Sean Cleary

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Person.png Sean Cleary PowerbaseRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Sean cleary.jpg
Born26 October 1948
NationalitySouth African
Member ofWEF/Global Future Council on Geopolitics
spooky South African

Sean Cleary is a former South African military intelligence operative, who later set up a series of private intelligence comanies for hire. By 2019, he is also an advisor to the World Economic Forum.


Cleary was a South African apartheid military intelligence operative in the 1960s and later became a south African diplomat based, among other places, in the US.[1]

After leaving the diplomatic service Clearly set up a series of companies in London and elsewhere. Some of these were reported as being lobbying and propaganda fronts for the Apartheid regime. In addition Cleary acted as spokesperson for Jonas Savimbi of UNITA the US and Apartheid proxy engaged in subverting the Angolan government.[2] For example, Cleary's company Strategy Network International was described by The Guardian as being a key part of "an extensive network of right-wing organizations linked to the South African government".

According to their investigation the company was "set up in the 1980s by Sean Cleary, a former South African diplomat who once served in Washington. Cleary's group spearheaded the 1989 election campaign in Namibia for pro-South African politicians running against the Namibian independence movement, Swapo".

His firm Strategy Network International was responsible for facilitating and financing the visit of Conservative MP's including David Cameron to foster sympathy for the regime in apartheid South Africa.[3] In 2003 Cleary was a non-executive chairman of security firm Erinys International's African subsidiary. Cleary is also Chairman of Transcontinental Consultancy (Pty) Ltd, fellow of the World Economic Forum, and a Trustee of the South African Foundation for Conciliation, and the Peace and Reconstruction Foundation.

Cleary was a member of the Facilitating Committee and the Preparatory Committee of the National Peace Accord, and Chairman of the Working Group on the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Organizations. He served on several national Advisory Committees in Namibia between 1985 and 1989[4]. In 2009 Cleary attended a conference entitled Enriching the Middle East's Economic Future Confidence[5]. He is also on the board of directors at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems[6]and is listed as a volunteer on the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow website[7]. Cleary attended the 2009 Milken Institute Global Conference[8].

Operation Agree

According to Cleary's biography on the World Knowledge Forum, Cleary's role in South Africa was one in which "he initiated negotiations between SWAPO and other Namibian political parties, the release of Namibian political prisoners and the implementation of that territory's first Bill of Fundamental Rights"[9]. A different interpretation of Cleary's role in Namibia is put forward by a Guardian investigation into "Operation Agree".

Sean Cleary's company Strategy Network International is described by The Guardian as being a key part of "an extensive network of right-wing organizations linked to the South African government". According to their investigation the company was "set up in the 1980s by Sean Cleary, a former South African diplomat who once served in Washington. Cleary's group spearheaded the 1989 election campaign in Namibia for pro-South African politicians running against the Namibian independence movement, Swapo".

Subsequent investigations in South Africa have revealed that the anti-Swapo effort was the first part of "Operation Agree," a complex secret strategy by South African military intelligence designed to preserve South African economic dominance of the southern African region. Support for Unita in Angola's elections was the second phase of "Operation Agree," according to a former intelligence officer, Nico Basson, who gave extensive testimony during the investigation[10].

According to The Independent Strategy Network International was specifically created to lobby against economic sanctions and as propagandist for Unita, the Angolan opposition group, and for the so-called 'transitional government' of Namibia set up in defiance of UN resolution 435 on Namibian independence[11].

South African Propaganda in Namibia

In 1985 former PR Consultant to the Namibian administration Sir Trevor Lloyd-Hughes, accused the Strategy Network International of being controlled totally by Pretoria. Strategy Network International Ltd, was a new company lobbying for the Namibian regime and established by Steven Govier who was sacked by Trevor Lloyd Hughes earlier that year, and Patrick Wattson. Govier initially denied working for the South Africans insisting that he was employed by the Transitional Government of National Unity, the administration set up in Windhoek.

It later emerged that they were paid and instructed by a company called Transcontinental Consultancy and that its owner, Sean Cleary, had helped establish their office in London. Cleary was previously Director-General of the Administrator-General's office in Windhoek and an important South African diplomat who was instrumental in setting up the transitional administration.

He resigned from the civil service in to start Transcontinental and was promptly awarded four million Rand (pounds 1.5 million) to act as consultant to the transitional government. Questions were raised at the time about the way this contract was awarded without consultation or tender.

The Times added:

The company also appears to be acting as a recruiting agency for the South-West African Defence Force, the Namibian contigent of the South African Army fighting Swapo guerrillas in the territory. Mr Daniel Hill, an unemployed Irish citizen from Cardiff, approached the group two weeks ago and asked to join the Namibian armed forces. He said yesterday that Mr Watson had told him he would arrange for a visa and find out whether he could join the Army.[12].

