Dictatorships love Russia: What will happen to Russia’s business empire in Africa after the liquidation of the Wagner leadership

The personality of Yevgeny Prigozhin in Africa was unique in that he managed to create a transnational corporation from a regular private military company (PMC).

The controversial Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is no more! On August 23, the “Putin’s chef” was fried by the Russian air defense system directly on a board of a private business jet in the skies of the Tver region. Thus, although with nuances, Prigozhin finally received his comeuppance from Shoigu’s ammunition. Alongside Prigozhin, his right-hand man also went to Kobzon’s concert — the commander of the private military company Wagner, Dmitry Utkin.

“How will the liquidation of Prigozhin affect Russia’s positions and criminal business in Africa, where Wagner PMC mercenaries are the main support of the regime? The issue was examined by Telegraf media outlet.

Russian-style justice

After the sudden end of the coup by the Wagner members in June, it seemed that Prigozhin’s life was not under threat, and the “march of justice” on Moscow was a performance staged by Putin himself to divert the Wagner members to the EU borders. Russian law enforcement returned Prigozhin’s business and money, and the criminal case was closed as if nothing had happened.

Later, Prigozhin appeared in public at events related to Africa, such as the July forum Russia-Africa in St. Petersburg. A few days before the liquidation of the PMC’s leader, he recorded a video seemingly from the heart of the African continent, where he claimed that Wagner was bringing “justice and happiness to African nations.”

See also: Wagner is already in Belarus: who is in greater danger?

“Justice and happiness” for Africa, the Russian way, looks as follows:

Central African Republic. In this country, Wagner mercenaries have been active since 2017. A security cooperation agreement has been signed between Moscow and Bangui (the capital of CAR). This cooperation involves the fact that the country’s government, and personally President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, relies on Russian mercenaries to combat local insurgents and to solidify their power. Wagner personnel protect state buildings, the country’s leadership, and the president himself. In early August, a referendum took place in CAR regarding changes to the constitution that would allow Touadéra to remain in power indefinitely. The security during this referendum and the “correct” results were ensured by the Wagner group.

Russians, of course, are not aligning with Touadéra without reason. In CAR, they control the extraction of valuable minerals and engage in timber trade. According to an investigation by Politico, mercenaries in CAR can earn around 1 billion dollars.

The US Treasury accuses Russian mercenaries in CAR of numerous crimes: abduction, rape, and mass executions.

Libya. In this country, a contingent of Russian mercenaries has been present since 2019, when the Wagner group sided with General Khalifa Haftar, who was attacking Tripoli.

According to various estimates, there are between 2,000 to 7,000 Wagner mercenaries in Libya, and they even possess aviation capabilities. The mercenaries’ business here involves the extraction of valuable minerals.

Mali. This country is under the rule of a junta led by Colonel Assimi Goïta. He invited Wagner PMC mercenaries to Mali in 2021. Currently, there are around a thousand Wagner members in Mali. The temporary Malian government refers to these mercenaries as “instructors” who are assisting in stabilizing the security situation in the country. However, according to information from the White House, since late 2021, the Malian government has paid around 200 million dollars to the Wagner mercenaries, and the security situation has only worsened. Detentions, robberies, executions, and mass shootings — these are the activities that Wagner is engaged in Mali.

Niger. The Wagner PMC mercenaries haven’t managed to establish a foothold here yet, but they have every chance to do so.

The situation is that in July, a coup took place in Niger, overthrowing the legitimate president, Mohamed Bazoum. Immediately after this, information started surfacing that the coup leaders, led by General Moussa Salaou Barmou, intended to call in Wagner members to help them hold onto power. Even the Acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, flew to Niger to persuade the coup leaders not to cooperate with Russians. However, according to foreign journalists’ accounts, the first groups of Wagner mercenaries are already arriving in Niger.

The future of Russia’s business in Africa

Of course, the list of places where Russian mercenaries are present in Africa is not limited to the aforementioned countries. Wagner mercenaries are also deployed in Sudan, Algeria, Angola, Madagascar, and, of course, Syria.

“And Prigozhin’s persona in Africa was unique in that he managed to create, out of a simple PMC, essentially a regional business empire. Prigozhin’s Patriot media group involves information operations, and they extend to Africa as well, since he owned one of the largest radio stations on the continent (Lengo Songo). It’s political consulting. I’d like to remind you, he’s the reason the President of Madagascar became president, and the former political technologist Prigozhin acquired Malagasy citizenship and serves as a security advisor to the president. There’s mining exploration, mining-extraction business. And here, it’s not just about gold, but also the so-called ‘big three’ minerals important to Russia: titanium, tungsten, uranium. The reconnaissance of these minerals was conducted by Prigozhin’s structures together with local partners, and if the deposits were confirmed, this business was handed over to Russian companies. So, it’s an entire business empire, essentially a transnational corporation, sustained by military force. And this is a unique situation,” explains Ihar Tyshkevich, a political analyst from the Ukrainian Institute of the Future, to Telegraf.

