My Father the Mercenary
March 30, 2008 8:20 AM   Subscribe

What does my dad need to know about becoming a mercenary in Africa?

My dad, a 52-year-old heavy drinker with degenerative arthritis, has just been offered a position driving a bullet-proof limousine in a country bordering Sudan by a business contact that he's "known for a while now". My father would be protecting pilots that are under the protection of the government of this country, and being paid very handsomely. He would alternate months working in Africa and months off in the States, but would get paid even on months off for being "on backup".

Dad is a semi-retired blue-collar worker with a gun-related side-business. He's a canny businessman and knows his way around dangerous situations. However, he has never traveled out of the US, dislikes black people, and requires lots of pain medicine to function normally. He informed my sister and I on Easter Sunday that he was interviewing for this position, and today he called us to say he got it and is leaving for Africa in 7 days, and that the people hiring him are paying for his expedited passport and his immunizations. They are letting him bring his own firearms, from which he has many to choose. He thinks the job will be relatively cushy, and that he is unlikely to see any danger. In his mind, the risks are offset by the huge paycheck and the every-other-month nature of the work.

My questions:

Can this job possibly be for real?

Are there any drawbacks to this situation (besides the obvious ones) that he needs to be aware of? I know next to nothing about the geopolitical scene or what a foreigner packing a gun and working for the government might encounter, or the ethical ramifications of the whole thing.

I'm not upset with him (like my sister is) and respect his choice to do what he wants, but I'd like to be able to point things out that he has overlooked that could save his life or keep him from being swindled somehow.
posted by BE ADEQUITE to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This question would be a lot easier to answer if we knew the country. Can you at least give us a "Southwest of Sudan" or whatever it is?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:36 AM on March 30, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry, I was being cautious and that might not be too helpful. (Is it safe to say? I don't even know!) The country is directly west of Sudan.
posted by BE ADEQUITE at 8:40 AM on March 30, 2008

Well, it could be Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central African Repubilc, D.R. Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia or Eritrea. Those are all pretty different places.
posted by delmoi at 8:49 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh sorry. So it's Chad or the Central African republic? (I'm assuming it's not Libya)
posted by delmoi at 8:50 AM on March 30, 2008

Wow, um, no offense to your father but "dislikes black people" + country in Africa + "bring his own firearms" + heavy drinker sounds like a recipe for bad things to happen.
I think if you're in a dangerous situation with very little law (or at least a feeling of no consequences for your actions) and you don't have an inherent respect for the people there, well, that can lead to situations like this.

Anyway... here's an interesting article on developments in the horn of Africa, although it shades more towards Ethiopia (and it appears on preview that he'll be more to the west).

I wish him safe travels.
posted by sharkfu at 9:05 AM on March 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

He rather desperately needs more information about who's paying him, along with a contract with someone with plenty of attachable assets in the US. He may find enforcing his work agreement impossible in other jurisdictions. The law in the country he'll be working is may be unfriendly to his painkiller requirement. I wouldn't travel in some of the countries bordering Sudan, let alone go as a mercenary. Check out these State Department warnings

Evaluating the realism, it seems not so great. For one, the vaccination schedule is wrong. Yellow fever vaccine is required 10 days prior to arrival in an endemic zone. Hep A minimum is 2 weeks. The motivation is kind of suspect. Why would they want to pay an American lots of money when locals are cheap? Even if you don't trust locals, you can get mercenaries from other parts of the world cheaper. Why would they want a 52 year old blue-collar worker with arthritis instead of a 30 year old ex-marine or some such?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:16 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, I would make the following suggestions to him if I were you.

Learn as much as you can about the local culture. This is absolutely essential, just read as much about the region, the local customs, and local groups as he possibly can. This might not seem to be mandatory to him, and from what you said about your dad he doesn't strike me as being very likely to do this, but you ought to stress it above anything else.

Don't mix alcohol and pain medication, at least while on the job.

Take fewer weapons that all use the same type of ammunition, and bring more clips.

Body armor.

Weapons and body armor are a poor substitute for local knowledge.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:23 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is your dad going to be flying in each month with a month's worth of pain meds on him? I assume he's aware that there are black markets for those drugs, where they command high dollar values. Is he concerned that someone may target him for his meds? Will he be able to make it through the rest of a month if they are taken from him? Will he be able to find a doctor willing to replace his medication if it is stolen? Does he have knowledge of local pain medication black markets where he can get medication if he's in dire need?

