FULL REPORT: Burkina Faso – Wagner Group’s deployment likely in coming months, even if recent allegations are unfounded

North Africa 23 December 2022

FULL REPORT: Burkina Faso – Wagner Group’s deployment likely in coming months, even if recent allegations are unfounded

Image Credit: Nurdian Putra / Shutterstock

TorchlightTorchlight Predictions

  • Wagner’s deployment will increase compliance and reputational concerns for business operations, especially in mining sector 
  • Wagner’s presence will not reduce threats of further coup attempts in coming months amid opposition from military factions
  • Dispute between Burkina Faso and Ghana over Wagner allegations likely to dissipate over coming weeks amid joint efforts to reduce tensions

Developments

    • Mining minister Simon Pierre Boussim denies claims made by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo on 14 December that Russian Wagner Group operatives are active on Burkina Faso’s border with Ghana. (20 December) 
    • Burkinabe authorities summon the Ghanaian ambassador to Burkina Faso over Akufo-Addo’s comments. (16 December)

Insights

It is not possible to verify Akufo-Addo’s statement but it is unlikely that Wagner forces are active in Burkina Faso yet. The suggestion that Wagner is present along Ghana’s northern border is unlikely, given the group would be deployed to areas in Burkina Faso most affected by jihadist violence – primarily the east and north. Instead, Akufo-Addo, who made the comments during the US-Africa summit, likely raised the issue with the intention that the US will consider boosting security assistance to Ghana, especially as jihadist activity moves closer to its northern border. Indeed, the southern Burkinabe town of Bittou was attacked by jihadists on 5 December.

Nonetheless it is highly likely that Wagner will be deployed in Burkina Faso in the coming months. Ouagadougou has formed closer relations with Russia since the 30 September coup, with the prime minister visiting Russia for talks in recent weeks, while the junta has distanced itself from its traditional security partner France, which has around 300 troops deployed in Burkina Faso conducting counterterrorism operations under Operation Sabre. Wagner’s head has also openly supported interim President Ibrahim Traoré. Meanwhile, demands for Russian involvement have also been mounting among civil society and within the armed forces. Indeed, previous military leader Paul-Henri Damiba was ousted in part because of his failure to form closer ties with Moscow.

The diplomatic dispute between Ghana and Burkina Faso following Akufo-Addo’s statement is likely to dissipate over the coming weeks. Indeed,  tensions have already begun to subside. Both sides have emphasised their historic economic, political and security ties and Ghana has backtracked slightly on Akufo-Addo’s accusations, stating on 16 December that the announcement was merely intended to increase attention on the security crisis in Burkina Faso. 

Implications for Business

Geopolitical: Wagner’s deployment in Burkina Faso will credibly lead to France ending Operation Sabre given the challenges associated with working with a government allied with Russia. Intensifying discussions in the US around designating Wagner as a foreign terrorist organisation would also undermine Ouagadougou’s relationship with Washington – which has several military and training programmes in Burkina Faso. A confirmed relationship with Wagner would also worsen ties with other Western-aligned regional partners, such as Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Chad. Indeed, Mali’s relationship with Cote d’Ivoire and Niger has deteriorated significantly since Wagner deployed there.

Stability: Wagner’s deployment in Burkina Faso will not reduce the threat of another coup over the coming year. Although many military figures have pressed for closer ties with Moscow, there remain smaller factions – particularly those allied with Damiba, who are less enthusiastic. Tensions over ties with foreign partners, combined with ongoing military restructuring and insecurity, will ensure instability persists, highlighted by the fact an attempted coup has already occurred during Traoré’s less than three months in power.  

Mining: Wagner’s involvement in the mining sector in Burkina Faso will complicate compliance and reputational concerns for mining companies working near Wagner’s mines, especially if the US sanctions the group. Equally, Wagner’s presence increases the likelihood of jihadists targeting mines as they seek to attack Wagner’s resources directly, as has increasingly been the case in neighbouring Mali. 

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