The Guardian, a British daily, on June 11 2019, published details of leaked documents showing that Russia is seeking to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries across Africa by building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”.
The findings revealed that Russia is calculative and deliberate in increasing its presence across Africa in a bid weaken UK and France’s influence in Africa and ultimately and replace the West.
According to the Guardian, the documents show the scale of Prigozhin-linked recent operations in Africa, and Moscow’s ambition to turn the region into a strategic hub.
The report also note a network of firms linked to the oligarch, including Wagner, are known by employees as the “Company”. The document also suggest an orchestration overseen by senior officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries.
Spotlight was put on Russia’s activities in CAR, which was revealed to be strategic given the sensitivity of religious divide between Muslim North and Christian South; an ember of conflict Russia fans to expand across the continent and exploit the country’s mineral resources.
The CAR government is selling mining rights for gold and diamonds at a fraction of their worth to hire trainers and buy arms from Moscow, New York Times reported earlier in March.
In the report by the US news agency, Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington was quoted as saying, “Moscow and its private military contractors are arming some of the region’s weakest governments and backing the continent’s autocratic rulers.”
For Devermont, “This engagement threatens to exacerbate current conflict zones.”
So far Moscow has entered into military partnership with close to 20 African states. Evidence from the leaked document show deeper ties with CAR, Sudan and Madagascar which are all ranked as five, the highest level of corporation in Russia’s scheme.
Libya, Zimbabwe and South Africa follow next at rank four, while South Sudan are at three, with DRC, Chad and Zambia at two.
Russia according to the report by the Guardian cited Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Mali as countries of interest where it plans to work and Libya and Ethiopia as nations where cooperation is possible.
The Former Soviet Union is also alleged to be interfering with the democratic process of African countries through a hijacking of electoral processes to aid parties which fit into their agenda secure political offices.
In April, a Russian media outlet Proekt said it had come across hard evidence from “the office of Eugeny Prigozhin’s political consultants show Russia’s strategy for intervention in African politics — to incite anti-Western sentiment and revive old territorial disputes”
Madagascar’s election, and more recently South Africa’s election were mentioned as instances Russia had attempted to experiment with the democracies of African nations.
The document suggest Russia was not in favor of the leadership of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a far-left party headed by a former ANC official, and was scheming to employ tactics that would promote propaganda to paint DA and EFF leadership black.
Russia has been suggested to have attempted interfering with elections in the United States, sparking a series of investigation into the Donald Trump’s rise to becoming the POTUS in 2016.
US special counsel Robert Mueller pointed out that St Petersburg – the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran campaigns to discredit Hillary Clinton and sway public sentiment towards Trump.
The same Prigozhin has been connected to the Wagner Group mercenaries that executes Moscow’s wishes in Africa.
In Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, former leader and authoritarian saw a kindred spirit in Russia’s leadership. Facing possible ousting from official, he invited Moscow’s mercenaries in January to help secure his seat.
Although al-Bashir’s campaign failed, Russian mining contractors have continued to reap the benefit the ousted Sudanese dictator guaranteed Russia in exchange for Russian armaments and soldiers of fortune.
In Libya, New York Times reports a collusion between Russia and former General, Khalifa Haftar to help the military leader secure control over the Libya’s government and vast oil resources.
Across the sub-Saharan region, Russia has cut deals with Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, all of which have taken the similar form of a request for military support and an alliance that hands Moscow strategic control in return.
For Nigeria which in 2017 took similar step, caution is not enough. The country in similarity to CAR has a fragile social fabric characterized by deep ethnic awareness. In addition, its geographically distinct religious divide with Christians dominant in the South and Muslims in the North mirrors CAR’s divide.
After America seemed to be losing interest in Nigeria’s oil given its own recent strides in developing energy resources, and former colonial master of Nigeria, Britain announced that its military can be available to support Nigeria but that the West African is “a sovereign Nation and they have got to want our help”, Nigeria has turned to make long lasting its temporary flirt with Moscow’s military.
The Nigeria’s defense minister had said it is Russia’s experience in counter-terrorism and ability to modernize ability to provide the Nigerian army more sophisticated weaponry which makes it the ideal permanent ally in the fight against terrorism.
Dan-Ali had in mind Russia’s success in repelling pirates off the Somali coast and made a entreaty for similar support in the Gulf of Guinea which had become a more dangerous ground where piracy, kidnapping, the dumping of toxic wastes and other vices reigned.
Equally important, both Nigeria and Russian already prior engagement which suggested an easier working relationship than with the West.
For instance, some 1,200 Nigerian Security Personnel across various branches of the State’s force had been secretly trained in Moscow to combat insurgency.
In 2014 Nigeria attempted the purchase of U.S. Cobra attack helicopters from the United States but was turned down which led to the procurement of 21 Mi-35 helicopters, and 11 Mi-17 Utility helicopters.
In 2016, Nigeria also bought 12 Russian Mi-35M attack Russian helicopters although it was unable to secure ten Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighters in 2017.
While the menace of the Boko Haram still lingers, Russia’s quest in Nigeria remains more worrisome. The dilapidated state of its embassy in the country point in less economic and commercially driven interest in Nigeria; and although Moscow’s help has also been sought to build transportation infrastructure and develop Nigeria’s nuclear program, its mission in Nigeria, CAR, Libya, Sudan and Africa as a whole points to one thing: Reducing Western control by any means necessary.
Adio, a political commentator, writes from Lagos