Ghana's President Alleges Russian Wagner Group Now Operating in Burkina Faso
At the recent African Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo stunned the audience with the allegation that “Russian mercenaries are on our northern border”. Further, he claimed, “that a mine in the southern part of Burkina has been allocated to them as a form of payment for their service” and “to have them operating on our northern border is particularly distressing for us in Ghana.” This is not yet verified, however, but if true it would seem to fit with the broader expansion of Wagner’s footprint across the African continent.
There could also be a deeper history to this, as previous allegations have been made about a Russian role in the second military coup that took place in Burkina Faso earlier this year. Whether or not that is accurate, it can be stated that Wagner operatives attempted to exploit the situation to their advantage and portray Western powers in a negative light.
The Burkinabe government issued denials in at least two separate instances. They disputed that any payment has been made to Wagner by using mining rights, and in October, the junta told a delegation from the Biden administration that they had no plans to retain the services of the Russian “mercenary” group. These statements were made roughly six weeks apart, and the Ghanaian Ambassador to Burkina Faso was summoned to the Foreign Ministry over the comments regarding Wagner.
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During the week of December 20th the Sentinel, a publication of the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point, published a detailed article arguing that Wagner Group is exacerbating the jihadist threat in West Africa. One key aspect mentioned in the piece is a concern that the presence of Wagner in Burkina Faso could lead to more attacks. It appears that Al-Qaeda’s regional network’s attacks have increased in boldness over the last few months and remain a major threat to Burkina Faso. The Islamic State’s regional branch – which is fighting both Al-Qaeda and the government in the area – likewise poses a considerable challenge to security forces.
As was the case in Mali, confirmation of Wagner’s presence in Burkina Faso could be made by the former colonial power France. Earlier this year, France ended Operation Barkhane, the counter-terrorism campaign that it began after the 2012 coup in Mali. It maintains a small special forces contingent called Task Force Sabre which operates from one of the suburbs of Ouagadodu, Mali. The withdrawal of this unit could be a harbinger of an incoming presence by the Russians.
The leadership in Ghana is clearly concerned with the security situation along its northern border. The Ghanaian claim about Wagner’s alleged presence in Burkina Faso during the summit in Washington ensured this would not only reach the Biden administration but also President Akufo-Addo’s peers in the ruling class. In his opinion, Wagner is a malign actor as the group has been accused of abuses in both the Central African Republic and Mali. Wagner has drawn the scrutiny of the United Nations and was designated as an Entity of Particular Concern (EPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act by the US State Department solely for their actions within the Central African Republic. However, concerns over any possible Wagner presence in Burkina Faso seem to have simmered down for the moment until the claim is investigated and proven true or false.