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Africa’s Realignment Away From France Towards Russia

By The Watcher

African countries in the SAHEL region have increasingly started to distance themselves from the West and are turning towards Russia and its PMCs.

INTERVENTION IN MALI

France had initiated a military intervention in Mali in 2013 after a request from Mali’s transitional government to deploy French troops in Mali along with the Malian army to to combat terrorism. However, after 8 years of conflict in Mali, the results on the ground has not been inspiring as the casualties over the years have only increased.

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Since the French intervention, the conflict in Mali has only gotten worse as Katibat Macina terrorist group has been increasing the number of attacks against UN forces in central Mali . They have also expanded their attack further south and west of the country.

In 8th October 2021 during an interview with Russian news agency RIA-Novosti, Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga had accused France of training the terrorists they they were claiming to fight.

“We have proof of this. In our language there is a saying that when you’re searching for a needle in your room and the person supposedly helping you to look for it is sitting on it, you will never be able to find it. This is the current situation in Mali, and we do not intend to put up with it,”

The Prime Minister had further said that the French troops deployed in Mali have consistently prevented the Malian military from entering the Kidal region where French officers are alleged to be training terrorists of the Ansar el-Din front, an Al-Quida of shoot.

WAGNAR ENTERING AFRICA

In Sept 26, 2021 there were reports that Mali will hire 1,000 Wagner Group mercenaries to help fight ISIS terrorists in the Greater Sahara. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the interim Malian President, Assimi Goita, in a telephone conversation on 04 October 2022 had also reaffirmed their intentions to strengthen security cooperation to eradicate terrorist groups in the Sahel region, Kremlin had said.

Wagner’s aims often tend to overlap with Russia’s foreign policy aims, being an independent PMC lends it unpredictability, while giving Russia plausible deniability. The group offers Russia the ability to test new environments for military cooperation and spreading Russian influence without appearing heavy-handed or directly involved.

According to FPRI(Foriegn policy research institute). The Russian-owned Private Military Contractor (Wagnar group), has expanded its footprint into Africa in Libya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Central African Republic (CAR), and Sudan, leading training exercises and fighting anti-government forces.

The European Union on 13 December 2021 as a result had imposed sanctions on the Russian Wagner Group, which it had accused of carrying out “hybrid warfare” on behalf of the Kremlin in Africa.  The goal of the sanctions was to crucially impact Wagner’s ability to access funds and equipment for its infrastructure, finance, and resupply capabilities in Africa.

The Wagner Group in Africa has secured payment for its services through mining concessions in extractive industries for precious minerals like gold, diamonds and uranium and other precious metal mining operations. Wagner uses a variety of organizations and companies to oversee these extraction projects.

FPRI also suggests that Wagner Group and its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin was responsible for   forcing France’s recent decision to withdraw its military forces from Mali.

COUP IN BURKINA FASO

Ibrahim Traoré, a 34-year-old army captain, took power in Burkina Faso On Sept 30, 2022, overthrowing Lt Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, whom he accused of failing to effectively counter rising violence by Islamic extremists. Russian flags were seen flying across Burkina Faso during the Coup.

French military official talking to New York Times had earlier dismissed suggestions that Burkina Faso was to turn towards Russia, claiming that Lieutenant Colonel Damiba was trained in Paris, not in Moscow, hoping France would still be able to find a way to work with the army. However, just within eight months the government had already been overthrown.

Hundreds of protesters, some of them waving Russian flags tore down barbed wire and threw stones at the French embassy in the capital, Ouagadougou, and attacked a French cultural center in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner group had reportedly praised the new coup in Burkina Faso in a statement on Saturday, calling Traoré “a truly courageous son of the motherland”.

Traoré is now expected to invite Russia’s assistance in taking on the Islamic extremists as nearly 2 million people have been displaced due to conflict.

The Wagner Group is active in military operations in two nearby African countries i.e Mali and Central African Republic. The recent coup in Burkina Faso could pave the way for further deployment of the Wagner mercenaries in the country. In all these three countries there has been growing disillusionment from their traditional military partner, France.

AMERICAN CONCERNS

The US state department has blamed Yevgeny Prigozhin for leading  disinformation efforts in Mali and across parts of Africa in support of the Kremlin’s objectives. The US has also blamed him for financing the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a “troll farm” recognized for repeatedly attempting to interfere in U.S. elections and also being involved in spreading disinformation worldwide, including in Africa.

They have also alleged that a coordinated network of Facebook pages in Mali had promoted Russia as a “viable partner” and “alternative to the West,” while attempting to create local support for Wagner. Local news outlets often mirrored these narratives by publishing interviews with Russian officials.

Washington admitted that its sanctions on individuals and entities connected to the Wagner Group and IRA have not led to relevant changes in their behavior.

CONCLUSIONS

While the world is focused on the war in Ukraine,  Russia along with its Wagner PMCs seems to be squeezing Western Influence out of Africa one country at a time.

When Putin said he “understood Russia’s responsibility to the international community” and will “do everything to cool the heads of these neocolonialists who are destined to fail”. He was probably pointing at France’s influence in Africa and the support she gets from her Western allies.


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