Russia’s military presence continues to undermine human rights in Africa

Countries across Africa are facing coups and terrorist insurgencies. While many chose the United States or France as a counterterrorism and security partner, an increasing number are choosing Russia.

The Kremlin’s private military companies (PMC), such as the Wagner Group, are becoming a malign influence across the continent, propping up dictators and committing human rights violations. Unlike the US and other Western partners, the Russian PMCs do not demand an improvement in human rights or democracy.

The Central African Republic (CAR) has made its decision and it prefers the Russians.

CAR, a land-locked nation of about 5.5 million people, is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita GDP of US$461. About 700,000 people have been displaced by sectarian violence, and over 75 percent of the population lives in poverty.

On top of the economic hardship already faced by its citizens, the decision to partner with Russia is worsening people’s lives.

Among the many negative impacts of this decision is that it is causing division within the CAR, as not everyone thinks it is a good idea to reject the Western democracies. It is also driving a wedge between the CAR and the West, decreasing its opportunities for trade and investment, which are desperately needed. At the same time, human rights abuses are increasing, and misinformation campaigns are proliferating.

CAR has experienced military conflicts, power struggles, civil wars, and coups for more than 20 years, making the powerful Russian PMCs an attractive ally for President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. The official government only has effective control over the capital, while the countryside is ruled by various armed groups. After UN peacekeepers proved ineffective at extending the president’s power to the far reaches of the country, Faustin-Archange Touadéra turned to Russia for weapons and military advisors to train the country’s ragtag army.

The propaganda began with a Putin-led Russia African Summit in 2019 when he convinced leaders that by working with Russia, they could avoid foreign meddling. This was a continuation of Soviet-era propaganda which promoted Russia as a non-colonial alternative to Western partners who previously ruled African colonies. Next, a Russian misinformation campaign went into gear. The Kremlin funded a local, pro-Russian radio station and disseminated anti-Western sentiment on Facebook. The campaign is so effective that nations allied with Russian PMCs have given diplomatic and public support for Russia in the Ukraine War.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused Wagner troops of engaging in widespread and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These violations include arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, summary executions, and intimidation and harassment of civilians.

In 2018, three Russian journalists investigating Wagner’s activities in the CAR were murdered. In June 2021, Nadia Carine Fornel Poutou, a human rights lawyer and president of the CAR’s Association of Women Lawyers and Advocates died in a mysterious fire at her home. In 2022, journalist Jean Sinclair Maka Gbossokotto, who had criticized Russian activities, died under suspicious circumstances after meeting with an individual linked to Russia. Unsolved fires and suspected arson have targeted buildings of Western interests, including a European Union building in the capital Bangui and a brewery owned by the French company Castel.

The quality of democracy is in steep decline due to Russian election interference. The PMCs have prevented the exercise of political rights by those who oppose the regime. They have curtailed civil liberties and nullified checks and balances on the executive branch. According to the Center for Africa Strategic Studies, "Authoritarian governmentslacking domestic checks and balances provide permissive environments for enabling Russian influence on the continent." The Russians are supporting President Touadéra’s referendum to end presidential term limits so he can rule the country for life. The Kremlin will benefit from having a Moscow-friendly leader in power.

Apart from misinformation, violations of human rights, and the decline of democracy, these countries also experience an increase in corruption and organized crime. The citizenry suffer economic hardships as well as shortages of grains and fertilizer, which would normally be imported from Ukraine.

Moscow benefits. Russian PMCs benefit. The President benefits. But the people lose.

Russian interference in Libya

To the north of the CAR, Russian PMCs are also significant players in Libya, which has been plagued by political instability, armed conflict, and humanitarian crises since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

As of March 2024, the country was divided into eastern and western governments. The United Nations recognizes the National Unity group (GNU), which is based in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, The eastern government is the Government of National Stability (GNS), whose leader is Prime Minister Osama Hamad. The GNS is aligned with the House of Representatives (HoR) as well as the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar. The Russian PMCs are located in Haftar’s region and support his coalition of militias.

Russian PMCs in Libya have provided substantial material aid for the Libyan National Army in the form of military equipment, mercenary forces, and political backing. Russia is also seeking docking rights for its warships in the Libyan port of Tobruk. These discussions are reportedly contingent upon Russia providing air defence systems and pilot training for the LNA.

