What was that Lenin quote about “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”? From (of course!) the Wall Street Journal:
Erik Prince—ex-Navy SEAL, ex-CIA spy, ex-CEO of private-security firm Blackwater—calls himself an “accidental tourist” whose modest business boomed after 9/11, expanded into Iraq and Afghanistan, and then was “blowtorched by politics.” To critics and conspiracy theorists, he is a mercenary war-profiteer. To admirers, he’s a patriot who has repeatedly answered America’s call with bravery and creativity.
Now, sitting in a boardroom above Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, he explains his newest title, acquired this month: chairman of Frontier Services Group, an Africa-focused security and logistics company with intimate ties to China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, Citic Group. Beijing has titanic ambitions to tap Africa’s resources—including $1 trillion in planned spending on roads, railways and airports by 2025—and Mr. Prince wants in.
With a public listing in Hong Kong, and with Citic as its second-largest shareholder (a 15% stake) and Citic executives sitting on its board, Frontier Services Group is a long way from Blackwater’s CIA ties and $2 billion in U.S. government contracts. For that, Mr. Prince is relieved.
“I would rather deal with the vagaries of investing in Africa than in figuring out what the hell else Washington is going to do to the entrepreneur next,” says the crew-cut 44-year-old.
Having launched Blackwater in 1997 as a rural North Carolina training facility for U.S. soldiers and police, Mr. Prince says he “kept saying ‘yes’ as the demand curve called—Columbine, the USS Cole and then 9/11.” In 100,000 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, Blackwater contractors never lost a U.S. official under their protection. But the company gained a trigger-happy reputation, especially after a September 2007 shootout that left 17 civilians dead in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.
At that point, charges Mr. Prince, Blackwater was “completely thrown under the bus by a fickle customer”—the U.S. government, and especially the State Department. He says Washington opted to “churn up the entire federal bureaucracy” and sic it on Blackwater “like a bunch of rabid dogs.” According to Mr. Prince, IRS auditors told his colleagues that they had “never been under so much pressure to get someone as to get Erik Prince,” and congressional staffers promised, “We’re going to ride you till you’re out of business.”…
Which brings him to Hong Kong and his new firm. “This is not a patriotic endeavor of ours—we’re here to build a great business and make some money doing it,” he says. Asia, and especially China, “has the appetite to take frontier risk, that expeditionary risk of going to those less-certain, less-normal markets and figuring out how to make it happen.” Mr. Prince says “critics can throw stones all they want” but he is quick to point out that he has “a lot of experience in dealing in uncertainties in difficult places,” and says “this is a very rational decision—made, I guess, emotionless.”…
“The U.S. has been fixated on terrorism the last 10 or 15 years,” says Mr. Prince, “and American companies by and large haven’t had the appetite for Africa.” In 2010 the African Development Bank found that Chinese firms signed 20 contracts in Africa for every one signed by an American firm. But does post-9/11 distraction really explain this discrepancy?
A better explanation would begin with China’s state-directed investment strategy, which funds opaque state-owned firms to operate across Africa with little regard for trifles such as financial transparency, environmental degradation or human rights. When a tyrant like Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir can’t get Western financing for a mega-dam across the Nile River, China arrives with an easy loan, some state-owned firms to build the dam and some others to claim oil or mineral concessions elsewhere in the country. Beijing’s approach has helped boost African economic growth—projected at 6% this year by the International Monetary Fund—but it has also helped entrench some of the world’s most oppressive governments…
Somehow one doubts Congressman Mike Rogers is going to go on the Sunday talk shows and speak ominously of ex-CIA-employee Prince’s “suspiciously timed defection” to China, but then, IOIYAR forever!