Do not allow Russia's Wagner to turn Africa into its playground

This video grab taken from handout footage posted May 25, 2023, on the Telegram account of the press service of Concord - a company linked to Russian mercenary Wagner group, shows Yevgeny Prigozhin speaking from Bakhmut.

Military coups seem to be finding their way back into Africa. The democratically elected President of Niger, Mr Mohamed Bazoum, is the latest victim of a coup that toppled his government two weeks ago. In a space of only three years, West Africa has experienced coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Niger.

These coups bring back painful memories of military takeovers that charactersied the Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. Africans breathed collective sighs of relief when a wave of democratisation swept through the continent in the 1990s, and with it came a level of development hitherto unseen in Africa.

The gains, unfortunately, are being threatened by a surging military adventurism that bodes ill for the continent. While coup leaders in Niger accuse their former colonial master, France, of continued exploitation of its natural resources, it is ironic that Niger's junta is leaning towards Russia, another foreign power, for support.

Indeed, after Wagner left Ukraine in July, their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a video message, told them to prepare for "a new journey to Africa". Days after the coup in Niger, the military junta asked for help from Wagner as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military intervention. The Russian mercenaries are also said to be active in Mali, Central African Republic, Libya, Sudan and Mozambique.

The so-called private military company has been accused of committing atrocities during its operations. Last month, Human Rights Watch said Wagner Group has summarily executed and forcibly disappeared several dozen civilians in Mali's central region since December 2022. They also destroyed and looted civilian property and allegedly tortured detainees in an army camp. They are also accused of committing atrocities in Ukraine, with one Wagner soldier admitting to killing and torturing dozens of prisoners of war.

Russia, keen to establish relationships with African countries, should be prevailed upon to ask the Wagner mercenaries to leave Niger and other African countries. ECOWAS has already stated that Wagner is unwelcome in Niger.

If Wagner is unwilling to voluntarily leave Niger, African countries should consider joining forces to kick out the mercenaries. If that doesn't happen, Wagner will gradually mutate into a major destabilising force in the continent because anyone with money can hire them to topple a government or to illegally keep despots in power.

Wagner is a threat to democracy and must not be allowed to take root in Africa. Therefore, even as African leaders strive to return the rule of law in Niger, they must be alive to the threat posed by Wagner and send a strong message to the mercenaries and and the Kremlin that their presence in Africa is unwanted.

If there should be any intervention in any African country, it must never, again, involve mercenaries.

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