PMSC’s and Extractive Industries in Southern Africa: A good business for everyone?

Carlos Díaz Bodoque

After the propagation of international private military and security companies (PMSCs) in Iraq and Afghanistan entrusted to carry military and security functions on the ground in the early 2000s, a large number of local private security forces owned by domestic nationals emerged within the market and capitalized on the demand for specialized military, security, logistical, tactical and operational services. After acknowledging the demand for localized expertise, domestic firms were able to compete with multinational PMSCs for contracts in the region. Arguably, this caused a large number of PMSCs and security personnel to look to other markets, especially in Africa to maintain their regional presence and to exploit the developing private security industry on the continent. Private security has flourished throughout Africa due to complex infrastructure ventures and the presence of valuable natural resources, especially along the Western coast in resource-rich mines and fields. The private security sector in Africa has experienced unprecedented growth over the last decade, causing instability to a region rich in natural resources and developing infrastructure.


The private military and security sector has been growing alongside demand in Africa due to the expansion of security dynamics in services offered. For example, many PMSCs with African operations specialize in securing ships and convoys in the Indian Ocean and protecting from piracy, looking after international aid workers and civil society personnel on the ground, or protecting their assets – land, workforce and facilities – where extractives industries work, among other tasks.

To put in perspective, AFRICOM, the African unified combatant commands of the United States Armed Forces, employs and contracts dozens of PMSCs across the continent. Some of the multinational PMSCs with ongoing operations and contracts in Africa are Frontier Services Group (Southern Somalia), Dyncorp (Democratic Republic of Congo), ArmorGroup (Nigeria & Sudan), G4S (continent-wide), etc., and are hired by a wide variety of public and private ventures, institutions, corporations and governments.

Extractive companies constitute one of the largest contract providers to PMSCs in Africa and require large and complex security networks to safeguard their activities and protect assets from regional threats including criminal piracy, trafficking cartels, guerilla forces and expropriation efforts by corrupt government regimes. For example, many PMSCs involved in extractive industries are contracted to protect the project infrastructure and active personnel, as well as to ensure the secure transportation of the goods and products to distribution and mining sites. Having said, the high value and limited supply of precious resources results in hazardous conditions for communities located next to the mines or facilities, which are often left to face the consequences of increased security presence outside the scope of national law. In some cases, PMSCs with operations in Africa have become a direct beneficiary of political protections which often accompany contracts, achieving success through recognization within the state dimension. For example, Angolan law establishes that licenses granted to extraction or exploitation companies are reserved to companies that employ their own security network and meet a high degree of criteria.


Some other African countries have opted for a ban on foreign ownership of locally registered PMSCs, such as Nigeria, Liberia, and Senegal, which provide evidence to support their concerns for the industry. These rulings are considered protectionist due to the ability to limit the foreign influence of PMSCs with operations within their jurisdiction. However, the lack of transparency regarding the private nature of contractual relationships between PMSCs and clients persists on the African continent and is evidenced through the alarming number of verified impacts committed by PMSCs directly affecting the human rights of African citizens.

The high rate of opacity shrouding many extractive operations combined with the classified nature of security contracts produces inconsistencies regarding transparency within the sector. Dissimilar regulatory measures among African countries have resulted in several documented cases of human rights violations committed by PMSCs while working for or on behalf of extractive industries, especially in resource rich regions such as southern Africa where diamond industry transnational companies have been intensively invested over the course of the last decade.


Civil society initiatives and watchdog services, such as Shock Monitor, have attempted to publicize these cases and highlight the necessity for accountability and increased community outreach by extractive companies and the PMSCs they employ.

The following list shows some notable entries in the Shock Monitor database regarding extractive sector in Africa.


Cases of PMSCs Violating Human Rights under Contract by Extractive Industries


29/12/2017: Seven security guards at the Chiadzwa diamond fields in Manicaland province allegedly killed a man who enters into the premises of Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC). The guards, 6 from National Eye Security Company and 1 more from the ZCDC’s security guards, detained one of the alleged assaultants, tied his hands and beat him with batons. The other assaultants managed to escape. (Case 276 Shock Monitor)

25/12/2015: An illegal panner was allegedly murdered and two others were injured when security guards stationed to protect diamond fields in Marange opened fire in the early hours of Christmas morning. According to a local civil society organization, Marange Development Trust (MDT), more panners lost their lives or were injured while trespassing or illegally entering the diamond mines. (Case 278 Shock Monitor)

03/07/2014: A security guard shot stationed in a resource mine murdered an illegal diamond panner in Marange.  The accused was on duty at Marange Resources mine and shot allegedly Farai Madenga once on the head, causing injuries that later killed him. Madenga was in the company of fellow panners who had invaded the diamond fields. (Case 279 Shock Monitor)

South Africa

02/03/2018: An illegal gold miner was murdered on March 3rd and eight miners were arrested by security guards at a mine in Benoni. The group of illegal gold miners (known as gwejas) were operating near the Modderbee prison in Benoni for over two months, but were finally (and fatally) confronted by armed security guards employed by the mine. (Case 281 Shock Monitor)

08/11/2017: An illegal miner was allegedly kidnapped by mine security on Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture (KEM-JV) premises. Issues between the KEM-JV and thousands of illegal miners, prospecting in and around the city, continue to result in sporadic acts of violence as members of the Kimberley Artisanal Mineworkers (KAMW) remain adamant that mine security and members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) are conspiring to jeopardize their small-scale operations. (Case 282 Shock Monitor)

11/01/2012: The 11th of January 2012, in Magdalena and Aviemore, two workers were shot and killed by security guards at a Canadian-owned coal mine during a wage protest. (Case 122 Shock Monitor)

In conclusion, severe violence and intimidation towards communities and individuals appear to have taken place on a structural basis, carried out by private security providers hired by extractive industries across Africa, especially in countries where mining activities are common and private security is legally required to protect infrastructure.

In many resource-rich African countries, the lack of transparency surrounding resource development facilitates high levels of corruption.

“Extractive companies often have explicit approval by local authorities to maintain complete authority over their operations, resulting in the ability to bypass local law and exploit land operations, complicating and facilitating a corrupt contractual relationship between both sides. Extractive companies concentrate the majority of their soft power and are able to implement their own security agenda without taking serious implications faced by local communities due to their presence into consideration.

As aforementioned, Shock Monitor has recorded multiple cases of human rights abuses and violations in Africa due to the inconsistencies in laws governing private security companies working on behalf of privileged mining corporations. In this particular context and due to the blossoming private security industries in Africa, more cases are yet to appear.


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