Sean Cleary was instrumental in setting up a 1985 meeting between South African Defence Chief General Meiring and SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma. General Georg Meiring was the former chief of the South African army and the last Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF) under the apartheid regime in 1993-94 and the first chief of the South African National Defence Force from 1994-1998[13]. Meiring said of the brief unsuccessful meeting that "My impression is it was an initiative by Willie van Niekirk and Sean Cleary and that later they knew about it in Foreign Affairs but not while it was happening"[14]. Meiring thought that the U.S. were involved in setting the meeting up, he said "the meeting was set up to discuss how we could come to grips with each other politically. I think it was put together through the instigation of the Americans. Sean (Cleary) had lots of contacts in the States and he put the thing together". Meiring says of the meeting:

"It was strange when I came face to face with Nujoma for the first time. There was no hatred. I didn't feel anything at all. I had this experience later with the ANC. I wasn't fighting this guy personally. I was more curious about what he was like as a person. How does he speak?... What type of person is he? He's a moron, but that's beside the point. He wasn't impressive at all. He still understood Afrikaans well. At one stage during the discussions I said "Nujoma, jou gat, man!" (Nujoma, your backside, man)and he just laughed at me"[15].

As Sam Nujoma stood up to leave the meeting he said to Willie van Niekerk "You must keep my house warm for me".[16]Within 5 years Nujoma was to become president of Namibia[17].

Cleary described the Namibian support for SWAPO:

It is not SWAPO's Marxist-Leninist ideology...which affords SWAPO such domestic legitimacy as it has, but rather its perceived status as the antithesis of the status quo...SWAPO has, as it were, a negative mandate from its supporters, a mandate to effect a change, but not a positive mandate to implement a political programme. That is a political fact of considerable importance[18]

Savimbi Adviser

Cleary was evacuated from Angola to Pretoria in 1992 after UNITA were pushed back from the Angolan capital Luanda following their defeat in the 1992 election:

One of the roughly 300 evacuees who arrived here today, Sean Cleary, a South African businessman and former diplomat with close ties to UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, said he believed that the guerrilla leader knows he cannot fight another civil war. "He knows there would be no support from the outside world, and he knows that after 31 years of nearly continuous fighting, the people of Angola are desperate for peace," said Cleary, who last spoke to Savimbi about 10 days ago.[19]

Jerry Funk gives the following impression of Cleary:

Sean Cleary was a charming fellow, very bright and articulate. I enjoyed his sometimes off-the-wall company. He proudly showed me his detailed plan for Jonas' strategy to cry foul, and demand a new election. The spectacle of South Africa making pronouncements on the legalities of any election anywhere boggled my mind. I mentioned this concern to Sean, with no effect, obviously. But then, Sean, like many people associated with the security folks from South Africa, BOSS, often spent a lot of time off in lala land. Sean's program clearly caught Savimbi's fancy, and set the stage for him to try to grab power, by military means... again. Ultimatley in early November, the Angolan government arrested Sean (apparently on charges on unfocused lunacy) and deported him[20].

South African Police Investigation


In 1996 the Independent reported that Cleary's firm was under investigation by the South African Police:

A separate investigation is also being conducted by the South African police and the National Intelligence Service into a senior South African National Defence Force general and an ex-special forces officer who are alleged to be providing training to rebel and dissident groups throughout central Africa, including the Zairean Tutsis. The company being investigated is called Omega Support Ltd and is run by Johan Smith, South Africa's former military attache in Angola.
Mr Smith also works for a company called Strategic Concepts which is also being investigated by the police. It is run by a former apartheid- era diplomat, Sean Cleary. As well as being an advisor to Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader, Mr Cleary has also worked for the South African foreign affairs department and military intelligence.[21]


In 1997 the journal African Business reported that:

Although EO is no doubt the leading South African company, it is not the only one. One competitor is Omega Support Ltd., led by the ex-SA military attaché in Angola, Mr John Smith. According to The Guardian, Omega is closely tied to Strategic Concepts, created by the former Military Intelligence officer Mr Sean Cleary, a staunch supporter of Jonas Savimbi. South Africa's National Intelligence Service is convinced that Omega was involved in supplying and training Laurent Kabila's Banyamulenge fighters during their campaign against General Mobutu's army.[22]


Sean Cleary described his role with Erinys in an e-mail to journalist David Isenberg:

My involvement with Erinys was due to Erinys acquiring, through a pooling of interests, the risk assessment business of a small company in South Africa, Strategic Concepts (Pty) Ltd. I had started this company, which did socio-political research and analysis enabling companies investing in Africa better to understand the risks which they were assuming, at the end of 1985 and was by 2002, no longer directly involved with its day-to-day operations”. In 2002, the MD of Erinys International, a newly-formed company, Mr Jonathan Garratt, approached me with the proposal that Strategic Concepts (Pty) Ltd be incorporated into a potentially larger risk management advisory business.
Mr Garratt proposed that he be the MD of the merged company. A former banker with extensive African risk pricing experience, Ms Lesley Plaistowe, was to be responsible for building the business risk practice and Mr Fraser Brown was to run the the physical risk advisory business. Mr Garratt was to build the political and environment divisions in addition to his overall management responsibility.

