Culture Wars/Current Controversies

“Opportunity Is Always Out There” With Simon Mann

By Ash Milton, Palladium
Chatham House/Simon Mann

Simon Mann was formed in consummately British institutions. After completing his education at Eton College and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he entered the Scots Guards in 1972. It was a family tradition—both father and grandfather had served before him. Later, he joined the British military’s elite Special Air Service (SAS), which took him across Europe. Such a military career might have set him up for prestige in conventional business or politics. Instead, Mann decided to try his luck in Africa.

In 1993, Mann went to Angola to seek fortune in the oil industry with his friend Tony Buckingham. Within months of their arrival, the oil-producing city of Soyo was captured by anti-government rebels. It seemed like their oil venture was doomed—until, as Mann tells the story, he proposed a solution: reconquer Soyo. Mann and Buckingham called upon South African contacts, most of whom had backgrounds in the South African Defence Force and the shadowy Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), an apartheid-era counterinsurgency unit. One of these contacts, Eeben Barlow, was a former South African military officer who had seized the opportunity of apartheid’s collapse to recruit compatriots into a private military company (PMC) called Executive Outcomes (EO).

Together, they secured Angolan government contracts for EO to reconquer Soyo, and eventually help the government win the civil war. Their success in achieving an Angolan victory put Mann and his friends on the map. Soon, governments across Africa and elsewhere were knocking on their doors.

EO soldiers have since taken part in conflicts across the continent, and Mann has gone on to many more adventures. In 1997, his own PMC, Sandline International, was involved in the controversial Sandline affair in Papua New Guinea. In 2004, Mann was arrested for organizing a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea, and spent the next five and a half years in some of Africa’s most notorious prisons. He was released in 2009 after a pardon. His memoir, Cry Havoc, was published in 2011.

Today, Mann continues his work in the world of private military ventures, including with STTEP International, a PMC that has fought the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Known internationally as a mercenary, in conversation Mann is polished and confident in his positions. We were curious to learn more about what it means to get involved in war and statecraft as a non-state actor, the unconventional opportunities he has found, and how he thinks about his work. He sat down with Palladium to explain.

A soldier fights for king and country. Or in some cases, for freedom and democracy. A mercenary, on the other hand, puts his life on the line for cash in countries not his own. Who ends up in this line of work and why?


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