With France Out, Analysts Expect Wagner Mercenaries to Move into Burkina Faso
Now that Burkina Faso’s junta has forced French troops to leave the country, analysts say Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries could fill the void.
Mamadou Drabo, executive secretary for junta-aligned civic group Save Burkina, told The Associated Press (AP) that the country’s leaders have invited Russian instructors to train its soldiers.
“We asked the Russian government because of the bilateral collaboration between Burkina and Russia, that they send us people to train our men,” Drabo told the AP.
Other African countries that made similar requests have found themselves working closely with mercenaries from the Wagner Group — an agreement that often subjects their citizens to brutality and strips their economies of valuable resources.
“That’s what we’ve seen happening in country after country,” analyst Sorcha MacLeod told the AP. “We saw it in the CAR [Central African Republic] and Mali. It’s just been dominoes.”
MacLeod is part of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries and has studied Wagner’s activity in Africa for many years.
In December 2022, following Burkinabe Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem’s visit to Russia, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo suggested that his northern neighbors had offered the Wagner Group rights to a gold mine near the Ghanaian border in exchange for help fighting extremists.
Wagner has followed a similar pattern in the CAR, Mali and Sudan with much of the extracted mineral wealth funneled through the Middle East to fund the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has said he plans to shift his focus toward Africa and away from Ukraine, where Wagner has sustained more than 30,000 casualties.
The junta disputed Akufo-Addo’s claim in December. But in February, the rulers requested $30 million from the country’s gold mines for what they described as public necessity. The exact purpose was unclear.
At the time, junta leaders denied that Wagner was operating in Burkina Faso. However, analysts see the request as the next step in bringing Wagner into the country.
“It might be a coincidence that the Burkinabe demanded the purchase of the gold right after they kicked out the French and started moving closer to the Russians,” analyst William Linder of 14 North Strategies told the AP.
Linder said the junta’s decision has mining companies concerned that the government may change existing agreements in favor of Wagner. In the CAR, the government withdrew mining rights at the Ndassima gold mine from a Canadian company and gave the mine to Wagner.
Elsewhere in the CAR, the Wagner group has killed or driven out artisanal miners in its campaign to control the country’s gold and diamond mining. Wagner is also suspected in the deaths of nine Chinese nationals killed in March soon after the opening of the Chinese-owned Chimbolo mine.
Wagner’s presence in the CAR and Mali preceded a sharp surge in violence against the civilian populations in both countries. In the CAR, Wagner has led assaults on communities suspected of harboring rebel fighters, placed landmines on public roads and executed people. In Mali, Wagner fighters took part in the three-day assault that has become known as the Moura massacre in which 300 civilian men were killed.
Wagner has also flooded the countries where it operates with pro-Russian propaganda and boosted authoritarian leaders at the expense of democracy.
“There is a vacuum now where France used to be,” MacLeod told the AP. “Russia has imperialist ambitions in Africa. It’s destabilizing for the region.”