Cleary wrote: 'Mr Garratt and Mr Brown had extensive African experience in the Armor Group”. He went on to say 'I thus agreed to become non-executive Chairman of Erinys International Limited, the holding company created to allow for growth and expansion, and Erinys Africa (Pty) Ltd, which was to focus exclusively on African business.'[23]

Erinys Resignation

According to Jonathan Garratt the Managing Director of Erinys International , Sean Cleary resigned from the Erinys board in 2003. In a letter to the Editor of the Asia times in response to an article by journalist David Isenberg Garratt claimed that Cleary 'resigned from the board and chairmanship in October 2003 (a matter of public record and reported in various media), on the grounds that the activities of the company had gone beyond his operational experience and that he could no longer be of assistance to its growth”[24].

Sean Cleary wrote to David Isenberg giving his own version of his reasons for resignation. He argued that he was “opposed to the deployment of PMCs (Private Military Contractors) in zones of combat”. He said “I resigned my non-Executive Chairmanship and withdrew from Erinys at the beginning of November 2003 once I understood that Erinys would be acting in Iraq in a role that might cross the line and take it into that grey zone of international law that you delineate – although as you correctly observe, they ‘do not engage in offensive operations”.

It became clear in 2003, after Ms Plaistowe had resigned after disagreements with Mr Garratt, that the original vision of the integrated business was unlikely to be realised and that Mr Garratt was reconsidering his options. He approached Mr Alastair Morrison, the founder of Defence Systems Limited and a former Director of Armor Group, to discuss refocusing the business towards the 'downstream', where Mr Garratt and Mr Brown had more experience and a higher level of comfort. It was in this context that Mr Garratt tendered - I believe through an Iraqi JV, Erinys Iraq, in which Erinys International had a 30% shareholding - for the CPA contract in Iraq. After the tender was awarded to Erinys Iraq it was obvious that the focus of the business would change considerably. Once this was clear to me at the beginning of November 2003, I tendered my resignation as a Director and non-executive Chairman and disposed of my shares to Mr Morrison for the sum outstanding in my loan account. I have had no association with Erinys International or Erinys Africa since then”[25]

World Economic Forum

In 2019, Cleary was on the board of the very spooky Global Future Council on Geopolitics of the World Economic Forum.

IFES - Democracy promotion

Career History and Affiliations



South African Navy | South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs | South African Embassy) | Admin-General Windhoek | Constitutional Advisory Panel |Atlantic Holdings | Strategy Network International | Strategic Concepts | School of Business Leadership | Foundation for Democracy | South African Foundation for Conciliation | Peace & Reconciliation Foundation | Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Organisations | Graduate Institute of Management & Tech | International Centre for Management Development | World Economic Forum | Centre for Advanced Governance | Think Tools | Erinys South Africa | Gordon Institute of Business Science | Lead International | Think Tools AG | Wits Business School | redIT AG | Parmenides Foundation | World Economic Forum | Strategic Concepts | Abraaj Capital United Arab Emirates | Operation Hope


  • 1976 Manfred Nathan Merit Bequest Law Faculty, UNISA Pretoria
  • 1982 Key of the City of Los Angeles Mayor Los Angeles
  • 1983 Great Seal of California Secretary of State California
  • 1983 Cert of Commendation Board of Supervisors Los Angeles County

Publications, Resources and Notes

  • Sean Cleary, 'Angola – A case study of private military involvement'in Jakkie Cilliers, Christian Dietrich, eds. Angola's War Economy: The Role of Oil and Diamonds. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 2000. X + 370 pp. $16.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-620-26645-1.
  • Sean Cleary & Thierry Malleret,(2007) Global Risk: Business Success in Turbulent Times (2006), Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN-10: 0230525318 ISBN-13: 978-0230525313
  • Sean Cleary (1989), Lead article in the journal, South Africa International. Vol. 19, no. 3. Jan. 1989. Other articles, journal. Light shelf wear. Cleam text. English lang.; 1lb.


