Prigozhin rolls - here comes Paul Kagame

Prigozhin rolls – here comes Paul Kagame

news from Bangui reports that hundreds of Wagners have left over the past two weeks, presumably back to Russia. This may indicate that Russia needs every experienced fighter it can field to prevent the dam from collapsing in Ukraine.

It might also explain why Prigozhin has been walking around Moscow, even taking his commanders to meet Vladimir Putin, having been branded a traitor — and hasn’t fallen out of the window yet.

Read more at The Daily Maverick: Prigozhin’s rebellion cast doubt on the future of Wagner’s campaign and Russian influence in Africa

As the mercenary businessman’s fate continues to mystify Kremlin watchers, the leader who stands to benefit most if Wagner’s African empire weakens is Rwanda’s strongman, President Paul Kagame.

Wagner’s crucial selling point in those places where jihadists have waged brutal insurgencies is that they are willing to go where others fear they will go — especially since the decline of French military power on the continent.

But Rwanda has shown greater military professionalism and success in some of the worst conflict zones.

Soldiers from the Wagner Group ride in downtown Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, on June 24, 2023. Security and armored vehicles were deployed after Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video that his forces had occupied the headquarters of the Southern Military District, demanding a meeting with Russia’s defense chiefs. (Photo: EPA-EFE/ARKADY BUDNITSKY)

Duplicate business models?

However, Rwanda’s and Wagner’s business models are not that different: both develop business empires from their military footholds.

a Last week’s report from the International Crisis Group on the Central African Republicwhere both Rwandan forces and Wagner are on the ground, detail how Kigali forged these economic partnerships.

In 2020, 1,000 Rwandan men join forces with Wagner and the remnants of the CAR army to fend off a rebel attack on Bangui. Rwandans gained popular support for this victory, and for the reopening of the Bangui-Beloko road, the main artery linking the Central African Republic to Cameroon, the country’s main outlet to the sea.

After this counterattack, according to the Crisis Group, the Rwandans and Wagner carved out separate areas for control. The Rwandans chose Damara and Bokoko, close to their trading establishments, not far from Wagner’s base in Beringo.

Read more at The Daily Maverick: The Sentry report found that Wagner’s mercenaries had taken over the entire CAR

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame delivers remarks at the African-American Space Forum during the Africa-American Leaders Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in December 2022. The summit brings together heads of state, government officials, business and civil society leaders to strengthen U.S.-Africa relations. (Photo: EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW)

Kagame has successfully appointed Rwandans to key UN positions such as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and the Police Commander for MINUSCA (the UN’s multidimensional integrated stabilization mission in the Central African Republic).

Kigali has staked its business ventures with Crystal Ventures, a holding company owned by Kagame’s ruling RPF, with assets worth $500m.

More than 100 Rwandan companies produce consumer goods such as mineral water and yogurt, and have stakes in transportation, logistics, restaurants, hotels, real estate, and public infrastructure projects.

Rwandan national airline Rwandan has flights twice a week to Bangui.

In Lobaye and Ombella-M’Poko provinces, farms purchased by Rwandans are run by CAR citizens. A regular influx of Rwandan immigrants is pouring into the CAR, especially ex-soldiers returning as settlers.

Mozambique’s refined model

Kagame repeated this model in Mozambique, where Rwanda sent 1,000 soldiers and police to Cabo Delgado in July 2021 to help crush an Islamist insurgency and where Wagner had launched an offensive 18 months earlier and withdrew.

Rwandan forces have since been deployed strategically to protect the sapphire and graphite industries in the south.

Crystal Ventures operates engineering, construction and FMCG companies in Mozambique – and has interests in local mining.

In the Central African Republic, conflicts of interest created ill feeling between Rwandans and Wagner’s mercenaries. The Rwandans have refused to patrol with the Russians, and a few encounters last year have come close to degenerating into armed conflict. The Crisis Group warned of the danger of armed confrontation between the two forces.

The team also warned of the dual objective of Rwandan operations in CAR – to provide security while seeking profit – and the Rwandan presence has caused tension with the DRC. Kinshasa suspects that the patrols were a cover for supplying the M23 rebels in eastern DRC, who are seen as a creation of the Rwandan state.

It’s a fair bet to say that Rwanda and its emerging business wings will continue to expand across the continent, especially if Wagner is now largely out of the game.

French President Emmanuel Macron tried to persuade Kagame to offer aid to other Francophone countries after Rwanda helped rescue Total Energies’ massive $20 billion LNG project in Mozambique.

Wagner Group soldiers in downtown Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, on June 24, 2023. The armored vehicles were deployed after Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces had occupied the headquarters of the Southern Military District. (Photo: EPA-EFE/STRINGER)

Rwanda’s role

In Joe Biden’s era of realpolitik, Rwanda is considered a “strategic partner” of the United States. Wagner claims that the US is using Rwanda to eliminate the Russian presence in Africa.

During the Cold War, Americans used to say that Mobutu Sese Seko, the president of Zaire, was “a sonofabitch but he’s our son” — the difference now is that it’s hard to view Kagame as anyone’s son.

Many in the business community in the West see Rwanda, which will have a growth rate of more than 9% this year, as one of the great success stories in Africa.

But pro-democracy activists have a very different view of a country that runs a de facto one-party state, has committed killings in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, and assassinated its political opponents in foreign countries.

As we can see from Sudan – where the world is witnessing the ethnic cleansing of Darfur in real time without being able to stop it – international powers are in no rush to fill the security vacuum in the Sahel and Central Africa. This is how Africa got Wagner in the first place.

The fact that so many are willing to overlook Rwanda’s dark side and embrace its role as regional policeman tells us that the international community has few answers on how to protect those parts of the continent where villages are burned, children kidnapped, women and girls raped, and 20,000 Africans massacred each year. DM


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