Russian roulette and problem with the thiefdom of Gabon -By Dare Babarinsa

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*Photo: Babarinsa *

The Russian government would not be in a hurry to find out what really killed the Wagner Group boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, whether it was a fortuitous accident or an act of sabotage.

Prigozhin had lived by the sword and his comeuppance came through a fiery furnace from the sky. When the helicopter exploded in Moscow, its sparks were felt in different parts of the world.

We, in Africa, know that the Wagner Group has a special significant for our continent.
Perhaps, the first time in modern history, a truly formidable army of mercenaries have succeeded in changing the fate of nations.

Except for some few countries, the Wagner Army is bigger than the armies of most countries in Africa. Where it intervened, it had been brutally effective. With the coup in Niger Republic, its client list may be about to expand. Africa may be on the threshold of another scramble.

The Wagner Group came into existence as a private army of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now it has become an international force that cannot be ignored. Yesterday, the United States government issued a statement that Wagner would be placed on terror list.

It was originally set up as a shadowy group made up of ex-soldiers and convicted felons who were recruited directly from the prisons. Then the Special Operation in Ukraine, and the Wagner group proved itself as a credible fighting force. On some of the battles, it was Wagner that saved the day for the Russians, as the Russian Army itself was kept at bay.

What should concern us more are Wagner activities in Africa. It is the group that is sustaining the regime of President Faustin-Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic in power.

The French, which had done such assignments in the past, has reduced its firepower in Africa. The CAR government was about to be overwhelmed by rebel forces, which was intent on seizing power.

The rebels were driven back into the bush by the brutal hammer of Wagner and the government is now sitting almost pretty in power. CAR is paying a heavy price for Wagner iron rod of defence.

The mercenary company now has unfettered access to the country’s mineral wealth and forest. Every year, it made an average of $20 billion and the money poured into the coffer of the big bosses in Moscow. No mafia don has succeeded in capturing a whole country. The Wagner Group has accomplished that feat.

It is repeating the same feat in Mali and Burkina Faso where rebel soldiers have seized power from legitimately elected governments. The Wagner Group is also active in Sudan, Mozambique, Libya and Madagascar.

It has pitched its tents in these countries to protect those in power and save them from their fellow ambitious officers and external rebel forces.

On July 26, the commander of the Presidential Guard in Niamey, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, seized power from his old boss, President Mohamed Bazoum, and put him under house arrest.

When the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), threatened the rebels with military intervention unless they return the legitimate government, the rebels snorted. They threatened to invite the ubiquitous Wagner. Let the French go, they sang. We want the Russians!

The Wagner Group and other such private mercenary groups pose a serious threat to the future of Africa. We cannot substitute European neo-colonialism with blatant Russian occupation.

Many African states are not strong enough to withstand the threat posed by this new trend to capture states. CAR has been captured. Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea have offered themselves. Niger is knocking on the door. It is willing to join the Wagner Harem as long as the new strong lover can save it from ECOWAS and its old unfaithful suitor, France.

Pillage by free agents is not new to Africa. Indeed, during the 19thcentury, it was the free agents and non-state actors that first moved in before the European state saw the great opportunities offered by a prostrate Africa.

That was what gave way to the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885, at the instance of German ‘Iron’ Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, when Africa was portioned out by the European powers as a big Ileya ram.

Before then, the Royal Niger Company, the precursor of the present United African Company Plc., had received a royal charter to take over most of the territory of Nigeria.

Indeed, it was the company that brought Lord Frederick Lugard and Thomas Goldie to Nigeria from their base in India. In South Africa, a British capitalist, Cecil Rhodes, acquired a royal charter to take over a vast territory north of South Africa.

He named his new acquisition, Rhodesia, in honour of himself. The old Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe and Zambia. These two countries use to belong to one man: Cecil Rhodes!

On Monday, when the new strongman in Gabon, Brice Oligui Nguema, was sworn-in as President, he held a meeting with the President of CAR, who was the special representative of the Central Africa Region at the ceremony.

Gabon had been suspended from the union after the coup and the headquarters of the group moved from Gaborone, the capital of Gabon, to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. Nothing could represent the weakness of Africa more than the charade going on in Central Africa and the pain that West Africa is enduring.

Among those who are passing judgment on the Gabonese junta is the President of Equatoria Guinea. When I visited Equatoria Guinea in 1987, Theodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo had been president for eight years. He seized power from his uncle, the notorious Marcia Nguema and he later ordered his execution at the Malabo Stadium.

In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was in charge of Nigeria. Since then we have had General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Sani Abacha, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President Umar Yar’Ádua, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President Buhari and now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

In Malabo, President Mbasogo remains unmoved and unmovable. In Cameroun, President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982, intends to remain in power until the second coming of Christ.

Faure Eyadema succeeded his father to the Presidency in 2005 and between the two of them they have governed Togo for almost 60 years. How can anyone call these never-ending regimes democratic?

Between the senior and the junior Bongos of Gabon, they succeeded in creating a thiefdom that was robbing the people for almost half-a-century. The newly topple Ali Bongo was already positioning his son to take over in case he got summoned to God’s headquarters suddenly.

The soldiers of Gabon have done well to end the Bongo thiefdom. They now need to move fast and arrange for the emergence of a proper constitutional and democratic order.
The situation poses a lot of challenges to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his colleagues who are heading democratic regimes on the continent. There are three immediate steps in the short term.

First rogue regimes like the ones in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Gabon should not be allowed to sit pretty and transform into ‘elected governments’.

Second, ECOWAS and other regional groupings should negotiate with each of them, while applying sanctions, to ensure none stay longer than six months before organising a proper democratic election.

Third, successful coupists should be made to understand that they might appear before international courts to answer for their crimes when they disembark from the tiger’s back.

In the long run, this is a tougher assignment. African leaders must find a way to end the careers of professional presidents like Paul Biya, Paul Kegame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Faure Eyadema of Togo.

This can only be done if they are persuaded to accept terms limitation. We also need to increase our capacity for good governance. It is when the African space is well governed that rogue companies like Wagner and their fellow travellers would have no role in Africa.

For President Tinubu, his assignment starts from home. For us to lead Africa, we have to create programmes and policies that would create wealth at home, create more employments and improve the capacity of our leadership.

This means that when a project starts, it must have a completion date. No project can go on forever. If we seek term limits for those in power, then we need to know the term limits for contractors handling public highways and other projects.

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© 2023 GUARDIAN Newspapers.

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