This article is based on the one in Powerbase (see top)


Event Participated in

WEF/Annual Meeting/200421 January 200425 January 2004Switzerland2068 billionaires, CEOs and their politicians and "civil society" leaders met under the slogan Partnering for Prosperity and Security. "We have the people who matter," said World Economic Forum Co-Chief Executive Officer José María Figueres.
Many thanks to our Patrons who cover ~2/3 of our hosting bill. Please join them if you can.


  1. Sean Cleary, Speakers: World Knowledge Forum 2002, World Knowledge Program, Accessed 10-September-2009
  2. Elaine Windrich, Angola's War Economy: The Role of Oil and Diamonds, HNet Book Reviews, Accessed 11-September-2009
  3. Jane Merrick and James Hanning, Cameron's freebie to apartheid South Africa, The Independent, 26-April-2009
  4. Sean Cleary, Speakers: World Knowledge Forum 2002, World Knowledge Program, Accessed 10-September-2009
  5. Sean Cleary, Global Conflict and Cooperation in a New Era, Enriching the Middle East's Economic Future Confidence, Conference, Accessed 11-September-2009
  6. Sean Cleary, Board, IFES, Accessed 11-September-2009
  7. Sean Cleary, Volunteers, Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, Accessed 11-September-2009
  8. Sean Cleary, Operation HOPE Announces Continued Partnership with Premiere Radio Networks during The Milken Institute Global Conference 2009, Reuters, 6-May-2009
  9. Sean Cleary, Speakers: World Knowledge Forum 2002, World Knowledge Program, Accessed 10-September-2009
  10. Victoria Britain,ANGOLAN WAR SPAWNS COMPLEX WEB OF PROFITEERS Fierce, deadly conflict continues, Insight Guardian News Service, 5-April-1993, Accessed 11-September-2009
  11. PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES, RICHARD DOWDEN and JOHN CARLIN, The Attack on Sleaze: How apartheid regime set out to woo Tories: Patricia Wynn Davies tells the story of the firm which gave MPs a South African perspective, The Independent, 26-October-1994, Accessed 11-September-2009
  12. Richard Dowden, 'Nambia regime blighted by propaganda feud in London / South Africa's attempts to gain international credibility for its administration', The Times, 2-November-1985, Accessed via Nexis UK, 11-September-2009
  13. Hilton Hamann, Days of the Generals, Accessed via Google Books, pp 66 31-October-2001, Zebra Press, Accessed 08-October-2009
  14. Hilton Hamann, Days of the Generals, Accessed via Google Books, pp 78 31-October-2001, Zebra Press, Accessed 08-October-2009
  15. Hilton Hamann, Days of the Generals, Accessed via Google Books, pp 78 31-October-2001, Zebra Press, Accessed 08-October-2009
  16. Hilton Hamann, Days of the Generals, Accessed via Google Books, pp 78 31-October-2001, Zebra Press, Accessed 08-October-2009
  17. Frauke Jensen, Profile: Sam Nujoma, BBC News, 12-May-2004, Accessed 09-October-2009
  18. Lauren Dobell, Swapo's struggle for Namibia, 1960-1991: war by other means, P. Schlettwein Publishing (1998), Accessed 10-May-2010
  19. Paul Taylor Washington Post Foreign Service Escapees Recount Battle For Angolan Capital; Luanda Suffers Brutal Street Fighting Washington Post, 7 November 1992
  20. Jerry Funk, The big blow up in October 1992; The civil war resumes, Life Is an Excellent Adventure: An Irreverent Personal Odyssey, pp. 383, December 2003, Accessed via Google Books 02-October-2009
  21. 'Tutsis armed by South Africa' Michael Ashworth Johannesburg, Tuesday, 19 November 1996, accessed 30 September 2009
  22. 'Soldier of Fortune - the mercenary as corporate executive', African Business, December 1997, accessed 30 September 2009
  23. Sean Cleary, E-Mail to David Isenberg, 25-December-2004
  24. Jonathan Garratt, Letter to David Isenberg, 04-November-2004, Accessed 23-September-2009
  25. Sean Cleary, E-Mail to David Isenberg, 25-December-2004
  26. Sean Cleary, Speakers: World Knowledge Forum 2002, World Knowledge Program, Accessed 10-September-2009
  27. data from Companies House, UK
  28. Erinys Africa (Proprietary) Limited Annual Financial Statements for the period ended 31 December 2002, compiled by Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
  29. data from Companies House, UK, accessed 3 October 2009
  30. data from Companies House, UK, accessed 3 October 2009
  31. Sean Cleary, Who’s Who,, Accessed 02-October-2009
  32. Sean Cleary, Strategic Adviser, World Economic Forum, Accessed 12-September-2009