The United States has alleged that the private military company Wagner (PMC) is looting natural resources from the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan and other regions to finance Russian military activities. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, delivered a statement in this regard on Thursday, October 6.
Ill-gotten gains fund Moscow’s war machine in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine, she said. During the United Nations Security Council discussion on countering the financing of armed groups and terrorists through the illicit trade in Africa’s natural resources, she said that the people of Africa are paying a heavy price for the practices of exploitation and human rights abuses of the Wagner Group.
Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN Security Council, expressed his displeasure that the US envoy had raised the issue of Russian aid to African partners.
The African Swing
In recent years, the United States and European nations have been rapidly losing ground to China and Russia in the region, and there is a wave of hatred towards the West, the former colonizers of Africa . In 2009, China became Africa’s largest trading partner.
Even though recent trends imply a decline in US involvement in the region, the United States has not yet relinquished its engagement in the region to other powers. The United States remains in the list of Africa’s top two trading partners. According to studies, consumer spending in Africa will reach an estimated $16.12 trillion by 2050, and the United States is not willing to give it up obediently.
How did the United States and European countries lose Africa?
Namibia’s declaration of independence in 1990 marked the official end of colonialism on the African continent. Even though most African states have been free from European domination for decades, the power dynamics have changed only in theory. The assumption that statehood is the be-all and end-all of decolonization was short-sighted and stifled real progress.
The foundation of African freedom has been weakened by the continued exploitative relationship between the nations of the world’s majority and their former conquerors. Several “forms and expressions” of colonialism persist on the African continent. For example, 14 African nations continue to pay a sort of “colonial tax” to France, and Spanish fishing boats felt no harm plundering African seas. It is quite difficult to overcome these old colonial practices; Western convenience always seems to take precedence over Africans. The “black” problem does not only concern Africa but is also found in the United States. From slaves to current discrimination, the Vatican of migrants has not been able to overcome the old mentality.
On the other hand, China’s impact extends beyond the trade connection; it is also the biggest investor in infrastructure and the first destination for English-speaking African students, ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom.
Russia’s gains in Africa
Moscow’s influence in various French-speaking African countries has grown steadily in recent years, and Russian flags are often displayed at protests.
Russia has engaged in a concentrated effort to expand its influence on the African continent over the past decade. More recently, the Russian Wagner Group expelled French forces from Mali and Burkina Faso.
Western experts are often concerned about Chinese incursions into the African continent, which has a far larger footprint. Russia, on the other hand, accumulates power more haphazardly by capitalizing on its Western strengths and vulnerabilities. While the longevity of Moscow’s influence may be in question, its current efforts are proving fruitful and inexpensive.
Moscow has aggressively appropriated the Soviet Union’s tradition of aiding liberation movements and postcolonial states, which resonates with many African leaders who, despite general mistrust of foreign actors, consider neocolonial influence as distinctly Western. Russia has promoted the idea that it is a natural friend of African governments, a friend respectful of their sovereignty, unlike Western neo-imperialism. Russian programs in the Central African Republic (CAR), South Africa, Sudan, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and more recently Burkina Faso use this rhetoric. Internal Russian documents released in 2019 make it clear that Moscow should contribute to the growth of African identities due to the anti-imperialist character of pan-African perspectives.
Russia’s political power projection in Africa is not primarily managed by state agents, but rather by the “shadow state” of Russia, a vast network of politico-oligarchic people and their overlapping networks government administrations and security agencies, but often operate independently. This is akin to some US private companies operating in Africa. This shadow state is well suited to operate in patronage-based political environments across Africa and can integrate effectively into the local environment.
Since the mid-2010s, the most apparent aspect of this strategy has been the presence of billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has functioned as Moscow’s point man in Africa. As a confidant of Vladimir Putin, he promoted Russian interests through a network known as “The Society,” which includes the Wagner Organization, a private military corporation. In exchange for resource concessions, the network also deploys “political technologists” and other consultants who provide services such as electoral experience to local friends. CACI and Academi are among the most important American private military companies on the African continent, in addition to the Wagner group. Essentially, the Russians beat the United States and European countries in their own game in Africa.
In terms of real value, the total trade between Russia and Africa is estimated at around $14 billion, a paltry figure compared to Europe, which buys around $108 billion worth of Russian gas annually.