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After Prigozhin Exit, Africa’s Coup Belt Buckled Up

Lukashenko Says Wagner Military Company will live on.

By David Otto

As the jet carrying Wagner PMC owner Yevgeny Prigozhin  burst into flames  in unfriendly Russian skies on August 23, Africa watchers wondered  whether Wagner forces near the so-called Coup Belt (Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Sudan) would hold.  For its part, the Nigerien Junta in Niamey was quick to close ranks with neighboring nations that had thrown off their own elected presidents in the last three years.

The officers who unseated Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum last month announced Thursday the military forces of neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali were welcome to intervene in Niger’s territory “in the event of aggression.” https://english.alarabiya.net/News/north-africa/2023/08/25/Niger-allows-Mali-Burkina-Faso-to-intervene-on-its-territory-in-case-of-attack

  Niger’s new decision maker, General Abdourahamane Tiani, quickly huddled with the foreign ministers of Burkina Faso and Mali, Olivia Rouamba and Abdoulaye Diop,  in Niger’s capital.  A joint statement signed by all on Thursday assured the leaders of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), that Niger would allow its allies with their own governing juntas to “to intervene on Niger territory in the event of aggression.”

Wagner’s contracts in Africa are unlikely to fold even after the demise of Prigozhin and his number two, Dimitry Utkin. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in Minsk that “Wagner” lives, “Wagner” is alive, and “Wagner” will live in Belarus.  Belarus has “built a system with Prigozhin,” Lukashenko added.  This statement contradicts recent reports that Wagner is melting away in Belarus .

As in Belarus, Wagner’s private military company (PMC) in African countries likely will live on in a semi-decentralized structure with each country controlled by independent unit commanders responsible for recruitment and operations. Prighozin was a symbolic leader.

In Central Africa Republic ( CAR) and Mali , Wagner has demonstrated its ability to exploit valuable mineral resources as direct and indirect form of payment for its mercenary services. This underground method of payment will likely continue under a new Wagner leadership structure.

The Kremlin and  President Vladimir Putin need Wagner’s continued operations in Africa for the sake of  plausible deniability: Wagner is a surrogate for the Russian Federation itself and can allow Russia’s military to project influence in the region without boots on ground.

Wagner PMC has proven to be reliable , experienced and adaptable to operations in Africa. If Russia intends to continue securing its foothold in the continent, it would be a strategic mistake to weaken Wagner’s structural outlook or create any vulnerabilities that would be exploited by Russia competitors such as France and the United States.

With the Wagner boss and two of its core leaders killed in the plane crash, ECOWAS likely will exploit the opportunity to pressure the military junta in Niamey to accept a shorter period for a transitional government or be prepared to face a military intervention from the ECOWAS activated Standby Force. The ECOWAS chiefs of Defence staffs will be keen to watch reactions from Moscow regarding the future of Wagner in Africa.

Russia needs Africa more than ever to pursue its war against Ukraine and still have friends to rely on for geopolitical support. Putin will not want any room for doubts on the future of Wagner group in Africa after Prighozin. It is likely he will assure his African counterparts that Prighozin was Wagner, but Wagner is not Prighozin. The group will most likely outlive Prighozin and continue its operations in Africa albeit under a new and yet to be identified leadership.

David Otto is an independent Global Counter Terrorism PVE/CVE Consultant based in London. David regularly appears, writes opinion reports and comments on global news channels CNN, Fox News, Aljazeera, BBC World, SABC News CBC News Network, CBS News, BBC Focus on Africa, TRT News , VOX Africa, Arise News and Channels TV.

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