Wagner Vs. West: Discussing the Presence of PMCs In Africa

Fighters of conflict in the CAR. The presence of foreign PMCs in the region have created political debate over warcrimes, violation of African sovereignty, and the issue of foreign intervention in African problems.

By Rachel Brooks

June 28, 2021 

Note: Discourses are developed via commentary. These discourses reflect multiple opinion perspectives, and may include editorialization for the purpose of advancing argument. Editorialization is attributed to the author of the collective discourse and does not reflect an official policy of Republic Underground. 

As Africa verges on the edge of political inflection, the foreign world weighs its agendas. Foreign investment and presence have goals to meet on African soil. These agendas will drive the weight of prioritization and will call on defense groups to protect international security goals as Africa deals with problems of corruption, extraordinary politics, human rights violations, and international intransigence.

Concern stems from the presence of potential political rivalry and outright foreign proxy conflict on this backdrop. For decades, one observes rival conflict between the Western world and the Eastern world. For example, The United States and Russia/China, are potentially nearing a second “Cold War” status. 

Africa’s continental uniqueness sets it as the middle ground of this Western vs. Eastern political tug of war. Africa, plagued by those crises generated by decades of corruption and extraordinary politics caused by human rights violations, is unwilling to allow the West vs. East tug of war on its soil. This observable reluctance of African nations, such as seen in Tunisia’s forbiddance of foreign militias to operate defensive bases on its sovereign lands, shows that Africa will not roll over and permit uniform proxy conflict on its international lands. 

This stance invites the agendas and the involvement of mercenaries in the Continent. These players are not confined by the commitment to diplomacy. While some groups view them as brutal assassins, others view them as means to an end in securing Africa’s multiple crises which are defined by a lack of public resources and repeat extraordinary traumas such as mass human displacement, famines, epidemics, and the increasing presence of terrorism. 

Varied African perspectives provide insight into the mentality that nations across the Continent share on the presence of militias in Africa. 

An African Counter-western argument: Wagner is beneficial

From the social liberal perspective, some Africans attribute the security decline of the Continent to the injustices of “white privilege.” The current crises within African security are attributed by this political viewpoint to the “white dynasty” determined during colonialism. From this viewpoint, the “white dynasty” is still perpetuated by South Africa’s grip over the Continent at large. It is this general mistrust in westernism, its association with the inter-ethnic conflict between whites and blacks, that leads the liberal Africans to favor the presence of Russia and China and their mutual efforts toward the Belt and Road initiative. 

Tom Ogwe, an analyst with the Sub-Saharan Community Intelligence Analysts group, shared his opinions on the security crisis within Africa. He perceives the rise of terrorism as a problem created by the western presence. Ogwe believes that the presence of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization backed by the Kremlin, is reestablishing the ideological presence of the Warsaw Pact. His arguments use terms such as “white privilege” and “white fragility” which are common phrases used by social liberalism. For this reason, we have analyzed his statements as belonging to social liberal ideology, and left-leaning voices of Africa. 

“Wagner is a godsend. Russians are in Africa not to loot but to secure the belt and road corridors,” said Ogwe. 

“Insurgency in Africa is western driven, because of the geopolitics and power of whiteness the former South African security apparatus continues to cause havoc in the rich regions of the great lakes region.” 

To back his argument, Ogwe cited an article published by the Anadolu Agency, a Turkish news service, reporting that a French mercenary had been apprehended in the Central African Republic. The suspected mercenary Juan Remy Quignolot, a French national and former French soldier, was arrested in May after a major stockpile of munitions was discovered in his possession at his residence in Bangui, CAR. 

Police investigations determined that Quignoloty was one of the “Seleka supervisors.” The Seleka coalition was an alliance of militia groups that seized power in the CAR in 2013. The Seleka rebellion has been described in detail in a report by the International Federation for Human Rights. The report described Seleka as an “obscure criminal force” which had brought the entire country under its control. 

Ogwe stated that, from his perspective, black Africans draw an equivalence between criminality and “white privilege.” The French influence in groups such as the Seleka coalition is a perceived driver of this perspective.  

