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Prince of Blackwater heads to Africa

Erik Prince, who made a fortune in Iraq thanks to his politically connected and controversial Blackwater military contractor, is leading a group of Chinese investors on a hunt for natural resources and investment opportunities in Africa.

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When Prince sold the business in Dec. 2010, The New York Times reported it was because the State Department had threatened not to do business with the firm as long as Prince was associated with it.

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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But Prince has since found other governments to do business with. He had moved to the United Arab Emirates, a low-tax monarchy on the Persian Gulf, were he grew close to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. While there, he worked on the creation of the Puntland Maritime Police Force, a private militia designed to conduct anti-piracy operations in Somalia.

In July of this year, the UN Security Council called the Force "the most brazen violation of the [Somalia] arms embargo by a private security company." The UN said the force had over 1,000 men under arms and wrote: "This private army disingenuously labelled a “counter-piracy” force, has been financed by zakat contributions mainly from high-ranking officials from the United Arab Emirates, including the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The Government of the United Arab Emirates, however, has officially denied any involvement in the project." (Zakat is charitable tithing in Islam).

The anti-piracy militia was ultimately abandoned by its funders, leaving a new, well-armed, and semi-organized group in the mix of competing militias in the Horn of Africa.

But Prince still sees his future on the continent. The Frontier Resources Group remains headquartered in Abu Dhabi, but he told the SCMP that "Africa is so far the most unexplored part of the world, and I think China has seen a lot of promise in Africa." He told the paper that his Africa fund has raised $100 million in private equity so far and argued that investors will be wise to place their bets on his new venture. 

"We are the search radar for [Asian investors] in Africa because we have the expertise and we know how to measure and control the risks," Prince said.

It will be interesting to follow the upcoming chapters of Prince's business life, which already read like something out of a John Le Carre novel.

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