• Friday, May 24, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Military coups in West Africa, Wagner group and threat to Nigerian democracy

Closing the ugly chapter: A rejoinder!

The recent military coup in Niger Republic is a threat to Nigerian democracy. The political landscape in the Sahel started changing dramatically in 2020 with the return of the military. It took a dramatic turn in Chad with the death of President Idris Derby in combat, followed by the takeover of his son in April 2021. In August 2020, Assimi Goitre carried out the first phase of a coup in Mali. The Guinea regime fell to the military in September 2021 and a coup took place in Burkina Faso in September 2022.

The Niger Republic coup is the seventh military coup in West Africa in less than 3 years and is a threat to Nigerian democracy. Niger Republic is strategic in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel of Africa. Wagner Group is now influencing military coups in Africa. Wagner’s role in Africa poses a severe threat to the security and stability of African states as well as the strategic interests of the United States and allied nations. The Nigerien coup is a threat to Nigerian democracy because of the closeness of Niger to Nigeria.

In West Africa, fragile democratic governments are being systematically overthrown by ambitious military adventurists through the influence of Wagner Group. The military in countries that have witnessed coup in Africa are exploiting the mineral resources with Wagner Group. In quick succession, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad have all recently witnessed military coups. In each case, the cocktail of justifications by coup makers have included the bad handling of jihadist insurgency and terrorist pressure by elected governments. Military coups, Wagner group are threat to Nigerian democracy. As the driving force behind Russian expansion, the mercenary company led by Yevgeny Prigozhin actively supports authoritarian regimes in efforts to secure their political survival, while exploiting natural resources. The Wagner group plays a destabilizing role in the Sahel, a conflict-ridden stretch of territory spanning western and north-central Africa, from Senegal to Sudan.

The group has had a mixed record in these operations. While maintaining a low profile in Mali, it has been more visible in the Central African Republic. Its presence is expected in Burkina Faso, but has been reduced in Libya and Syria. The group is known for its opportunistic approach and closely follows the interests of Russian diplomacy. It entered Serbia quickly but left just as fast, showcasing its adaptability to changing circumstances.

The Wagner Group has established operations in several African countries, where many of its operations focus on security issues. It has often provided security services and paramilitary assistance and launched disinformation campaigns for troubled regimes in exchange for resource concessions and diplomatic support. Wagner is most active in the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Mali, and Sudan, all of which have a tenuous relationship with the West due to colonial legacies and inherent political differences.

The Wagner Group, a thousands-strong private military force, has in recent years become one of Russia’s most influential foreign policy tools. It has played a significant role on the battlefields of Syria and Ukraine and, recently, has worked to expand its footprint in Africa. The group has operated in several African countries since 2017, often providing its clients with direct military support and related security services alongside propaganda efforts.

Read also: Niger: Trouble in the neighbourhood

In the Central African Republic, for example, 1,890 so-called “Russian instructors” are supporting government troops in the ongoing civil war, according to the Russian ambassador. In Libya, up to 1,200 Wagner mercenaries are believed to be fighting on the side of rebel leader Khalifa Hifter. In Mali, the pro-Russian, anti-Western military junta has also brought hundreds of Wagner fighters into the country. There, they have been accused of committing serious human rights violations.

But the Wagner Group’s presence in Africa extends much further, experts say. “Wagner itself has developed over time as an organization that’s gone from being a purely private military contracting entity into a multiplicity of business alliances and relations, and a network of companies. Some of them front companies across the countries in which they operate on the African continent,” analyst Julian Rademeyer told DW recently at the Munich Security Conference. “It operates in this legal gray zone between illicit activities and more legal illicit activities. And it straddled those quite, quite effectively.”

International research has found that the Wagner brand is active in areas that extend far beyond security. In July, All Eyes on Wagner partnered with 11 European media outlets to uncover how the group has been raking in massive profits with precious tropical timber from the Central African Republic. According to the report, the government in Bangui granted a subsidiary unrestricted logging rights across 187,000 hectares (722 square miles).

The case of the Ndassima gold mine, also in the Central African Republic, is similar. Reports say that a concession was withdrawn from a Canadian mining company in favor of one from Madagascar that appears in the GI-TOC report as a Wagner subsidiary. Research by The Africa Report magazine traces how the Wagner network allegedly imported heavy mining equipment through the Cameroonian seaport of Douala. Up to three truck convoys are organized weekly from Bangui to Douala to transport the raw materials, under the protection of Wagner members with heavy weapons.

The United States has imposed sanctions aimed at disrupting gold mining activities that fund the Wagner Group in Africa, vowing to hold the mercenaries accountable for abuses days after they staged a mutiny in Russia.The measures against the Wagner Group had been previously planned but were briefly put on hold as US officials sought to avoid appearing to favor a side in a power struggle between the mercenaries’ chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Midas Resources, which operates mines in the Central African Republic, and Diamville, a gold and diamond purchasing company in the country — and said both were controlled by Prigozhin.

The sanctions — which will block any US assets and criminalize transactions with the companies — also targeted a Dubai-based company, Industrial Resources General Trading, that was accused of handling finances for Prigozhin’s dealings in Diamville.

“The Wagner Group funds its brutal operations in part by exploiting natural resources in countries like the Central African Republic and Mali,” Treasury sanctions official Brian Nelson said in a statement. The Wagner Group has been contracted by military regimes in Africa and played an increasingly violent role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Prigozhin urging Putin to use even greater force.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, previewing the sanctions earlier Tuesday, renewed his criticism of the Wagner mercenaries, who have been accused of wide abuses in Africa. Armed groups and violent extremists are increasing their influence in West Africa and the Sahel while repeated coups d’état are destabilizing Governments, political experts from the region informed the Council.

Giovanie Biha, Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2022/1019), drew attention to millions of children in the region who have no access to education because ten thousand schools were shut down due to instability. “Non-State groups are fighting among themselves for supremacy, pushing States to the margin and causing untold misery to millions of people who had to leave their communities to seek safety,” she said.

Inwalomhe writes from Dole-Kaina, Kebbi State, a border village with Niger Republic via [email protected]