I guess I would also like to reiterate that a middle aged alcoholic, maybe pill addict with a cache of weapons heading to Africa to work as a mercenary sounds awfully Heart of Darkness to me.
posted by The Straightener at 9:31 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a South African black Afrikaans friend who flies out of dangerous hotspots throughout Africa. He's typically employed by the government and there are typically people ensuring their safety while he's in country, as well as people securing the planes, fuel, etc.

He says that in nearly all cases, the guards are Africans, and most of them are black residents of the country he's in. The few that aren't are exclusively young, predominantly white South Africans working as mercenaries with lots of combat experience.

He hasn't worked out of either of the countries that you mentioned, but I'd find it suspect that they'd hire a middle-aged man who lives with pain and has no military background to be a local limo driver and guard. In my experience in Africa, knowing the city is vital for safety- how can he keep them safe if he doesn't know where to drive, if he runs into trouble?

If he is set on this course, and leaves behind dependents, consider taking out a life insurance policy (not to be crass). Seconding BobbyDigital's practical suggestions, and I'd add: convince him not to drink when he's in the country. Adding a) doesn't like black people to b) no local knowledge to c) he's a middle-aged guy who has a drinking habit sounds like a recipe for trouble.

Also, I'd suggest he contact some companies that do legitimate mercenary work (um- well, you know what I mean) and see if they have any advice other than "Get out of there!" If he is in the gun business, he might know some people who might be able to help.
posted by arnicae at 9:35 AM on March 30, 2008

Building on what BobbyDigital said, your father should try to get guns that take 7.62 x 39 mm M43 rounds. The AK-47 is ubiquitous in Africa and I would imagine that this would be among the easiest types of ammunition to obtain should he run short. He should (and probably is) aware that his shooting accuracy is greatly diminished by the tremors brought on by heavy drinking and the delayed reaction time brought on by opiate use.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:38 AM on March 30, 2008

Response by poster: A lot of these answers confirm what I suspected.

As for why they'd choose him over local talent (if it's a real job), it's possible he'd get hired simply because of his connections. He claims that they're just looking for white guys and since the actual work involved would be minimal, that they don't mind using people who know little about the land and the situation. (I think that sounds like a crock too, but who knows).

Good point about making sure he has enough medicine to get through a month, or could get more if his stash was damaged/stolen/lost.

Any links I can forward him (besides this one, natch) would be wonderful.

I'll ask him about the immunization timeline. Honestly I have no idea right now whether to expect him to be gone in a week, or to be sitting at home offering breezy excuses as to why he decided not to go.
posted by BE ADEQUITE at 9:49 AM on March 30, 2008

This is either a terrible idea or a great screen play. or both. I doubt you can talk him out of it, but you can urge him to pick up some useful language skills before he goes. Take a night class with him, if there is an appropriate one available in your area.
posted by markovitch at 10:19 AM on March 30, 2008

i think there's a lot more to the story he may not be telling you, or he is getting suckered

the only older folks that do this that i've run into are uber-physically and mentally fit, which it sounds like your dad is not


have extensive, extensive combat, special ops, intelligence or other experience that makes them useful in positions of leadership

but most often, a good mix of both

- still super fit and combat ready, but have an excellent background for the job

Further, i wouldn't hire a driver in any city that wasn't from the city...i think in personal protection 101 a key component of driving is being able to evade effectively, which would be impossible if you had no idea where you were going

sounds super shady!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 10:31 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd do some more pushing on who exactly is hiring him and why. Sounds like he could be getting suckered into working as a drug mule or somesuch.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:39 AM on March 30, 2008

A contrarian view: Let him go knowing that his children love him and are concerned about his well being. Wish him well. Let him have the adventure of his life. If he is truly a" canny businessman and knows his way around dangerous situations", then he will have some intuitive sense of how to avoid danger be it in-country, or dealing with the challenges of being a contractor. Heavy drinking goes with the territory. It may be he will back out of the deal after just a month or he may love it. Be thankful he isn't a 52 year old contractor in Iraq.

This does not sound like a mercenary position. Read "The Dogs of War" to get a sense of what being a true mercenary is all about.

