Attack on CAR Brewery Hints at a New Strategy for the Wagner Group
In recent months, a new beer began appearing in bars around Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic — a beer that analysts say carries implications for countries where Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries operate.
That’s because the beer, Africa Ti L’Or, is a product of a company owned by Dimitri Sytyi, Russia’s cultural attaché in the CAR and a high-level Wagner operative. Riders on motorized tricycles distributed the beer to stores and bars, forcing them to accept it, according to the CAR news site Corbeau News Centrafrique (CNC).
Soon after, in early March, arsonists set fire to delivery crates at Bangui’s 70-year-old Castel brewery in an apparent attempt to burn down the facility. Authorities said the fire did minor damage to the factory, which employs 500 people and has been a longtime fixture in the CAR.
“It is an arson attack, so the government must open an investigation today to find out the origin,” Serge Ghislain Djorie, the CAR’s minister of communication and government spokesman, told AFP soon after the Castel fire.
Analysts say the attack on the popular French brand points to a new front in the ongoing effort by Russia, through Wagner, to expand its influence in the CAR and other countries. The strategy: Drive out Western consumer brands and replace them with Russian-made ones.
Men described as wearing Wagner-style fatigues with Kalashnikov rifles slung over their backs carried out the attack. They threw 30 gasoline bombs over the brewery fence, setting fire to delivery crates stored on the perimeter of the property.
The March attack was not the first attempt to damage or destroy the Castel facility, which produces the CAR brand MOCAF. At the end of January, three men attempted to use a ladder to gain access to the factory before running away when factory security appeared.
“The same night, a drone flew over the brewery,” an unnamed Castel senior executive told AFP.
Castel and MOCAF have also been the target of disinformation campaigns on social media in the CAR designed to turn Central Africans against the brand.
“Wagner knows that MOCAF is an ideal target to strengthen its presence and fuel popular discontent with the French,” analyst Karen Clayton wrote in The Nation Update.
Since arriving in the CAR in 2018, the Wagner Group has gradually increased its sphere of influence in the country.
What began as supposed “training” of the CAR military has grown to include widespread gold and diamond mining, attacks to drive out artisanal miners in the east near the border with Sudan, assaults on communities and U.N. peacekeepers, human rights violations, and propaganda intended to denigrate Western nations and build support for Russia.
Last year, Wagner introduced its own brand of vodka to the CAR.
According to AFP, a diplomat in Bangui called the brewery bombing the latest attempt to intimidate Western businesses in the CAR. The bombing happened a few days after French President Emmanuel Macron met with CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
CNC described the Russian beer as being produced in a residential area of Bangui. The site questioned the safety of the product and the reliability of its reported alcohol content of 5%.
“They make as much noise as possible, these Russians, but bring nothing concrete to the development of the Central African Republic, except to impoverish it further,” CNC wrote.