Wagner Continue Through Africa
On September 30, the President of Burkina Faso Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was removed in a coup d'etat by his own military colleague Ibrahim Traore. Damiba was in power for just 8 months, after he had previously removed President Roch Marc Christian Kabore...in a coup.
This is the 10th coup in Burkina Faso since the country gained its independence in 1960. It's odd though, as this time around there were Russian flags being waved in the streets. Did Prigozhin or the Kremlin have something to do with this?
As you can imagine, this act was met with condemnation from the UN, African Union, the European Union and the West African confederation ECOWAS. Yevgeny Prigozhin however, praised Traore announcing "I congratulate and support Captain Ibrahim Traore...he is a truly worthy and courageous son of his homeland". He may well have had something to do with this.
It doesn't appear as though there were any overt influence campaigns being carried out by Wagner in Burkina Faso. However a look into the online stats and analytics on social media show that more was happening in cyberspace than on the ground.
The Africa Data and Democracy Observatory (ADDO) carried out research and highlighted a number of findings:
- Coordinated campaigns were run ahead of the coup targeting the previous President with narratives suggesting that the existing junta were collaborating with the French when they should be seeking a new relationship with Russia, or the Wagner group, as they are anti-colonial. The campaign cited Wagner's alleged 'successful' role in Mali.
- Growing support for Wagner was observed from nano-influencers. TikTok streamers posted content claiming how 'great' Wagner or other Russian involvement would be in Burkina Faso to counter apparent French colonial influence. They appeared to explicitly criticize then-President Damiba as a French puppet.
- A Pro-Kremlin Russian Telegram channel posted messages claiming that 'Niger and its uranium mines are next in line'. This appears to imply that Russia will be moving onto Niger next after 'successfully' assisting with the coup in Burkina Faso.
Wagner Operations in Africa
Social Media Tracking
The ADDO tracked articles that were posted in local media and related to Russia before the coup (1 June 2022 - 29 September 2022). Here's what they discovered:
- There were several key spikes
- 21 June 22 - Pro-Russian demonstration at Place Tiefo Amoro.
- 6 July 22 - Large number of articles published online due to the council of ministers being chaired by the then-President to discuss the approval of a Russian ambassador to Burkina Faso and appointing ministerial roles to that Russian ambassador.
- 14 July 22 - Burkina-Russia coalition attempting to speed up the process and partner with Russia.
- 28/29 July 22 - Russian soldiers received medals from Brig. General Gilbert Ouedraogo and a declaration by Lieutenant-Colonel Yves Didier Bamouni that the country would not sever ties with Russia.
- 4 August 22 - Article attempting to amplify news that then-president Damiba should partner with Russia instead of France to combat terrorism.
- 3 October 2022 - Cameroonian, Malian and Central African media outlets all posted articles amplifying Traore's announcement on the state-affiliated Radio France Internationale that 'Russia is a partner of Burkina Faso, and the Burkinabe army used a lot of Russian arms and equipment'
Wagner Mercenaries Operating in Mali
With the reported losses for Wagner in Ukraine already at a staggering level, and their now desperate drive to recruit untrained soldiers from the Russian prison system (up to 40,000 prisoners in Ukraine), are they capable of finishing what has been started across Africa? In previous sponsored coups, Wagner have operated as if somehow separate to the Russian Federation. We know this to be false but with mercenary actions now overtly promoted by the Kremlin (maybe not for Soledar), how will the Russian leadership be able to pull of clandestine activity whilst also defending their line of "it wasn't us"?
There are no Wagner boots on the ground in Burkina Faso...yet. It seems that there are new reports daily indicating that Wagner will continue their nefarious African conquest. They have been to Mozambique, CAR, Libya, Sudan, and Mali. After this coup it appears that Niger will be next. We would not be surprised to see Wagner mercenaries on the ground in Burkina Faso in the not too distant future.