. Another company Global Guards which has requested Ugandan guards through Beowulf were written to by a senior member of Uganda’s intelligence services to suggest that they should not deal with Moral Opportunities, Askar’s competition.. This business rivalry will be eventually be costly on all the companies and new businesses of 2007.

Ref: Monitor

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