A Russian presence in Tobruk could drastically alter the regional balance of power in the Mediterranean. It would allow Russia to project power and influence over vital maritime trade routes, including those crucial for oil exports. And of course, an increased presence of Russian PMCs and security forces, will reduce hopes for improvements in human rights and democracy.



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The international response

In February 2021, the United Nations facilitated a process that led to the selection of an interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. He was meant to serve until democratic elections could be held. Until now, this has proved impossible because of ongoing fighting and sectarian disagreements regarding representation.

The presence of Russian PMCs in Africa decreased when some of the fighters were transferred to the war in Ukraine. However, Russian PMC personnel and equipment remain in Libya, which also serves as a logistical hub for PMC operations in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Kremlin has been legitimizing and strengthening its role in Libya through its diplomatic and intelligence services and through its role as special advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Libya, a position it held from 2021 to 2022.

At no point has Moscow attempted to use its military or diplomatic power in the country to re-establish democracy or improve the human rights situation.

To counter Russian influence in Libya, the Biden administration is prioritizing increased US engagement with Libya to aid the country in moving towards holding democratic elections, inclusive of the diverse tribes, groups, ethnicities, and interests among the population. There are also tentative plans to re-establish a US diplomatic presence. In order to achieve the goal of establishing a single, unified, civilian-controlled military, the US has signed an agreement to train the military forces loyal to Dbeibeh, the leader of the western government.

The stabilization of Libya and the restoration of human rights and democracy in both the CAR and Libya will remain problematic as long as Russian influence continues and as long as Russian PMCs maintain their presence. And so far, there seems to be no concrete plan to remove them. 

Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China-MBA MBA, is a China economic analyst teaching economics at the American University in Mongolia. He has spent 20 years in Asia and is the author of six books about China. His writing has appeared in The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Penthouse, Shanghai Institute of American Studies, Epoch Times, War on the Rocks, Just the News, and Black Belt Magazine.

Image: Bigstock 


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  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-04-23 22:46:59 +1000
    According to the Bloomberg news agency, Russia is reportedly negotiating the construction of a naval base in Libya within the context of a broader defense agreement between Moscow and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. The latter is seeking air defense systems and training for pilots and special forces from the Russians. In exchange, he would offer some air bases and the right for permanent anchorage in one of Libya’s ports for Russian ships, most likely that of Tobruk.

    For at least three years, the port of Tobruk and the Benina airport (about 20 km east of Benghazi and already used together with the airports of al-Jufra and Sirte by Wagner personnel) have been identified as the locations where Russia intends to replicate the successful Syrian “duo” consisting of the port of Tartus and the Hmeimim airport in the Latakia province, which have become crucial assets for Russian operations in Syria and for Moscow’s power projection in the Mediterranean.

    Italy is considered a hostile country by Russia. Indeed, the second aeronaval outlet in the Mediterranean will allow Moscow to “consolidate” its strategic projection capability in Syria with that in Libya, capable of threatening Western countries up to the Atlantic, but above all, according to the secret of Fatima, to persecute the Catholic Church.

    It is all too clear, in fact, who will be the persecutor who will kill the Pope and who will seek to destroy the Catholic Church. The answer to this question is already in the secret of Fatima: it will be Russia. A logical deduction of good sense is that the great persecution of the Catholic Church and the reign of the antichrist imposed on the city by the hordes of the occupiers (Secret of Melania Calvat at La Salette) must be attributed to the expansion of Orthodox Russian imperialism.

    Those who have truly understood the meaning of the weeping of the statue of the Queen of Peace, in the arms of the Bishop of Civitavecchia, Monsignor Grillo, who from February 2 to March 15, 1995, allegedly shed tears of blood fourteen times, have been Saint John Paul II. The tears of blood of Mary would indicate the great persecution of the Church, the apostasy of the cowards, and the courage of the martyrs.

    Thus, the Tsar aims at Rome passing through Civitavecchia: the coasts of Sicily and Civitavecchia are much closer than Kiev.
  • Antonio Graceffo
    published this page in The Latest 2024-04-23 15:39:22 +1000