How could the mercenaries get this far: the sad story of foreign-paid African mercenaries on African soil has raised its ugly head yet again with the arrests of alleged mercenaries in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea last month. Janet Jere and Chipo Shoko report on how dangerously easy they could have got away with their plot to murder.

Author:Jere, Janet
Position:Zimbabwe/Equatorial Guinea
 
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The ease and impunity with which the African mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea last month could have accomplished their foiled feat, raises worrying questions on the state of national security on the African continent.

Although the men--20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, 23 Angolans, 2 DRCongolese, and one Zimbabwean--have now been charged with plotting to assassinate President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, flouting Zimbabwe immigration laws, and trying to buy arms illegally in Zimbabwe, the big question on how the plane with such "dangerous" passengers was allowed to hop from one airport to another so easily, is not only baffling, but demands answers.

It has been confirmed by both the Zimbabwean and South African authorities that the plane--a former US Airforce aircraft--somehow, began its journey from Pretoria.

But how the South African airport security at both Pretoria's Wunderboom airport (where the mercenaries and their military cargo apparently boarded), and those at Petersburg airport (where they stopped over before proceeding to Harare) failed to detect them and their "dangerous contraband", has left many agape with wonder and anger at such security incompetence.

In recent years, African governments have been working hard to crush mercenary activities on the continent--but last month's saga proves that Africa still has no shortage of soldiers of fortune prepared to sell their continent for any price. What has happened proves that security at airports and borders should command the same level of attention as that given to other national security issues, such as food.

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This episode has shocked many Africans as they contemplate what these African-born mercenaries could have done in Harare, having so easily got away undetected at two of South Africa's not-so-busy airports.

The 64 mercenaries--most of them veterans of apartheid South Africa's subversive wars in the region--were nabbed after they flew into Zimbabwe aboard the US-registered Boeing 727-100 aircraft, and made a false declaration to customs about their "cargo". They arrived in the dead of the night, with the lights of their plane switched off, which aroused the suspicion of Zimbabwean security agents, and prompted the search that yielded the...

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