In the new scramble for Africa, the Kremlin definitely don't want to be left out. In fact, Russia has quickly become a huge power broker in Africa and the consequences are already showing especially in countries already struggling with violence and corruption.
Russian mercenaries (the Wagner group) in the Central African Republic are facing multiple allegations of war crimes including torture, rape and murder. Also, In Mali, the mercenaries are accused of assisting in a massacre that killed 300 people in March 2022. I can go on and on but lets pause here and see how exactly Russia operates in Africa.
As most of you know, China is investing greatly in Africa and has already left a huge footprint on the continent especially in countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. China has built several roads, highways, and bridges all across the continent and continues to invest greatly in Africa's infrastructure. Although China reaps more than it sows, we can consider China's approach a mutualistic business approach. In fact, "business" is perhaps the best way to approach Africa and China knows that.
However, unlike China and others, Russia has chosen the militaristic and brute force approach which almost always ends in disaster. The scary part is that, Russia isn't even using professionally trained forces in Africa. What do I mean by that? In a normal army, there is a chain of command and strict rules and regulations guiding troops. In other words, there is structure and acccountability in place.
However, in the case of the Russian mercenaries, the Wagner group, there is no such structure and accountability and they do whatever they want. In fact, those Russian mercenaries don't even show their faces. They almost always cover their faces so nobody knows exactly who is committing which crimes. Also, the Wagner group isn't officially part of the Russian armed forces or any Russian government operative. What this means is that, although the Wagner group works for the Russian government, you cannot officially hold Russia accountable for any crimes the Wagner group commits and that is very scary.
The Wagner group members are not professionally trained soldiers. In fact, most of the group members are recruited from the Russian jail system. In other words, think about some of the worst criminals you know, put them in uniforms, fully arm them, and you have a Russian Wagner mercenary. These are the type of people Russia is sending to Africa. Life is valueless to these people and they feel they are just there to do a job and get paid. They don't really care. In fact, according to Russian contractor Vitalii Perfilev, "We keep doing our work. Dogs bark, the caravan moves on".
Any place in Africa the Russian mercenaries have gone, we've seen more instability not less. Russia is rather exploiting the chaos in some parts of Africa to expand its influence on the continent. In other words, the Wagner group has become a way for Russia to achieve its goals at very little cost.
Let's take Sudan for example. In 2017, one of Africa's worst dictators, Omar Al-Bashir, enlisted Russia's help to bolster his fragile regime. Al-Bashir had been in power for over 3 decades (Since 1989) and was the mastermind behind the Darfur genocide (2003-2020) which killed over half a million people. Omar Al-Bashir had been declared a war criminal and a wanted man by the international community and the International Criminal Court. Despite all these, Russia offered to help Al-Bashir.
A year later, as widespread protests broke out all across Sudan against Omar Al-Bashir's rule, leaked documents suggested Russia's Wagner operatives advised Bashir on how to suppress the dissent. In fact, several Russian-speaking mercenaries were spotted on the streets of Khartoum (the capital of Sudan) with their faces covered. Luckily, the protests expanded and gained so much international attention the Wagner group could not stop it, and Omar Al-Bashir was later removed by the military.
One very important point to note here is that, Russia did not help Omar Al-Bashir for free. In fact, in return for supporting the dictator Omar Al-Bashir, Russia secured valuable mining concessions from Sudan, Africa's third largest gold producer. Also, the frequent violence and coup attempts in Sudan is working great for Russia. In fact, the Wagner group is now in control of some mining zones and mining operations in Sudan. In other words, it is exactly in these chaotic enviroments Russia thrives, and Russia doesn't really want the chaos to stop.
Also, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Russia is now the leading sponsor of disinformation on the continent with at least 16 campaigns. Sadly, this disinformation structure is working great for Russia in countries like Madagascar where it influenced the 2018 elections just like it did in the 2016 American elections. In fact, in Madagascar, Russia even went a step further by actually bribing some of the candidates to drop out of the race.
In Mali, Russia's disinformation has caused so much anti-west sentiments to a point where France had to pull out all of its peacekeeping troops after a decade of providing Mali with security assistance. And as soon as the last of the French troops left in August 2022, Russia's Wagner group moved in and are now providing weapons and training.
In the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in Africa, Russia's disinformation system has worked so well to a point where the people are now erecting billboards and statues praising Russia's Wagner group. This is how Russia is doing "business" with Africa.