Erik Prince’s Alleged Mercenary Deal in DR Congo

Erik Dean Prince, a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, and the founder of the private military company Blackwater.

In a recent United Nations report, Erik Prince, the American founder of the controversial private military company Blackwater, has been implicated in a dubious mercenary arrangement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), specifically in its conflict-stricken North Kivu province. This report, emanating from the UN Group of Experts tasked with monitoring the DRC’s arms embargo, surfaced in December 2023, bringing to light attempts by Prince to orchestrate the deployment of 2,500 Latin American mercenaries in North Kivu, a region notorious for its vast mineral wealth and enduring conflict.

The context of these allegations is deeply intertwined with the ongoing complexities of regional instability, including the potential for escalated conflict between the DRC and Rwanda, the phased withdrawal of a beleaguered UN peacekeeping mission, and a proliferation of mercenary activities amidst foreign interests. Given Prince’s American citizenship, the purported deal underscores significant concerns for the US regarding corruption and arms trafficking risks, particularly if Prince acted on behalf of external governmental entities.

North Kivu’s struggle is embedded in a labyrinth of proxy wars, illicit economic activities, and governance challenges. The region’s conflict, rooted in historical grievances, has perpetuated extensive violence and underdevelopment despite its resource richness. The area’s strategic importance is accentuated by its border with Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi, making it a nexus for displaced populations, trafficking, and armed confrontations.

The report sheds light on several recent developments that have exacerbated the situation. Notably, the M23 rebel group, with alleged backing from Rwanda, has intensified its offensive against the DRC’s military forces and UN peacekeepers, seizing significant territories. This has heightened the risk of open warfare between the DRC and Rwanda. Additionally, the DRC government’s decision to accelerate the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers following deadly protests against their perceived inefficacy and the UN’s adjustment of its arms embargo policy in December 2022 have further complicated the security dynamics in the region.

Prince’s involvement, as detailed in the UN report, marks a significant escalation in the use of private military contractors (PMCs) in the DRC. The proposed deployment, allegedly under a bilateral agreement between the DRC and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), aimed at countering the M23’s advances and securing mining operations in North Kivu. The report also mentions preliminary activities by other contractors, including a contingent that arrived in the region in mid-2023, highlighting the opaque nature of such operations and the associated risks of corruption and arms trafficking.

The presence of PMCs like Agemira RDC and Congo Protection in the DRC further illustrates the complex interplay between private military activities, political patronage, and the exploitation of natural resources. These entities, often linked to foreign interests and illicit arms transfers, underscore the challenges in regulating private security operations and the need for comprehensive governance and oversight mechanisms.

Foreign interests, particularly those of the UAE and China, as alleged in the UN report, play an important role in the unfolding scenario. Both countries are implicated in efforts to extend their influence in the DRC through economic and military engagements, raising questions about the implications of such activities on regional stability and sovereignty.