The Wagner Coup’s Implications for Africa
When Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group attempted its coup against the Russian government on June 23, many wondered what this would mean for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Wagner has been behind many of Russia’s recent battlefield successes. But Ukraine is not the only country Wagner has been deployed to. Wagner had a large footprint in certain African countries. Now that the group’s future is in doubt, its operations in Africa could be over. This could leave serious power vacuums in various conflicts.
Wagner, a private military company with roughly 30,000 mercenaries, was established by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his now-alienated associate Yevgeny Prigozhin as a way to deploy Russian soldiers around the world without directly implicating the government. Africa is no stranger to insurgencies, revolutions, rogue warlords, corrupt “big men” and, most notably, vast reserves of natural resources. African strongmen wanted to hire soldiers unconcerned with human rights abuses. Russia wanted access to Africa’s “wealth from the ground” without too much publicity. Wagner was the perfect solution.
Wagner operates all over Africa. But its four most notable clients are the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and Sudan.
About 1,300 to 1,400 Wagner fighters are in the Central African Republic, a former French colony sandwiched between Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Wagner is in the country on invitation from Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to combat a rebel movement that controls large swathes of the country.
In Libya, Wagner is fighting for the rebels. Warlord Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (lna) control eastern Libya. But the global community recognizes the Tripoli-based government in the west. Haftar has turned to Wagner for support. Over 2,000 Wagner mercenaries are estimated to be in Libya on behalf of the lna.
Mali has been struggling for years to contain an Islamist insurgency. Its main supporter has been a European peacekeeping force. But a 2021 coup installed new leadership that butted heads with the Europeans. With Europe set to shrink its presence in Mali, the military regime asked Wagner to step in. Wagner has an estimated 1,000 soldiers in Mali.
The situation in Sudan is more complicated. Unlike the other countries, Wagner doesn’t maintain an overt presence in the country. Instead, it is a major sponsor of the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group currently fighting the government in Sudan’s complex civil war, which started in April with no end in sight.
The Russian government says the mercenaries will stay in Africa; the only change will be their employer. But there are signs the Wagner mercenaries on the ground aren’t too happy.
Putin is trying to keep his influence in Africa afloat. Anonymous sources told Bloomberg he is willing to let the company continue operations in the Central African Republic. This is despite him recently claiming Wagner no longer exists. But the mood on the ground is different.
On July 5, between 400 and 600 Wagner employees left the Central African Republic after reportedly refusing to sign contracts with Russia’s Ministry of Defense. An anonymous source within the Central African Ministry of Defense told Sky News the 400 weren’t the only ones wanting to leave.
The Central African Republic retains an alliance with Russia and claims if Wagner leaves, it will find alternate arrangements with Putin. But the situation is more precarious than Libya.
Wagner is one of Khalifa Haftar’s biggest backers. Some speculate that without Wagner, Haftar wouldn’t be able to hold his territory together. Far from being one unified fighting force, the lna is actually a network of different militias. Tim Eaton wrote for Chatham House: “While some of [the lna’s] elements resemble ‘regular’ units, the majority of [the lna] consists of groups that have rallied on a tribal and geographic basis, along with a substantial contingent that have mobilized along ideological [Islamic fundamentalist] lines.”
Foreign sponsorship, including from Wagner, gives Haftar some “glue” to keep his potpourri army together. Wagner leaving Libya could spell disaster for Haftar. Ferhat Polat wrote for the New Arab:
Without an alternative foreign security umbrella, the withdrawal of Wagner would pose a significant threat to Haftar’s influence in eastern and southern Libya. The absence of the mercenary outfit would not only weaken Haftar’s military strength, but it would also create a power vacuum that [the Libyan government’s] forces could potentially exploit.
A few days after the coup attempt, a Russian envoy rendezvoused with Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi to assuage the warlord that Wagner wasn’t leaving Libya. “There will be no problem here,” the envoy said, as relayed to the Guardian Unlimited by a senior Libyan source. “There may be some changes at the top, but the mechanism will stay the same: the people on the ground, the money men in Dubai, the contacts and the resources committed to Libya.”
This is news Haftar needed to hear. The Russian government could involve itself more directly in Libya. Or it could rely on Russia’s myriads of other quasi-government mercenary companies. Russia has little incentive to leave oil-rich Libya. But with Wagner’s questionable loyalty and the ongoing Ukraine War, Russia’s ability to reinforce its presence in North Africa is more precarious than before. And there are reasons to suspect some in the lna are getting a little tired of Wagner.