But what will happen to all this criminal business after the elimination of the leader of the Wagner PMC? Will Russia lose its positions in Africa?

According to the experts of the publication, this is unlikely to occur.

Firstly, due to the willingness of African regimes themselves to cooperate with Russia.

See also: The battle for the South. Why Africa supports Russia and how Ukraine plans to change it

“The demand for Russian mercenaries and cooperation in the defense sphere comes directly from African countries,” comments Marta Oliynyk-D’omochko, an Africanist researcher at the Global Ukraine Foundation, to Telegraf.

“In any case, they cannot act independently; they need support from Moscow,” adds Serhiy Danilov, Deputy Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, to Telegraf.

Secondly, Russia itself is extremely interested in conducting criminal business on the African continent.

“For Russia, this business is simply necessary as it provides revenue to the budget for the continuation of its terrorist war,” explains Marta Oliynyk-D’omochko.

But when there’s such a strong understanding, can anything hinder it? In reality, it can. However, in the short-term perspective.

“There’s a chance for destabilization. Logistic chains might break (Wagner mercenaries in Libya receive supplies through the Ministry of Defense of Russia’s aviation). Individual units may go out of control,” says Danilov.

“At least in the short term, there will be a certain decline in Russia’s ability to coordinate its activities in Africa through Wagner members. Especially since there might be a wave of discontent among the Wagner members due to Prigozhin’s elimination,” adds Yuriy Oliynyk, co-founder of the Center for African Studies, in a comment to Telegraf.

Furthermore, uncomfortable questions may arise from Russia’s African partners.

“After all, Prigozhin played an important role in Africa in terms of image. He projected the narrative of a strong Putin, a politician who holds power firmly in his own country. As if to say, if you cooperate with Russia, you’ll have the same in your country. But the situation with Prigozhin’s assassination shows: the Russian leader is not as strong as he seemed. And if you have internal problems, perhaps you’re not capable of guaranteeing security to other countries,” concludes Marta Oliynyk-D’omochko.

“At least in the short term, there will be a certain decline in Russia’s ability to coordinate its activities in Africa through Wagner members. Especially since there might be a wave of discontent among the Wagner members due to Prigozhin’s elimination,” adds Yuriy Oliynyk, co-founder of the Center for African Studies, in a comment to Telegraf.

Property redistribution

However, even without Prigozhin, experts of the publication believe that Russia’s fundamental positions on the continent won’t change. This viewpoint is shared by all experts.

Wagner members will be incorporated under direct Putin’s control, but they will continue their activities in African countries. For example, during the Prigozhin-backed coup, President Touadéra of the Central African Republic stated that they cooperated directly with Russia, not with the Wagner PMC. So, as long as there is a demand for Russian military presence in the region to help stabilize situations, and in reality, strengthen the power of presidents, juntas, they will continue to be present there,” emphasizes the Africanist researcher.

The only thing that might change is the structure of Russian business in Africa, the model that Prigozhin has built.

“The question is: who will be the new curator of this direction. Nevertheless, Russia is interested in the existence of PMCs and the development of the private military company industry. There will be a demonopolization, meaning that Africa will fall under the responsibility of not just one entity, but several. These entities will likely be formed based on former Wagner PMC units, with the gradual addition of other PMCs,” concludes the analysis.

By the way, this process was already underway before, as the protection of oil extraction was gradually taken over by the PMC created by Lukoil, the Russian oil company, called Lukoil-A. This same group was involved in safeguarding key personnel of partner companies of Russian corporations. Attempts were made to introduce new PMCs in Libya. In Zimbabwe, most likely, Russians will enter, but not Wagner. Therefore, the question here is about demonopolization and the creation of new PMCs, but mercenaries won’t disappear; they will continue to work.

“Simply put several companies will emerge based on one business empire. A simple example is how the process of demonopolization of state corporations took place in Ukraine. Instead of one large Centrenergo, several regional energy companies emerged. But this doesn’t change the system, and the employees remain in their positions,” summed up Ihar Tyshkevich.

Originally posted by Artur Gor on Telegraf. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: African games of Putin: Cunning Moscow anti-colonialism

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