The Wagner Nebula takes advantage of Africa

The Wagner Nebula takes advantage of Africa

Two journalists from the magazine “Jeune Afrique” dismantle, in comics, the workings of a thriving business.

Olivier Mathieu and Roger Benjamin worked for many months on the ramifications of the Wagner “society” in Africa and more particularly in the Central African Republic and Mali. Two fields of action, in which Russian mercenaries have succeeded in developing a real, very profitable business.

Washington also sanctioned two companies this Friday March 8 for their links with Wagner and their support for » malicious activities » of Russia in the Central African Republic.

According to a press release from the US Department of the Treasury, the two companies – Bois Rouge and Broker Expert – “played an important role” assistance to the Wagner group “and, by extension, to the activities of the Russian Federation”. They have “sought to make financial gains from the illicit extraction of natural resources and provided material and economic support to the Wagner Group and other organizations associated with it”explains the Ministry of the Treasury.

In a separate statement, the State Department noted that these sanctions illustrate “US commitment to disrupting Wagner’s harmful and destabilizing presence in Africa” . And to add: “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to hinder Russian President Vladimir Putin's ability to arm and equip his war machine. »

Omnipresent in the Central African Republic

Thanks to months of investigation, the two journalists from Young Africa were able to dismantle the workings of these businesses, especially in the Central African Republic where the Russians have become major players in many sectors of the country's economy: from logging to gold mines through the development of breweries.

We also discover how they built a real “highway” to export their production via the port of Douala in Cameroon. The journalists also demonstrate how Wagner set up convoys under high security which are also used by other companies which, for a few dozen dollars, put themselves under the protective wing of Russian armored vehicles to transport their goods.

“A real business model”

“Putin's idea, through Wagner, is a real business model where everyone is a winner, explains Olivier Mathieu. Moscow took advantage of this deployment of Wagner to weaken the interests of the West, Wagner's bosses made a lot of money and the African regimes thus offered themselves new bodyguards. »

“All with a relatively low investment, continues Roger Benjamin. The deployment of Wagner has nothing to do with the means put in place by the United Nations or by operations like Barkhane. For Moscow, it is a way of taking positions in Africa at lower cost. »

The French operation in the Sahel numbered 5,000 men. In Mali, Wagner's troops never exceeded 1,500 or 2,000 men. “ It is not with such a small contingent that it is possible to bring peace, continues Olivier Mathieu. Wagner's men are a hundred times more violent than Western armies and they have not provided a solution to questions of insecurity. The only success on which they have communicated a lot is the resumption of the city of Kidal. Basically, they are not here to bring peace. »


The comic strip investigation also focuses on the journey of Evgueni Prigojine, the founder of Wagner, his associate Dmitri Outkov and a handful of other Russian actors who “made” Wagner in Africa. Prigozhin and Utkov will die in a plane crash on August 23, 2023, a few weeks after Prigozhin dared to challenge Putin in Russia.

With the disappearance of its two leaders, Wagner's trajectory, which had already experienced a significant change with the mobilization of thousands of men on the Ukrainian front, will be profoundly modified. In Africa, the Wagner group is thus replaced by the Africa Corps, more closely controlled by the Russian state.

But it's still the same fatigues, the same logos and most of the lieutenants who were in Africa are still there, explains Roger Benjamin. Burkina Faso is the first country to establish cooperation with Wagner's heirs. This is the first post-Prigozhin deal for Moscow. Here, the agreements with Russia are more official. It is no longer a hidden partnership like in Mali or the Central African Republic. There are about 200 men at the moment. A party secures Captain Traoré, the head of the junta, and around twenty Russians find themselves at the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) where their mission is clearly to make propaganda, which is a Wagner trademark . Where our armies are the great mute, the Russians communicate a lot. In their own way, obviously. »

For the moment, Burkina Faso is not financially profitable for Moscow, unlike Mali and the Central African Republic. “ But for Putin, once again, it is about influence, finding external support, having allies in Africa and, always, doing it at the back of the West and in particular France. , explains Olivier Mathieu.

Wagner, the secret history of Putin's mercenaries. Olivier Mathieu – Roger Benjamin and Thierry Chavant, Ed. Les Arènes BD, 173 pp, €22.