Will Africa Fare Better Under  China and Post-Prigozhin Russia

Will Africa Fare Better Under  China and Post-Prigozhin Russia

With Burkina Faso and few other African countries severing historical ties with their western allies and leaning towards Russia and China, diplomatic analysts believe they are running away from the frying pan into the fire, Alex Enumah reports

As some African countries sever ties with their traditional allies, particularly France, Russia is increasingly gaining influence in Africa, especially in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, and Niger Republic.

In order to curb their former colonial master’s influence in their internal and external affairs, Mali, Niger Republic and Burkina Faso recently announced their immediate withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), insisting that the sub-regional bloc had become a threat to member- states, a development diplomatic and intelligence analysts say portends danger not only to Nigeria’s security but the stability of the sub-region.

The late leader of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC), Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a controversial plane crash believed to be an assassination, accounted for Russia’s growing influence in Africa.

Before Prigzohin’s death, Russia and China seemed to be scrambling for Africa, with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin seeking to surpass his Asian competitor in the continent.

It is pertinent to note that African countries do not largely share Russian ideals and foreign policy as evidenced in the 2023 Russia-African Summit, which had 27 countries in attendance, down by 17 countries from the pre-Ukraine invasion summit attended by 43 countries in 2019.

Prigozhin was captured in a video footage believed to have been recorded in Mali on August   21, 2023 where he boasted that he would make “Russia even greater on every continent and Africa even freer.”

The late Wagner Group’s leader died two days later – two months after his failed armed mutiny.

Dmitry Utkin, who was long believed to be the founder of the PMC, and Valery Chekalov, who reportedly managed Prigozhin’s oil, gas, and mineral businesses in Africa and the Middle East, were among the victims of the fatal crash believed to be an assassination.

What has Prigozhin’s influence on Africa brought to the table for African countries?

Russia reportedly rewarded five African countries, including CAR and Burkina Faso with free grain shipments, believed to be 20,000 tonnes each, representing a drop in the ocean from the 60 million tonnes Russia reportedly exported in 2022.

It is not even clear if all the shipments have been delivered.

While the undelivered grain shipments represent an empty promise, analysts believe grain shipments are a one-off aid that do not improve security.

Putin is increasingly being isolated on the international stage and BRICS ineffective, with Argentina no longer joining. 

While Putin cannot even travel to meetings, Russia’s actions do not match the rhetoric on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the G20 membership. 

Though the “multipolar” world which Russia has been presenting as a positive development for African countries may sound positive at first, the fact remains that it is all about Russia increasing its power and influence and not about doing what is best for African countries. 

Russia’s objectives are anti-multilateralism, which won’t give African countries their own voice in the United Nations (UN). Diplomatic analysts believe that having their own voice in the UN gives African countries the opportunity of acting in concert with other countries to have greater impact. 

In contrast, Russia’s actions have the potential to create a more unstable world as she is not known to be a respecter of international law.

The African Union (AU) had in February 2022 condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine and called for an “immediate ceasefire”, saying the situation risked escalating into “a planetary conflict”.

The then AU’s chair and Senegalese President, Macky Sall, and the chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, had said in a joint statement they were “extremely concerned” by the invasion.

They called on Russia to “respect international law, the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine”.

In violation of international law and diplomacy, Russia had launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, killing dozens as airstrikes hit military installations and ground forces moved in from the north, south and east.

The war, which Russia’s military authorities had predicted would end in the defeat of Ukraine in a matter of weeks, has persisted with western powers rallying military support for the European nation and imposing sanctions on Russia.

Russia’s interest has been damaging causes that are beneficial to Africa.

Currently, many other countries are supporting an increase in Africa’s voice at the G20. 

It is feared that Russia’s growing influence in Africa through the Wagner Group will potentially fuel human rights abuses, tyranny, lawlessness and impunity as manifested in Prigozhin’s insurrection in Russia, and the massacres allegedly perpetrated by Wagner in CAR/ and Mali. 

