DOGS OF WAR ANALYSIS
Wagner has a new name tag but still plunders Africa’s minerals
The Russian mercenary group gets mines in return for propping up autocratic leaders.
Under its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, the sinister Russian Wagner Group of mercenaries has for years plundered African mineral resources in several countries in exchange for ruthless protection of autocratic governments against their military, commercial and political foes.
Wagner has also clearly been a proxy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, pursuing his foreign policy in Africa – mainly by countering Western influence.
Prigozhin’s death in a plane crash northwest of Moscow on 23 August last year – very likely an assassination by Putin in retaliation for a failed mutiny from Ukraine in June – has changed the dynamics but not the basic game plan.
Wagner, the mercenary outfit at the core of the Wagner Group, which comprised several companies mainly in the mining field, has been brought under tighter Russian military intelligence control and is now called Africa Corps. Some mining operations continue, apparently under Prigozhin’s old Concord holding company.
Central African Republic
The heart of Wagner Group’s African operations has been the Central African Republic (CAR), where it props up the shaky government of Faustin-Archange Touadéra, providing him with the military muscle to fight off armed rebel groups trying to topple him.
In exchange for this protection, Wagner has been given access to considerable mineral resources, mainly gold and diamonds, as well as hardwoods.
In a comprehensive report last year, “The Grey Zone; Russia’s military, mercenary and criminal engagement in Africa”, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime said Wagner had “developed a huge footprint in the CAR economy” which was tantamount to “state capture”.
The first Wagner company to arrive was Lobaye Invest in October 2017, receiving licences to mine gold and diamonds across a swathe of CAR territory.
That year, Wagner also simply seized CAR’s largest gold mine at Ndassima, northeast of the capital Bangui, from the legal owners, the Canadian miner Axmin, The Wall Street Journal reported.
On 17 March 2020, CAR formally granted a mining exploitation permit for Ndassima to Wagner’s Midas Resources, according to The Grey Zone report.
Axmin is still battling for compensation.
CAR also revoked the logging concession in Lobaye province held by a local company and gave it to Wagner-linked Bois Rouge.
The report notes that locals have said Wagner mercenaries and CAR troops have violently expelled local miners from the deposits granted to Midas.
This has continued under the new management at Africa Corps, according to US news site, The Daily Beast.
Wagner’s second-largest mining interests have been in Sudan where it has maintained a military presence since 2017, mainly in support of General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, the commander of the ruthless Rapid Support Forces.
In exchange for military and political support, Wagner Group companies M Invest and Meroe Gold – the latter now renamed Al Solag – received several gold concessions, mainly in River Nile state, The Grey Zone report said.
It added that, through its social media trolling operations under the umbrella of the Internet Research Agency, the Wagner Group targeted pro-democracy groups with disinformation.
Former president Omar al-Bashir was ousted by a popular uprising/coup in April 2019. In October 2021, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese Armed Forces, restored full military leadership in another coup.
Wagner intensified its relationship with “Hemedti” Dagalo – no doubt because he had a stranglehold on gold mining.
As in CAR, Wagner troops were accused of massacring artisanal miners in the Um Dafuq area of western Sudan, near CAR, in April and June 2022.
The Grey Zone said Wagner’s links to the military enabled it to conduct large-scale gold smuggling, sometimes on military planes.
The ordinary Sudanese citizen derives little if anything from the country’s gold reserves.
It is not yet clear how Prigozhin’s death or the bitter war which erupted between Hemedti and Burhan in April last year has affected Wagner’s mining operations.
According to The Grey Zone, the CAR’s Midas Resources has connections to Wagner-linked companies based in Madagascar, principally Kraoma Mining, a joint chrome mining venture between state-owned Kraomita Malagasy and Ferrum Mining, a company alleged to have been owned by Prigozhin.
The joint venture was purported to have been set up as a quid pro quo arrangement, giving Wagner a slice of Madagascar’s mineral resources in return for its interference in the country’s 2018 presidential election in favour of President Andry Rajoelina.
Unconfirmed reports surfaced again, before the 2023 elections – that the Russians were back offering presidential candidates cash and services in exchange for mineral concessions.
However, a local journalist told Daily Maverick this month, “The Russians were screwed; they did not get the permits and left – same as 99% of foreign investors.”
Western intelligence agencies are closely monitoring Russia’s new frontier, the Sahel. Wagner and Africa Corps are filling the power vacuum left by a retreating France – and other Western powers – after military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Mali is one of Africa’s largest gold producers and has important reserves of silver, manganese, diamond, lithium and other rare metals.
Mali’s government probably can’t afford to pay Wagner/Africa Corps cash for its military support in fighting Islamist and separatist forces.
Meanwhile, Russian geologists have been spotted scouting Mali’s gold regions.
President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana claimed in 2022 that the Burkina Faso military junta had granted rights to a gold mine to Wagner in return for mercenary reinforcements against insurgents. This was not confirmed. DM