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On John de St. Jorre’s “Looking for Mercenaries”

A piece written for and published by Harvard's Transition Magazine: The Magazine of Africa and the Diaspora (

Credit: Transition Magazine


By Isabelle Charles

Transition’s Anniversary Issue, published in 1997, featured selections from the magazine from 1961-1976, including John de St. Jorre’s 1967 article from T33, “Looking for Mercenaries.” St. Jorre candidly profiles a group of mercenaries drawn to the Congo to fight alongside the Katangese against the Congolese army. In the essay, he contends, “that a small group of white men have, over the years, proved themselves vastly more efficient than a large group of Black men in the business of organized killing.”

Former imperial and colonial powers continue to practice such “organized killing.” Apart from the carnage and conquest associated with colonialism, there is another more subtle but equally violent facet to the definition: policy. That small group of white men today make laws. Their “killings” are not (always) a result of bullets but of policy.

Colonialism and slavery are the basis of the United States, French, and English economies, to name a few. These countries continue to reap the economic benefits of the labor of people of color. Colonialism is evidently embedded in the founding and organization of these nations and within our systems. Neo-colonialism is therefore also within the fabric of our systems and is colonialism but with a new face. The injustices are not as overt, but equally as sinister. The result is a system that benefits whiteness, white people, and agendas while disproportionately affecting Black people and other people of color in the name of “law,” and “policy.”

Haiti “holds the distinction of being the only country in the world, formerly known as a Black slave colony to gain its independence as a country.” Haiti fought for their independence and won against the “most powerful army” at the time. But, why is Haiti known today as the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?” The short answer, neo-colonial tactics.

By simply fighting for their own freedom, against all odds, and succeeding, the Haitians were forced to pay their former French slave masters. They were considered “property” and the French had lost “their property.” Their freedom quite literally came at a high price. “112 million francs, or about $560 million today,” according to the New York Times investigative report. France’s “killing policy” was draining and exploiting Haiti for what they believed they were entitled to: free labor from the Haitian people and the Haitian peoples’ rightful profits.

This form of pillaging and extraction drained Haiti’s GDP and ability to implement infrastructural and societal changes such as more schools and hospitals. This tax by the French is known as the “double debt.” France still reaps the benefits of this double debt as tourists admire the Eiffel Tower, which was built using the money that Haitians were forced to pay, amongst other things. There is no acknowledgment of the labor and resources that Haitians forcefully contributed to France’s economy and continue to contribute to France’s economy today. This is modern day colonialism. A kind of organized killing through the stealing of monetary funds and a draining of a young economy.

France’s policy affects generations of Haitians. Their exploitation depletes resources for social safety nets such as Medicaid or any assistance for Haitian families that may need it. The policy to drain Haitian resources by the French is not only unjust but it is deadly. As Jorre points out, “white men” are in the business of organized killing. The repercussions, impact, and effective decrease in quality of life for Haitians is the result of France’s exploitation.

The French are not the only group of white men in the “business of killing”, it is a global phenomena and exists in the U.S. The U.S is notorious for intervening in geo-political conflict as a powerful force by exerting themselves as an example of a functioning democracy–whether this is true in practice or not. In 2001, Haiti’s then president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had created a political platform on receiving reparations from France for the double debt. Artistide also advocated for the working, poor, often Black, Haitians. This did not sit well with the white and mixed elite Haitians who often ran the plantations and assisted the U.S with their numerous businesses in the country. In 2004, Aristide was taken from Haiti by the U.S military and exiled in South Africa, where he still remains today.

Essentially the U.S staged a coup. Why? Because their economic profits of U.S business were on the line. This organized killing is essentially militaristic with an emphasis on the “organization” part of the execution. The U.S military threatened Aristide to either come with them or kill him and many of his Haitian constituents. Ultimately, “organized killing” is more about consolidating economic power than about the killing itself. The killing is the incidental.


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