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WAGNER GROUP IN AFRICA: The African Union’s Challenges And Dilemmas

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The African Union Summit 2024 took place on 17th-18th February 2024 amidst the backdrop of a myriad of challenges that plagued the African continent. Among the key issues the Summit addressed was the state of insecurity and the varied conflicts that continued to plague the continent.

Other key issues included regional integration and development. Another issue addressed in terms of Security was the continued presence and growing influence of the Wagner group in conflict-prone regions of the continent.

The Wagner group has remained a strategic arm to advance Russian Foreign policy on the continent, and this was examined with the seriousness it deserved. The AU summit had to consider the long-term effects and challenges that this extra-continental force posed to Africa’s Security Architecture.

The Wagner group’s operations on the African continent had been taken over by Russia’s Africa Corps, which was under the direct control of the Kremlin. This rebranding from Wagner to Russia’s Africa Corps stemmed from the need to sanitize the negative image that Wagner had painted on the continent.

Interestingly, the new outfit, Africa Corps, inherited many personnel that worked for Wagner and embarked on recruiting new personnel to bolster its dwindling ranks decimated by various conflicts ranging from Ukraine, Sudan, the Central African Republic, to name a few.

The Wagner group’s presence on the African continent continues to undermine democracy in some countries and ultimately presented a challenge to State Sovereignty in some regions. This Sovereignty had been undermined as weak African governments stared at potential ‘Capture’ by extra-continental mercenary forces that promised to prop up illegitimate regimes in exchange for lucrative opportunities that would further impoverish the continent.

For example, President Faustin- Archange Touadera of the CAR invited the Wagner group to help secure a referendum in July 2023 that saw him win a bid to change the constitution, allowing him to run for a Third Term. Other examples included Burkina Faso, where the leader of the military junta, Captain Traore, postponed elections indefinitely, citing the need for help from the Wagner group, now Africa Corps, to fight “jihadists” while maintaining his grip on power. This grip on power subverted the democratic ideals envisioned for the Burkinabe.

The African Union Summit also addressed the issue of resource pillage and raw material extraction perpetuated in collaboration with the Wagner group. CAR, Mali, and Sudan stood as clear testaments to resource pillage, with the Wagner group accused of being involved in the extraction of Gold, Diamonds, and other minerals through conduits and organizations protected and associated with Wagner.

Russian shell companies, in collaboration with Wagner, smuggled gold and diamonds valued at over $2.5 Billion through the United Arab Emirates. This pillage was of concern, and the African Union should have issued strong statements condemning this practice that continued to drain the continent.

Africa’s democracy is under siege and currently in a fragile state, partly due to the involvement and interference of the Wagner group. The Sahel region had been plagued by coups d’états, with civilian elected governments overthrown by military juntas. These juntas had become emboldened by the fact that they could engage the Wagner group to prop up their regimes.

This gradually entrenched impunity and bred political disorder in the region. Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso had been emboldened by the support they perceived they could get from Russia, through the Wagner group.

This subversion of Democracy engineered chaos and disorder in the region, with new threats emerging in Senegal, where President Macky Sall had also postponed elections, citing tension and lack of a good political climate in the country. This could trigger dissatisfaction among the Senegalese and lead to a coup that removed President Sall from power, ushering in another military junta in the region.

The African Union needs to take note that the Wagner group has committed a lot of atrocities on the African continent in direct violation of both International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law. All the conflicts Wagner had been involved in could be classified as Non-International Armed Conflicts, governed by International Humanitarian Law.

Violations included rape, murder, torture of civilians in Mali, and the killing of artisanal gold miners at the Ndassima gold mine in the Central African Republic. The African Union needed to have pronounced itself on these violations and speak with one voice, condemning Wagner, and ultimately recommending its expulsion from the African continent.

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