Business Maverick

DOGS OF WAR ANALYSIS

Wagner has a new name tag but still plunders Africa’s minerals

Wagner has a new name tag but still plunders Africa’s minerals
Wagner founder, Russian Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash northwest of Moscow on 23 August 2023. (Photo: Contributor / Getty Images)

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.

Sudan

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.

Madagascar

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.”

The Sahel

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

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    But it’s OK, it’s the Russians. There would be an outcry and claims of colonialism if it were a Western country but it’s the great saviours the Russians so it’ absolutely fine

    • Nadya Bhettay says:

      No, the outcry is because the Russians and Chinese have taken over from the decades of the West doing this exact same thing. Their form of colonialism was simply slightly more posh in the form of written agreements and actual companies who happily took the spoils of corruption, but the payments to corrupt governments, support for dictators by the US, UK and EU for decades is well known. Please read your history. Media won’t tell you this and is pretending that the Russians and Chineses are doing something new, the west control the media that tell you this and simply it’s their outrage at being replaced. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is new.

      • Terril Scott says:

        The west brought organization and development out of chaos; Wagner (Russia) brings rapine and blood.

        • Rugby Fan says:

          where did the chaos come from? the original people? the locals were clubbing and murdering each other and then the saving, benevolent west came in and brought grace and gifts to the indigenous people, raising them from the mire of their indigenous, bloodthirsty uneducated savagery, right? that’s how it goes, right? “organization and development”-slavery, colonised exploitation of minerals and agricultural products, appropriation of historical and cultural artifacts, etc? for how many centuries? and that’s what the people who wrote the history books say

      • Richard Bryant says:

        It’s pretty euphemistic to compare the ‘slightly more posh’ method of colonialism by the West using contracts and trickery when russias method is the massacre of innocent civilians. Even genocide as seen in Sudan. But who cares when the larger objective is to steal gold because you have been shut out of the west’s SWIFT system, and to use the gold to buy arms from Iran and North Korea using the gold you have plundered, thus funding other stateless military rogue groups like Hamas.

        And us Africans seem to favour the one form of atrocity over the other.

      • Michael Thomlinson says:

        So it’s OK if Russia and China do this just as long as it is not the “West”?
        Question for you: are the ordinary people any better off? After 1/2 a century of self rule African countries like CAR and the DRC have just exchanged one colonial power for another. Why?

  • James Baxter says:

    It’s time for South Africa to remove autocratic leaders in Africa who don’t follow democratic rules. There’s leaders like President Kagame who may flout democratic principles but at the same time work for the betterment of their country. Such leaders are a huge benefit for our continent. South Africa as the United States of Africa should let such leaders do what they are doing, but leaders who are useless and perpetuate human rights abuses should dealt with. SA government should start exercising maximum force on the continent by removing useless autocratic leaders and work with those who are building the continent even if they are not following democracy. Taking Israel to the ICJ is not going to help anyone. What is good is to give money to ordinary people in Palestine to build Palestine economy and buildings

    • Ben Harper says:

      The argument is that Democracy is evil and doesn’t work in Africa, that’s why they prefer to cozy up dictators, murderers and genocidal maniacs

    • Harry Boyle says:

      I assume your Statement United States of Africa is Tongue in Cheek!

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      Our defence force cannot fight it’s way out of a wet paper bag, never mind “exercising maximum force on the continent by removing useless autocratic leaders and work with those who are building the continent”.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      I’m going to assume you’re joking. Even if what passes for our government cared to project military force to achieve those lofty goals they haven’t the means. The SANDF wasn’t even able to get it’s hollowed out husk deployed across provinces in time to be anything other than a footnote to the Zuma insurrection due to failures in communication, the absence of logistics and plain old incompetence. The idea they could reach out to some far flung part of the continent as an effective, regime influencing force is delusional.

  • Chris le Montfort says:

    And just how is South Africa to do that, except by military force? Just asking nicely won’t do it, nor “quiet diplomacy” (whatever that is, it certainly failed lamentably in Zimbabwe, didn’t it Mbeki?). The SANDF is effectively defunct (see the latest report on readiness/capability – and I live in Simonstown where one frigate is permanently in the dry dock and the other three never go to sea). And the Wagner (now Africa Cops) forces now propping up an ever widening group of dictators, are professional, well equipped and quite ruthless.

  • Rae Earl says:

    The Wagner group could well be eyeing South Africa’s rich deposits of commodities in the face of Gwede Mantashe’s choke hold on control of mining and exploration. Around 2,500 applications for permits covering this critical sector of income and jobs went unanswered by Mantashe but he remains safe in cabinet under Ramaphosa’s gutless regime. The Wagner Group could out-think and out-manoeuvre the ANC with its eyes closed and move in to SA. The ANC with its abysmal levels of dogma and rank stupidity would end up sitting and blinking in the sun wondering what the hell happened?

    • Amadeus Figaro says:

      South Africa is ready to pawn itself to Russia and China because it will “give chest pains” to the West. The ancient Russian ressentment of the West is only matched by that of the SAn revolutionaries. They hate the West and the fact that Western development has made it difficult to decouple themselves from it, is a source of abiding pain to them.

  • Just Me says:

    You get Russian plunder, US plunder, China plunder and EU plunder of Africa’s resources. All sinister.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    Africa Corps? I wonder what motivated Tsar Putin, who is so obsessed with the past of a Russian empire, to choose Hitler’s “Africa Corps” as the namesake for his troop of exploiters!
    The German Afrika Korps (DAK) was a large unit of the German Wehrmacht in the Second World War, which was deployed in the North African theater of war from 1941 to 1943 and, with its armored units, formed the core of the later German-Italian Panzer Army Africa. The area of ​​operations extended in Course of the war from Tunisia to Libya to Egypt.
    I wish all anti-Westerners in Africa a lot of joy with their new friends.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    One has to wonder when we will see the “Africa Corp” in South Africa protecting the plunder of our resources. And one has to wonder what the deal will be? The answer will be obvious after the next election – Russia the puppet master has probably already chosen and paid the winner! Hold onto your hats folks it’s going to be yet another bumpy ride ahead!

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Russian imperialist plunder is so much more appealing than the previous varieties.

  • Amadeus Figaro says:

    It is entirely possible that SA gvt and the ANC both clients of SA, received money from Sudan’s Russian client RSF through RSF’s progenitor Al Bashir’s bag man Hazim Mustafa. Which snuggled in money was stolen from Ramaphosa and then laundered after the fact by an uncompleted sale of game animals by Ramaphosa?

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    The African despots and warlords have realized that they cannot trust their own armed forces and that is where the Wagner Group’s business model as a commercial security service comes into play. The modern tribal leaders have brought a Trojan horse into their house. 60 years after the end of the colonial era and 30 years after the end of apartheid, they have placed their peoples in the hands of a single white man.

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