Aug 8, 2023, 8:51am EDT

The Wagner Group’s influence in Africa

Russian officers from the Wagner Group are seen around Central African president Faustin-Archange Touadera, as they are part of the presidential security system during the referendum campaign to change the constitution and remove term limits, in Bangui, Central African Republic July 16, 2023. REUTERS/Leger Kokpakpa
REUTERS/Leger Kokpakpa

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The News

Central African Republic’s president won a referendum scrapping term limits on his rule. Though the vote was criticized by opponents who claimed low turnout, it cast a spotlight on CAR’s reliance on the Wagner mercenary group, which is helping the nation’s security forces combat an alliance of rebel groups.

And in Niger, which is currently gripped by the fallout of a coup, the military-led authorities have also reportedly requested the organization’s help.

We’ve collected insights you should read about Wagner’s influence in Africa.

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  • The CAR referendum victory gave President Faustin-Archange Touadéra the ability to run for office as many times as he wishes, scrapping an existing two-term limit. He won the vote by a 95% margin, but in some parts of the country, which is suffering a protracted civil war, only an estimated 10% of voters actually cast a ballot. Wagner mercenaries — who were previously accused of war crimes in CAR — provided security at the referendum, and have propped up Touadéra’s government against rebel groups which control huge portions of the country. — BBC
  • In Niger, which is currently navigating the fallout of a coup, one junta leader made contact with Wagner forces in neighboring Mali. “They need (Wagner) because they will become their guarantee to hold onto power,” journalist Wassim Nasr said. The request was made as a deadline for the junta to release the country’s President Mohamed Bazoum, or face military intervention, passed. — The Associated Press
  • Despite rumors that Wagner was pulling forces from Africa, there are signs that the paramilitary group is actually upping its presence in the region. That could be because the organization is useful for Russian foreign policy. “Given that Africa remains a very permissive environment for Russian engagement, I suspect that we’ll continue to see Wagner (or a reconstituted version of Wagner) continue to operate in Africa,” Joseph Siegle, the director of research at National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said in a recent interview. — Inkstick
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Know More

There are about 1,500 Wagner troops in CAR. They work in conjunction with the country’s own military, and protected Touadéra during a 2018 re-election. The mercenary organization, headed by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, has established itself in several African countries, including Sudan, Libya, Burkina Faso, and Mali.