He'll either be alright or he won't. That's what life is all about.
posted by Xurando at 10:50 AM on March 30, 2008

mid life crisis? Does he want to die? That is a sad, but relevant possibility...
posted by Salvatorparadise at 12:05 PM on March 30, 2008

The only part that sounds sketchy to me is the "bring your own guns" option -- usually, transporting personal weapons internationally is expensive and difficult, compared to buying locally. But the rest of it sounds more or less ok -- a lot of foreigners prefer to hire other whities, rather than locals, for jobs that involve some measure of trust; the one month on/one month off schedule is similar to what some oil companies and others do; etc. He'll be behind the curve on vaccinations for a few weeks (and should read the CDC page to see what he needs for malaria, etc) but that is normal, too, and usually people get away with it without problems.

Racist, alcoholic, and with health problems are really normal conditions for expatriate workers anywhere in the world -- those are far from deal-breakers.

He should make sure that the employer has a good expediter -- someone who handles getting all the paperwork (visas, driving permits, etc) in order, because if he has to handle that himself it will take forever. An expediter/facilitator/call it what you want will know how to "get things done" quickly if not always 100% legally. Paperwork matters, even in places like Chad/CAR/Sudan, and he doesn't want to be arrested by the local police for driving illegally and having a gun with no permit.

Your father should make sure that he has ready access to enough cash to buy himself a ticket home if the job falls apart or isn't as described; he should also have a policy with one of the medical evacuation companies in case he gets a case of the nasties and the employer isn't helpful.

Otherwise, I say go for it -- it will be an adventure at any rate.
posted by Forktine at 12:11 PM on March 30, 2008

A lot of people are suggesting that he's getting suckered. I think the reverse might also be true (and maybe more likely), this contractor just has an extra position to fill and wants to give it to a friend of his.
posted by delmoi at 1:18 PM on March 30, 2008

Well there are plenty of racist greedy alky mercs in Africa. The biggest problem will be his health issues.

The only white folks I know hired as drivers here in Africa are the "special protection" types for presidents and very high level ministers.
posted by tarvuz at 1:33 PM on March 30, 2008

"... but I'd like to be able to point things out that he has overlooked that could save his life or keep him from being swindled somehow."

How about starting with what you've told us: "... he has never traveled out of the US, dislikes black people, and requires lots of pain medicine to function normally."

I mean, what could make him any less qualified for a job in Africa being a "driver" for someone who needs armed protection, assuming this job exists in the first place?
posted by gyusan at 6:00 PM on March 30, 2008

I think any reliance on the protection of the governments of Chad or CAR is a bit silly. In Chad there are regular, credible threats to the the current dictator's rule. Rebels attacked and held parts of N'Djamena as recently as last month. If he's ferrying the government's pilots to and from airstrips when one rebel faction or the other finally succeeds in overthrowing Deby, he's going to need a good escape plan. Make sure he has one for himself and doesn't just rely on the contractor helping him get to an airport/embassy when the shit hits the fan. In addition to arming/armoring himself he should think about trying to secretly carry around a pretty healthy wad of cash so he can try to buy his way to safety. A lot of people there will assume he's got money anyway.

If you think he'd be receptive to the argument, talk to him about the government he is going to be working for. Check out the country on and the Human Rights Watch website. Unless I'm grossly mistaken you'll see that the rulers of the country are genocidal bastards. The State Department has country reports that detail the human rights situation in every country. They are very conservative in the abuses they recognize but if you dig, you'll find some horrible things.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 6:12 PM on March 30, 2008

I have a friend who's cousin worked in one of those "hot spot" African countries as either a driver or some sort of security expert (sorry, shady on these details). He worked for an opposition party candidate - the candidate was declared "illegal," they rounded up the entire operation and the cousin ended up in an African prison for months. It took a lot of work for the American consulate to get him out.

I'm wondering if the "gun related side business" might have something to do with the job offer? Maybe these folks need guns?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:12 PM on March 30, 2008

I highly doubt this job is for real. If the person who supposedly offered it offered it to your dad because of personal relationships, well that will be the first thing out the door if dad gets into trouble. Unless either this man is looking to your father to run guns to Chad, hence the reason for the Bring Your Own Firearms policy, or he needs to be able to charge some govt more if he has more people on the payroll, this sounds crooked.

And a dangerous situation even in rough parts of the states is no match for a dangerous situation in downtown N'djamena.

Assuming your father is legit. I am sorry if this is harsh, but how do you know your father's story is true? Is there any reason for him to spin a yarn to you? have you verified the job story, met his buddy? Found out where you can send mail?
posted by xetere at 7:58 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

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