The United States alleged that the Wagner private military corporation (PMC) is plundering the natural resources of the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, and other areas to fund Russian military activities. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, delivered a statement in this respect on Thursday, October 6.
According to her, ill-gotten gains are financing Moscow’s war machine in Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine. At the United Nations Security Council discussion on combating the funding of armed groups and terrorists via the illicit trade in Africa’s natural resources, she said that the people of Africa are paying a hefty price for the Wagner group’s exploitative practices and breaches of human rights.
Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the U.N. Security Council, expressed displeasure that the U.S. envoy brought up the matter of Russian assistance for African partners.
The African Seesaw
In recent years, the U.S. and European nations have rapidly lost ground to China and Russia in the area, and there is a tide of hatred towards the West, the former colonizers of Africa. In 2009, China became Africa’s prime trading partner.
Even though recent trends imply a decline in U.S. involvement with the area, the U.S. has not yet relinquished its engagement with the region to other powers. The U.S. remains in the top two list of trading partners of Africa. According to studies, consumer spending in Africa will reach an estimated USD 16.12 trillion by 2050, and the U.S. is not about to give it up meekly.
How did the U.S. and European countries lost Africa?
Namibia’s declaration of independence in 1990 signified the formal end of colonialism on the African continent. Even though most African states have been free of European domination for decades, the power dynamics had only shifted 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 liberty was weakened by the continued exploitative relationship between nations in the global majority and their erstwhile conquerors. Several “forms and expressions” of colonialism persist on the African continent. For example, 14 African nations continue to pay a type of “colonial tax” to France, and the Spanish fishing boats felt nothing wrong with plundering African seas. It is pretty challenging to overcome these old colonial practices; the convenience of the West always appears to take priority over Africans. The “Black” problem is not just about Africa but can also be seen 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 commercial connection; it is also the largest investor in infrastructure and the leading destination for English-speaking African students, surpassing the United States and the United Kingdom.
Russia’s gains in Africa
Moscow’s influence in various Francophone African countries has continued to grow in recent years, and Russian flags are often shown during demonstrations.
Russia has engaged in a concentrated effort to develop influence on the African continent during the last decade. Most recently, Russian Wagner Group expelled French forces from Mali and Burkina Faso.
Western experts are often concerned by Chinese incursions into the African continent, which has a far greater footprint. Russia, in contrast, amasses power more randomly by capitalizing on its strengths and Western vulnerabilities. Even while the longevity of Moscow’s influence might be questioned, its current efforts are proving successful and inexpensive.
Moscow has aggressively appropriated the Soviet Union’s tradition of aiding liberation movements and post-colonial states, which resonates with many African leaders who, despite a general mistrust of foreign players, regard neo-colonial influence as distinctly Western. Russia has promoted the idea that it is a natural friend of African governments, one that respects their sovereignty, in contrast to Western neo-imperialism. Russian programmes in the Central African Republic (CAR), South Africa, Sudan, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and most recently, Burkina Faso use this rhetoric. Internal Russian papers that were released in 2019 make it clear that Moscow should assist the growth of African self-identities owing to the anti-imperialist character of pan-African perspectives.
Russia’s political power projection in Africa is not mainly managed by state agents but rather by Russia’s “shadow state,” a vast network of politico-oligarchic persons and their networks that overlap with governmental administrations and security agencies but often operate independently. This is akin to certain U.S. private companies operating in Africa. This shadow state is well adapted to function in patronage-based political environments throughout Africa and can integrate into local surroundings efficiently.
Since the middle of the 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 via a network known as “the company,” which includes the Wagner organization, a private military company. In return for resource concessions, the network also deploys “political technologists” and other consultants who give services such as election experience to local friends. CACI and Academi are among the most prominent U.S. private military firms on the African continent, in addition to the Wagner Group. Essentially, the Russians have beaten the U.S. and the European countries in their own game in Africa.
In terms of actual value, the total trade between Russia and Africa is estimated at around $14 billion, a puny figure compared to Europe, which buys about $108 billion worth of Russian Gas annually.