Tuesday 29 November 2022

Service à la française, service à la russe

Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, the Interim Prime Minister of Mali in the military junta that came to power in May 2021, has expelled all non-governmental organisations that were funded or supported by France.

France has never stopped having an empire in Africa, where it fights wars that more than give the lie to lazy jokes about lack of military prowess, and where it maintains two effectively interchangeable currencies across a total of 14 countries with a combined population of 193 million and a combined GDP of $283 billion.

A lot of French blood and treasure goes into all of this, yet France has this month ended all development aid to Mali, three months after it had withdrawn the forces that had spent nine years fighting a major Islamist insurgency that was very much ongoing. In response, Mali has kicked out the French and French-backed NGOs. What is going on?

France asserts that Mali has brought in the Wagner Group, disguised as Russian military instructors. There is every reason to believe that. The voting figures at the United Nations over Ukraine have awoken a sleepy "international community" to the breadth and depth of continuing Russian ties to the old anti-imperial struggles of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, supported as those often were by the Soviet Union. Throughout this century, China will also continue to benefit from that legacy of goodwill.

Wagner Group arms and ammunition, up to and including four Mil Mi-17 helicopters, have certainly arrived in Mali. A base has clearly been built near the airport of the capital, Bamako, a city of 2.8 million. The Group has also taken over the former French bases at Gossi, Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu. Numbering 400 across the country, those instructors would have to be delivering an awful lot of instruction. Not all of them are Russians. Clashes with jihadists have already killed at least one of them as a matter of official record, although they in turn have already killed at least 200 jihadists.

Africa has been Wagner country for quite some time. The Group provided bodyguards to several candidates in the 2018 Presidential Election in Madagascar, even including the winner who had been favoured by China and the United States, thereby guaranteeing the Russian takeover of Kraoma, Madagascar's national chromite producer. The Wagner Group had also been guarding the chrome mines themselves. Its involvement in Mozambique has been extensive. Its participation in the never-ending Libyan Civil War remains so. Ignore anyone who tells you that that war is over.

More than anywhere else, however, the Wagner Group's African operations have been, and continue to be, in the Central African Republic. Again, that is in the French sphere of influence, although the Group originally went in there, in 2018, to fill the security vacuum that had been left by the French military withdrawal, in 2016, following the loss of three quarters of the country's territory to rebel control. By all accounts, it is guarding the diamond mines in regime-controlled and rebel-controlled areas alike, as it also takes a great interest in the diamonds, gold, uranium, and thus government of Sudan.

There has lately been an operation to take down cryptocurrencies, not that I am any fan of those, after the adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender in the CAR had posed a threat to the CFA franc, itself pegged to the euro and so on. The CAR is a front line in the Great Game as it is being played in the present age. There are anything up to 2000 Wagner Group personnel there, if not more, and it has a firm grip on a number of government institutions, including the General Staff, such that it supervises or directly commands most of the units of the Armed Forces, including at least one EU-trained battalion. Known as Black Russians, hundreds of Centrafricans, former UPC rebels who surrendered, are now fighting for the Wagner Group in Ukraine, or are awaiting deployment there from Russia.

Yevgeny Prigozhin has claimed to a Finnish newspaper that 20 or so Finns were fighting in a British battalion of the Wagner Group, commanded by a former United States Marine Corps general. There are not awfully many former United States Marine Corps generals, so which one do we think that it is, and why? It is rubbish, of course. But just as you can bet your life that there are British and American Nazis fighting on the other side, you can bet your life that there are British and American pure mercenaries in the Wagner Group. We have no interest in whether that or the Kraken Regiment won, just so long as it did not bother us, which it would have no cause to do unless we had been foolish enough to have backed its enemy.

Britain is indeed engaged in such folly, and that on a cross-party basis. But we are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.


  1. Breathtaking, imagine you on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

    1. Oh, they would never, ever, ever let me on that.