Though not independently verified, “sources close to the lna” relayed to Al-Monitor suspicions that Haftar’s forces may have contemplated kicking Wagner out with America’s blessing. Mohamed Erjarh wrote on July 3: “Wagner’s leadership has warned lna commanders against any attempt to unilaterally remove Wagner from Libya in collaboration with the United States. Wagner has reportedly threatened that such a move would have ‘consequences.’”
If the claim is true, it suggests the lna and Wagner do not see eye-to-eye on everything. If the lna was a trusted ally of Wagner, no such threat would have been needed. Wagner may have caught wind of some overtures to the Americans. The implication is that the lna—or at least a faction—wants Wagner out. The chaos and uncertainty after the coup attempt could be the best chance it will get in a long time.
Meanwhile, America has increased sanctions on corporations affiliated with Wagner. As of January, this includes two Emirati companies. This could dry up the funds from the “money men in Dubai.” If Wagner becomes desperate for cash, they could become more of a liability for the lna.
Between Russia losing control and the lna moving on, Wagner’s future in Libya is far from certain. This could have profound effects on the region’s geopolitics.
For one, the Libyan government could try to take over all of Libya. On June 30, a drone from an unknown location struck a Wagner air base in Libya. There were no casualties. The government denied involvement. But they would have an incentive to push at Wagner post-coup. And they have relied on imported drones to fight Wagner before.
Then, there is the civil war in Sudan. Wagner can support the Rapid Support Forces through its presence in Libya. If that were to end, the Sudanese government could get the upper hand.
The situation in Mali also requires scrutiny. Mali’s military regime is in no hurry for Wagner troops to leave the country. Meanwhile, last month, the United Nations voted to end its 12,000-strong peacekeeping force in the country. But with Wagner’s new complicated relationship with the Russian state, the mercenaries may be of limited help. The jihadists could overwhelm the country, forcing Mali to look for outside help once more.
Time will tell what Wagner’s future in Africa would be. But in a part of the world perennially used to turbulence and regime change, Wagner has been a stabilizing factor, even if it has stabilized some unsavory regimes. Any disruption in Wagner’s power could be a chance for outside powers to gain influence.
One power to watch is Iran. Iran and Russia are at the moment allies. But Iran is always looking for ways to spread its influence abroad. Iran’s primary goal is to spread its Islamic revolution worldwide. But it also supports despotic regimes everywhere from Lebanon to Venezuela to Ethiopia.
The Libyan government has connections with the Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist terror group. Iran also has links to the Muslim Brotherhood. A united Libya under the current government could turn to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for support. But Iran isn’t picky with who its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (irgc) supports. Haftar could reach out to the irgc as Wagner’s replacement. He may have little choice if he wants to keep his hold on power.
Another potential supplier of soldiers is Europe. The Central African Republic and Mali are both former French colonies. Both are looking to Russia because they want less dependency on Europe. But if Wagner leaves and both countries struggle to contain their insurgencies, they may turn back to Europe out of desperation.
The Bible prophesies that both Iran and Europe will increase their African footprints soon. “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. … He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps” (Daniel 11:40, 42-43).
This is a prophecy about two “kings,” or power blocs, during “the time of the end.” The Trumpet has for years identified “the king of the north” as a united, German-led European power and “the king of the south” as a radical Islamist bloc led by Iran. The implication of the prophecy is that Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya are allied with Iran. That is why Europe invades them.
Libya is not allied with Iran right now. Instead, countries like Russia are calling the shots. But the Bible prophesies that this will soon change. One way or another, Iran will get control of Libya. A power vacuum left by scrambling Russian mercenaries may be Iran’s excuse to do so.
But Europe invades Iran’s African proxy empire from somewhere. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes in The King of the South:
Think about the key word in Daniel 11:40. This verse describes an attack from the king of the north, but the emphasis is on the strategy of this military attack. If you are in a whirlwind, it whirls all around you. Even now, we can see that the German strategy is to surround Iran and its allies.
Other African countries—perhaps including the Central African Republic and Mali—frantically looking for peacekeepers to deal with local problems could be Europe’s entry point into Africa.
Russia has a lot of influence in Africa through the Wagner Group. But the Bible points to Iran and Europe controlling Africa soon. Putin’s problems with Wagner could be the key that lets these two powers in.
To learn more, request a free copy of The King of the South.