If you didn’t know, NDA stands for Non-Disclosure Agreement. And mine has come to an end. This warrants a huge big sigh of relief, not so much because I was burning to tell people, but more because I just don’t like having a piece of paper tell me what I can and can’t say.
On the other hand, I can now talk about a truly wonderful meeting I had in Sudan before the end of my employment with that truly awful security company (I never wrote a post specifically about the company but read through July 2008). In fact, it’s the very meeting that spelled out the end of my employment there. Could I talk about it at the time? Ah… no. NDA. Was my boss willing to cite my refusal to be immoral as a reason for firing me? Hell no! So I got a list of absolute bulls**t instead.
For those of you that aren’t aware of the terms of the peace agreement in Sudan, one of the provisos was that the SPLA (Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army, formerly the rebel party- now in power of South Sudan) would receive formal training and become the military arm of the new government, rather than an untrained rowdy homicidal mass. To me this sounds a lot like training a bunch of rebels to kill better, but hey. Who am I to speak, it seems to be working.
With this is mind, one of the services that our security company was offering was Officer and Intelligence Training, which is a large part of why I was running around to VIP’s and being nice. On a fairly boring and uneventful day one of our contacts came to the office and told us that a colleague was interested in training for a large group of soldiers. Excellent! However, the boss was back in England at the time and he asked me to meet with them on his behalf. So I did.
I was invited to one of the nicer ‘hotels’ and I met with a very large and quite frightening man in the main cafeteria. He and his 3 HUGE ‘collegues’ invited me to their room (and when I say ‘invited’ I use the term to mean squashed in on four sides by huge men and spirited away from the public areas in haste). I think it’s quite understandable that I was a little nervous. When we got to the room, the main guy and two men escorted me inside, and the fourth stood guard outside the door. What struck me first about these men is that they looked Arab. In South Sudan the people are mostly African and in North Sudan they are mostly Arabic. It’s not often that the cultural lines mix for the same reason that seldom do you see Palestinian people in Jerusalem. Its considered unwise. I chose not to say anything about it because I needed my fingers for writing, and instead made it quite clear that I was just taking notes on requirements and structure of the training on my boss’s behalf and for the purpose of quoting. They were scarily excited to be meeting with me.
So, we began with the usual. How many people, what level of training are you interested in, do you need any basic equipment (radios, computer training, etc) and little by little I became very suspicious. Firstly they wanted training for 2000 people. Then they needed all equipment and weapons (which I chose not to point out was illegal for us to supply- thought I would leave that one to the boss) and then they started going on about basic training. Now all SPLA have had basic training…. So who the hell were these guys? I thought the best way to ask was to pose a question about uniform. Which colours will the uniforms have to be in? He laughed outrageously and said, “well, anything so long as we can tell the difference between us and the SPLA when we fight them!”
I was meeting with rebels from Darfur.
Yup, go right ahead and let that sink in for a moment.
Done? Good. Lets move on then. At this point I started trying to wrap up the meeting as quickly as possible. “Is there anything else you can think of right now that you would like me to hand on to my boss? “ He thinks for a second and then he says, “I think what we really need is some support from the UN. That would really get the world on our side. Please can you arrange for us to meet with them?” My jaw dropped and I was speechless for just a moment. As I regained my voice and prepared to speak he said, “oh, and we would really like to get some support from Tony Blair. I know we can’t meet with him, the man is busy, but could you arrange a phone call with him? That would be great.”
I took a sip of water, thanked him so much for coming to meet with me and said that I would pass on all the information to my boss, and he would be in touch soon. I then almost ran from the room, found the nearest bar with lots of people that I knew and downed a few whiskeys.
When my boss returned a week or so later I handed over all the information to him and prepared to have a good laugh and then a serious discussion of how we were going to tell these guys to bugger off without being killed. Instead his face was thoughtful. “Well, if we did the training in Chad then technically we wouldn’t be contravening the laws…”
I told him in no uncertain terms was not I going to be involved in an endevour that would put peace at risk for a country that had enjoyed peace for only 4 years in 40. I was fired the next day.
As far as I know, the man is currently in Chad, but I have no knowledge of his dealing, business or position there. I do wonder if he ever got that call with Tony Blair?