Yevgeny Prigozhin is a restaurateur from St. Petersburg in Russia. He is known as Vladimir Putin's chef as his company provides the Kremlin with catering services. Lately, Prigozhin has not just been cooking and dishing food to the Kremlin. He is serving Putin with Africa and a number of embattled leaders from the continent are all too happy to be helping Prigozhin.
At the end of 2013, Africa Confidential reported that Zimbabwe had parcelled out choice mining concessions to Russia and China in exchange for arms. The Financial Times also reported that in 2014, Zimbabwe concluded an arms-for-platinum deal with Russia worth a reported $3bn to swap rights to the Darwendale platinum concession for the provision of an undisclosed number of MiG-35 fighter jets. The Zimbabwean deal was not anomalous, but rather, a modus operandi being morphed. Bloomberg says, "Prigozhin and his hodgepodge of contract soldiers and political operatives are offering security, arms training and electioneering services in exchange for mining rights and other opportunities, two people familiar with the matter said."
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Libya, Madagascar, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic, Prigozhin has deployed these tactics and delivered major gains for Russia. In the Central African Republic and Sudan, Russia has already acquired gold and diamond concessions. Russia means business while Africa means war. It is a most unfortunate relationship yet pariah states being shunned for human rights abuses are gladly engaging.
In July 2018, three reporters were shot dead in the CAR while they were investigating Wagner, Prigozhin's paramilitary company. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, dismissively claimed the trio was killed after resisting a robbery. However, this theory was debunked by later reports suggesting it was a planned attack. Though they failed to complete their mission, the three managed to thrust Russian paramilitary activities into the spotlight. It is then that the world was awakened to the reality of Russian military and economic presence in Africa.
The Russian connection comes with very little demands for reforms and for that reason, it is favorable for embattled regimes. For example, Russian Ambassador to Guinea, Alexander Bregadze, said to Alpha Conde, "Constitutions are no dogma, Bible or Koran. It’s constitutions that adapt to reality, not realities that adapt to constitutionsGuinea needs you today. And as the popular Russian saying goes, you don’t change horses at a river crossing.” In short: you may amend the constitution and stay in power.
In the DRC, Sergei Lavrov commenting on the disputed election of Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilomboas President said, "We do not interfere with elections. The Congolese people can handle this on their own and it is important not to impose this or that agreement as is normally done by France, the US and other former colonial powers." It meant: Russia sees and hears no evil.
This is a dream friendship for despots with no motivation to improve their people's lives. These leaders are getting military resources, training, and political support from a world-power, seemingly for free. However, nothing is ever for free. Russia is getting African resources for close to nothing from these desperate and inept leaders. They are all contriving to impoverish the masses. The fact that it is Russia and not the West that is pillaging African resources does not make the one-sided arrangement any better. Looting foreigners whether Chinese, Russian or American should not be welcome in Africa.
Header Image: FT