The Wagner Mercenaries in Africa: Conflicts and Gold Mines.

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The Wagner network in Africa faces an uncertain future. The aborted mutiny of the Wagner mercenary group in Russia over the weekend is likely to have repercussions in Africa, where they have several thousand fighters and lucrative business interests.

It is still unclear whether Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been ordered to travel to Belarus, will continue to command his private army from there in order to fulfill security contracts in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov assured the CAR and Mali that crucial security arrangements would remain unchanged.

Why is Wagner in Africa?

Primarily to make money – although it has enjoyed tacit approval from the Kremlin, Wagner has also strengthened Russia’s diplomatic and economic interests. It was a significant advantage for Russia, for example, when France withdrew its forces from Mali after Wagner agreed in 2021 to assist the new military junta in its fight against Islamist militants.

Wagner recently published a timeline of its operational history on Telegram, confirming that its official involvement in Africa began in 2018 when it sent “military instructors” to the CAR and Sudan, and then deployed to Libya the following year. It has been noted that these countries possess natural resources that are of interest to Prigozhin’s organization, such as diamonds, gold, oil, and uranium.

Wagner has enabled President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who even counts mercenaries among his bodyguards, to shake off the influence of the former colonial power, France, as the country tries to gain control over rebel groups in exchange for a share of the resource wealth.

“Wagner’s operational strategy over the past two to three years has been to expand both its military and economic presence in Africa,” says Julia Stanyard from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, speaking to the BBC. According to this think tank analyst, Wagner has a network of associated companies that engage in business activities in the countries where the mercenary group operates. In the CAR, these companies are suspected of being involved in the trade of diamonds and gold.

Wagner’s brief presence in Sudan allowed the Russian mining company M Invest, which the U.S. Treasury Department accuses of being owned or controlled by Prigozhin, to establish a foothold in the country. Its subsidiary, Meroe Gold, is one of Africa’s largest gold producers.

In Libya, it is estimated that Wagner does not have the same number of fighters as it did when it supported the rebel general Khalifa Haftar’s attempt to seize the capital, Tripoli, nearly four years ago. However, strategically, Libya offers Russia an entry point into Africa, strengthens its presence in the Mediterranean, and aligns with Kremlin’s support for General Haftar. Wagner mercenaries remain present around key oil facilities in Haftar’s strongholds in the east and south of the country, and sources have told the BBC that there have been no notable changes on the ground since Saturday.

What impact has Wagner had on the ground?

Wagner fighters have been accused of gross human rights violations in several countries.

In 2021, a BBC investigation revealed evidence implicating members of the group in Libya in the execution of civilians and the illegal use of anti-personnel mines and explosive traps in family homes around Tripoli.

In Mali, data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) shows that militant violence has more than doubled between 2021 and 2022, with civilians accounting for the largest number of victims.

The military operations involving the Wagner group have led to an increase in civilian deaths. Among the worst incidents is the murder of around 500 civilians during a week-long operation in the central city of Moura. The United

Nations has linked “foreign forces” and the Malian army to the massacres, while the United States has sanctioned two soldiers and the de facto commander of Wagner in Mali.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Treasury Department accused Wagner mercenaries of engaging in a continuous series of serious criminal activities, including “mass executions, rape, child abductions, and physical abuse” in the Central African Republic and Mali.

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