From Ogwe’s point of view, Wagner was non-discriminatory and would flush out any group, white or black, that engages in influencing terrorism. He stated that Wagner was a partner that was providing the region with “intelligence gathering satellites” which have been used to “verify arms control agreements” and “identify targets during military operations.” He stated that, in his opinion, the resources that the Russian group provides to Africans fill a deficit they have been denied by previous partners. 

“These features have been denied Africans, making it difficult to stop illegal weapons and minerals smuggling. This is why organizations that are benefiting from blood minerals have panicked and are on overdrive to paint Wagner as a problem. Wagner is a partner unlike the other elements associated with white privilege,” said Ogwe. 

“Black Africans are now confident that criminality associated with white privilege can now be disrupted without the risk of retaliation and weaponizing of ICC to keep the region unstable,” also noted Ogwe. He expressed confidence that one would see “guns silenced” by 2025 under this influence.  

He then explained the political values he perceived from the presence of Wagner. 

“Wagner is recreating the gaps left behind when the Warsaw Pact apparatus disbanded. (Warsaw Pact was) a military alliance of communist nations in eastern Europe. Organized in 1955 in answer to NATO, the Warsaw Pact included Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union,” said Ogwe. 

He described the perceived value of this group as a “godsend.” 

He states that Africa’s tolerance of western interventionism has been a move toward survival. He believes that “white fragility” has tainted analysis and that there is a misconception in the west that Africans are “naive.” This implies that social liberals of Africa perceive a negative perspective and enemy-like stance from Westerners toward Africans. It also appears to posture a perspective of the West as inherently white. We observe the West as ethnically diverse, a fact that challenges the “whiteness” of Western policy. 

This perception among some liberal Africans that white demographics are the catalyst of terrorism and criminalization adds stress to foreign security cooperation. These African demographics are not keen on allowing a western influence in their territory. 

Western argument: Wagner is deceitful and has agendas

Ogwe’s perspective has been indirectly challenged by the Lansing Institute. The Robert Lansing Institute for Global Threats and Democracies Studies analyzed that Wagner was responsible for “massive human rights violations.” 

“Despite the fact that PMC activity is not legalized in Russia, Moscow sends groups like ‘Wagner’ to the region where Russians support authoritarian regimes and violate international law and human rights,” wrote Lansing. Lansing likewise states the opinion that Moscow has diverted negative attention from Wagner’s war crimes by creating propaganda films such as The Tourist which takes “digs at France.” The western assessment of the film is that it whitewashes Wagner, and paints them as saviors. This is due to the fact that the film does not disclose the human rights violations and war crimes Wagner has been accused of. 

Lansing Institute likewise cites an investigation conducted by Bellingcat which found Wagner had exercised brutality in Syria and Libya. 

Ogwe’s argument gives a social liberal perspective that the west is to blame for Africa’s current inflection status. Despite this assessment, the west does not appear to relinquish its African ambitions. This is seen through the recent investments France has pledged in the African Union, in climate and environmental investments. 

The western world has involved itself in the diplomatic process of the Blue Nile conflict. There is a growing interest in the security of Libya, that the United States has expressed an interest in shielding off by placing its foreign military bases with AFRICOM in Tunisia. Tunisia is adamant that this will not occur, as Tunisia will maintain total sovereignty of its territories, and not allow foreign defensive posturing on its soil. Tunisia states commitment to diplomatic processes as the alternative to a foreign militarized presence in the region. See a commentary on this subject. 

The African social liberal perspective we have sampled is but one African perspective to consider in understanding how Africa will respond to the foreign presence in its international security. The liberal movement and its assessment of the west do not have a completely conducive climate in Africa in which to give movements of such thought the same motion they have in the western world. 

Harvey Sindima, a Malawian philosopher with Colgate University, argues in his assessment of liberalism that transnational African thought is not completely accepting of liberalism. This is because liberalism considers the individual as an entity, and an entity to be established as a “welfare state, whereas African thought “respects individuality but abhors individualism.” This means that while people are unique, life’s interconnectivity makes society “many yet one.” 

