South African and former Soviet bloc mercenaries have joined the war in Nigeria against Boko Haram in what many will see as a return to the dark days of the White Man in Africa.
But the reality is more complicated.
According to Sky sources in the community of guns-for-hire many of the battle hardened soldiers of fortune did indeed cut their teeth in the black liberation movements of southern Africa.
Some of them hail from the more notorious units in the vanguard of apartheid – the Namibian police unit Koevoet, South Africa’s 32 Battalion (a foreign legion of racist mercenaries), ex-members of the elite Recces, and some spent time under cover in the “Third Force” as agents provocateurs charged with fomenting so-called black-on-black violence during South Africa’s struggle for freedom.
These are men, not all of them are white, who are very good at making other people very dead.
If, as Sky sources have confirmed, they are being employed to fight Boko Haram and have brought with them the weapons, command structures and all round bloodthirstiness needed to engage an enemy that threatens to destabilise three different countries at least, then it would be odd to be over-critical.
The Nigerian armed forces are in disarray. They are blighted by poor leadership, corruption, a lack of ammunition and a political class that appears indifferent to the future of the north-east of its own country.
Someone in the Ministry of Defence in Abuja has, however, come up with the scheme to roll Boko Haram back, alongside Chadian and Cameroonian forces using Nigerian petrodollars to fund the mercenaries.
There is a successful precedent for this policy.
During the early 1990s South African mercenary company Executive Outcomes (EO) was hired by Angola to make war against the dissident UNITA movement of Jonas Savimbi eventually forcing it out of diamond areas it used to fund itself and eventually into peace talks.
EO then moved into Sierra Leone, later handing over to the UK-based Sandline International where mercenaries, alongside West African troops, took on the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and drove it out of the capital, Freetown, into the bush.
The RUF resurfaced only when the contract to fight the RUF was suspended by the Freetown government under pressure from the then British government after criticism for allowing the successful operation to continue amid its claims of having an “ethical” foreign policy.
Some mercenaries were so drawn into the fight that they took Sierra Leonean citizenship and regular commissions in the local forces.
Sources in Nigeria have confirmed that there are several hundred mercenaries flying helicopter gunships as well as fighting on the ground.
Many are operational only at night and handing captured ground to the Nigerian army in daylight
Mercenaries may be just what is needed to deal with Boko Haram.
They’re good at the business of killing, they require no thanks, and very few will miss those who do not come back.