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Wagner Group Accused of Plotting a ‘Confederation of States’ in Africa

The Washington Post published a major story on the central African nation of Chad. Citing leaked U.S. government documents and anonymous Western diplomats, the Post reported that Chad’s stability is threatened from multiple sides by the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, a major vector of Russian influence in Africa.

An alleged Wagner plot against Chad’s government had already been reported by the Wall Street Journal in February.

Yet the leaked intelligence documents referenced in the Post’s story depict an even higher level of purported Wagner ambitions. One document describes Wagner plotting to create a “unified ‘confederation’ of African states” stretching over a contiguous territory from Guinea to Eritrea.

The Post’s story is framed as a dilemma — should the United States back the authoritarian military regime in Chad, which is willing to kill pro-democracy protesters (especially in one bloodbath in October 2022), or should it press for greater accountability in Chad and potentially risk allowing a key African ally to fall?

There are other questions to ask, however. Notably, the Post failed to probe whether U.S. officials might be exaggerating the threat from Wagner to Chad, or to Africa more generally. It is true that Wagner has aggressively and sometimes quite effectively inserted itself into multiple theaters on the African continent, notably Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic. And yet Wagner is not invincible — witness a recent jihadist attack on what some locals described as a Russian camp in Mali.

Even some governments that appear curious about Wagner have nevertheless tread carefully, well aware of the group’s noxious reputation; it remains unclear, for example, whether Burkina Faso’s most recent crop of military rulers plan to invite in the mercenary force or not, even after more than a year of rumors to that effect.

There is a marked tendency in Washington to overstate Wagner’s role in conflicts. For example, as a tragic and terrifying war has erupted in Sudan since April 15, pitting the country’s military against a powerful paramilitary force, breathless reports have suggested that Wagner is a major element in the conflict. Yet some of the foremost experts on Sudan and neighboring Libya (the provenance of some of the alleged Wagner involvement) have cast doubt on the idea that Wagner is the main story, or even that there is solid evidence for specific claims about Wagner’s actions.

The Wagner angle rewrites Sudan’s war — a conflict years in the making and for which the proximate trigger was a Western-backed scheme to reorganize the armed forces — as a generic tale of conflict in the “new Cold War.” That rewriting obscures both the Western diplomatic blunders that helped set the stage for conflict in Sudan, as well as the spectacle of Western countries hustling their own diplomats and citizens out of Sudan while doing far less than they could to help the Sudanese people.

Returning to the topic of Chad — another supposed theater in the “new Cold War” — the leaked documents and the anonymous diplomats cite an array of threats to the regime of Mahamat Deby, a coup from within, or rebels crossing into Chad from one of its neighbors, especially Libya, the Central African Republic, or Sudan. According to the Post, “The Wagner paramilitary group has ties with armed forces or militias in each of these countries.”

The sense of history, here, is thin; Chad has faced recurring waves of rebellions dating back to the 1960s, not to mention periodic coups since the 1970s; Deby himself came to power in a coup, circumventing constitutional procedures to impose himself immediately after his father, longtime President Idriss Deby (who also took power by force, in 1990), died of battle wounds in 2021. There is a risk now that Western governments and Western media will frame any coming political instability in Chad as a result of Wagner’s meddling, ignoring the country’s history of turmoil that long predates Wagner.

Washington is also continuing to elaborate a hopelessly inconsistent message when it comes to Wagner, democracy, and coups in Africa. Are coups bad because they subvert democracy? Or are coups alarming only when they create opportunities for Wagner? The handwringing over Chad among Western officials appears less than convincing — the die has already been cast, and it was clear from the beginning that Western countries, with France in the lead, would back the new Deby regime.

Or does Washington care about coups at all, on any meaningful level? After all, the United States more or less shrugged at a coup in Sudan just a year and a half ago. Out of all the talk about a “new Cold War,” what rings truest is the idea that U.S. Africa policy remains a patchwork one, with Washington embracing some dictators, shunning others, occasionally honing in on perceived and often exaggerated threats, painting much of the continent with a broad and ideological brush that distorts local realities, and all the while ignoring most of the continent’s most pressing challenges, including the predations and abuses committed by some of America’s key allies. 

Source : Responsiblestatecraft