For this reason, the African perspective of “white privilege” and “whiteness” might not be mutually inclusive to the ideas presented by social liberalism, which here reflects the ideation of “white fragility” as the source of Africa’s problems. While not mutually inclusive, however, varied African perspectives of western foreign entities are not necessarily accepting of western presence, or believing in western cooperation. The analogy of Africa’s “the many are the one” transnational political thought was described by Sindima as viewing the values of western charity, Christianity, mission workers, doctors, and so on as “covert agents of liberalism.” In this instance, Africa is not mutually accepting of western interventionism, as these are the agents of culturally disruptive thought. 

The perspective of the west as an enemy to African culture and African national sovereignty then may create a scenario where African nations, the public along with the governance, may be more willing to cooperate with Russian and Chinese presence. This, in Ogwe’s assessment, was because Russia and China pay for the resources they take and the goals they have, but the west simply takes these things. 

Assumptive pre-discursive assessments

If one were to compare the argument of Ogwe and that of Lansing Institute, one could make some middle-ground assumptive conclusions. At this stage, our assessments are pre-discursive and so we make some assumptive assessments of the information submitted that may later be challenged by data and more variations of perspective.

From Ogwe, we may draw the assumption that western approaches to African policy and security cooperation have been extremely flawed, driving the African perspective of the west as a covert sovereignty assassin rather than an equal opportunity cooperative force. From Lansing, we see that Wagner’s motives are not crystal clear, and while they may be readily accepted by some African nationals as cooperatives against continental crises such as terrorism, the Kremlin’s agendas in the region are self-serving, brutal, and counterproductive to Africa’s regional stability.

A political hypothesis of solutions

For sake of furthering the argument, one makes some assumptive assessments from consuming two opposing narratives. We hypothesize, after reviewing the two viewpoints, that elevating Africa’s regional sovereignty, and the cooperation between African sovereign nations, is the key to reversing foreign proxy conflict potential. 

This regional sovereignty must not be jeopardized by the militias of either the West or the East. It is a politically empowered Africa, an Africa diplomatically approached and culturally respected, that can make the difference. 

If the West has defense concerns that require a regional presence in Africa to achieve, it must give more than it takes to change the African forward-looking understanding of the West as abusive and a “colonizer.” Previous continental traumas such as colonization and apartheid are at the root of Africa’s perspective of “white fragility.” The west must do the work to reverse the wrong behavior of its predecessors in power, and establish mutually positive relations with the Continent. 

Likewise, whatever the East’s regional interests are, brutality on African soil cannot be ignored by diplomacy. Empowered African sovereignty discourages the presence of foreign enforcers of foreign-entity serving agendas. Empowerment of the African Union’s improved efficacy in anti-corruption efforts and transnational cooperation would need to be explored, to see where potential disconnects are in current processes, and how such unions as institutions can be reformed, rejuvenated, and elevated to serve a forward-moving purpose. In the presence of ratified institutional cooperation domestic to the Continent, the West cannot be presumptive within African sovereignty. The East’s aggressive actors cannot deceive their way into establishing the same kleptocratic violations that have been observed in the regions previously controlled by the Soviet Union.

Discourse

This current argument relies on assumptive postulations based on hearing two narratives. It is incomplete because it hears a narrow list of perspectives. It lacks total objectivity because the variables of perspectives are too few, and presumptions were neccessary to establish further talking points. For this, Republic Underground would like to open the floor to further political discourse. 

Republic Underground is a non-partisan news aggregation and analysis site. While discourse of multiple perspectives is encouraged, Republic Underground will not make conclusions based on partisan perspective, but will rather seek to publish a middle ground averaging of perspectives received in the discourse. The editorial maintains the right to label partisan terms respective to the party that generates their common use, and to use language that is politically neutral.

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We are now accepting various arguments and counter-arguments regarding the disruptive or positive presence of PMCs in Africa, as well as third arguments that are related to the subject material which discuss security concerns of the African continent as well as issues supporting or destabilizing African sovereignty.