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Brother in arms

paul-boatengPaul Boateng was the first black Cabinet minister. Now he’s making headlines for a very different reason, as he joins the board of arms company Aegis. So has he compromised his values?

Aegis is run by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer OBE, the former head of a company called Sandline International, which was caught up in the “Arms to Africa” affair, involving allegations of breaking a UN arms embargo to Sierra Leone to help restore President Ahmad Kabbah to power.

Given the history of Paul Boateng as a campaigning civil rights lawyer who got elected to parliament as a member of Labour’s Black Sections, and that so many of us hold him up in high esteem, I’m sure Boateng will be give a candid response as to why, and how this new role does not effect the high principals we associate with him.

Kabbah ultimately resumed control of the country thanks to a Nigerian-backed force, with tacit support from Britain – Tony Blair’s father studied in Sierra Leone and it is known that the former British Prime Minister retained an interest in the West African former colony.

Of course there are no suggestions that Aegis Defence Services are mercenaries. We know this because a newspaper was previously forced to issue an apology to this effect, stating that the company “is a reputable company with no connection whatsoever with the activities of mercenaries and operates in accordance with international law.”

Sandline was established by Spicer and Simon Mann, the latter who was recently freed from jail in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea for his part in the planned coup against President Teodoro Obiang.

And although Sandline is widely referred to as mercenaries, an official inquiry cleared the company of wrongdoing and there were no prosecutions, even though the UK government was accused of “a whitewash”.

Spicer has stated that he did not do anything illegal, and that his insistence that he did not break an arms embargo were “facts are borne out by a Government investigation, two inquiries and a UN Legal opinion.”

Boateng became British High Commissioner for South Africa after leaving UK politics, and The Daily Mail reports today that his appointment comes “company after lobbying South Africa to water down anti-mercenary laws.”

Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing is clear: his joining Aegis is a world away from the speech he made in over 20 years ago, after being elected to Parliament, when he said: “Today, Brent South. Tomorrow, Soweto.”

The Boateng of 1987 was elected alongside Bernie Grant, a man who never betrayed his principles, and Diane Abbott, who remains an outspoken left-wing backbencher to this day.

So come on, Paul, tell us; do you still hold true to the principles you spoke about on that famous election day?

By Lester Holloway

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3 Responses

  1. I must say I’m uneasy with this; even if the company can’t legally be called a mercenary running corp these kind of companies exist in a very murky area in terms of defence. Read up on Mark Thatcher and the attempted coup he was involved to get an idea…

    That that Paul Boateng has chosen to throw his lot in with them makes me wonder is he attempting to become a player in African politics in an innovative way or is he just cashing in his chips after a few years service as High Commissioner?

  2. Should we be really surprised? Looking at his middle-class background, it’s possible to question whether his motives have always been fully “for the cause”, or whether they also involved one eye to status, success and accruing wealth.

  3. Paul Boateng’s change of direction from main stream politics in no way diminishes his garguantan contribution to Human Rights, Fairness and Justice over many years.

    I first got to know about Paul Boateng when I was a 19 year old Police Constable in Lewisham. He was a very successful campaigning lawyer. As I lived through that period, I know at first hand how effective Paul Boateng’s work as a criminal defence and human rights lawyer was.

    I wish Paul well and I would much prefer someone like him playing a role in the arms trade. There will always be an arms trade than others we have no sense or understanding of their point of reference.

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