From the events of the past decade, there are strong indications that it is all about Russia and Wagner exploiting instability and insecurity in some African countries for Russia’s interest. 

Since the late 2010s, Wagner has become firmly entrenched in countries that created political and diplomatic headaches for the international community.

For instance, Wagner arrived in CAR at the invitation of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in 2018.

Touadéra had explained recently that he was desperate to find outside assistance to quell his country’s civil war, and Russia was the only country willing to send weapons and fighters, which turned out to be the Wagner mercenaries.

Touadéra had reportedly explained in an interview that, “I asked all my friends, including in the United States, including France. . . I need to protect the institutions of the republic. I asked everyone for help, and was I supposed to refuse help from those who wanted to help us?” 

Unfortunately, in exchange for providing personal security, military training, and combat assistance, Wagner Group gained unhindered access to the CAR’s natural resources, including the Ndassima gold mining site.

According to a recent CSIS study, Wagner-linked operatives had significantly expanded the gold mining site by 2023, with reports claiming that Wagner could gain as much as $1 billion in annual mining profits in the CAR alone.

Analysts say the gains from the Ndassima gold mining site would help Putin mitigate the damages inflicted on Russia by the Western sanctions.

The AU had expressed concerns about reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by Wagner Group’s forces in various member states, including Mali, CAR, and Mozambique. 

The body was worried about Wagner’s alleged involvement in the internal affairs of African countries, which the AU feared could exacerbate existing conflicts and undermine state institutions, ultimately hindering long-term peace and security.

There were also concerns about the opaque nature of Wagner’s operations, which fuelled greater concerns about accountability for potential violations of international law and human rights.

But despite the concerns, the AU had unfortunately avoided directly condemning member states that choose to engage with Wagner, acknowledging their sovereign right to seek security assistance.

The AU said it preferred to engage in dialogue and mediation efforts to encourage member states to address underlying governance issues and seek alternative solutions to their security challenges.

The continental bloc had however called for independent investigations into alleged human rights abuses linked to Wagner activities.

Indeed, AU’s ability to influence member states’ decisions regarding security partners is constrained by its non-interference principle and varying national interests.

In addition, the complex geopolitical landscape, with competing interests from global powers like Russia and France, further complicates the AU’s efforts.

In the case of China, the Asian country is believed to have masked his growing influence in Africa by appearing to be actively involved in the continent’s agricultural sector and massive infrastructural development.   

But a peep into the agreements between China and some African countries shows that the relationship favours the African country greatly. 

While China has the financial and technological resources, as well as the global influence to offer a give-and-take scenario, it is evident that there is much more “take” when it comes to the Chinese relationship with the continent. 

 China’s presence in Africa has been subject to controversy over the years with many criticising the negative impacts on the continent. Some of the key areas in which China’s presence in Africa is seen as negative are in many areas.

The first area is resource exploitation where China has been accused of exploiting Africa’s natural resources without consideration for the local environment or community, leading to environmental degradation and displacement of local populations. Second, China has also been accused of unfair trade practices.

China’s trade with Africa has often been criticised for being exploitative, with African countries exporting raw materials to China at ridiculously low prices while important finished goods are bought at high prices leading to a trade imbalance that disproportionately benefits China. 

Another landmine China has planted for African countries is the debt-trap diplomacy. She is believed to be engaging “debt-trap diplomacy” in Africa, providing loans to African countries for infrastructure projects that are difficult to repay.  

It is feared that in the event of the African countries being unable to repay the loans, the Asian country will move into the continent and seize critical infrastructure which could potentially threaten the sovereignty of the affected countries.    

Both China and Russia have used their “super-power” status to exploit Africa and take advantage of what they see as fertile ground to expand their economic and military influence.  

Therefore, Africa is becoming an increasingly important region for global powers as evident in the scramble for the continent in recent years.   

Interestingly, African leaders, including Ghanaian President Akufo Addo recently met in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to discuss the continent’s future and the role of the external factors that are shaping it. 

How will Africa position itself to take advantage of those who aim to expand their influence by strengthening their economic and military ties with the continent? 

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