Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Burkina Faso's Shift to Russian Mercenaries Sparks Concerns Amid Worsening Jihadist Insurgency"

Saturday 11/February/2023 - 05:53 PM
The Reference
Ahmed Seif Eldin

             Burkina Faso Demands French Troop Withdrawal, Hiring of Wagner Group Feared"

             Burkina Faso's Political Instability and Worsening Jihadist Insurgency"

             "Russia & Burkina Faso's Growing Ties: A Look at the Impact"

             "PMCs in Burkina Faso: A Historical Context"

             "Wagner Group's Controversial Footprint in Africa"


Burkina Faso's military regime, led by Captain Ibrahim Traore, has officially ended its military accord with France and demanded the withdrawal of French troops within a month. This move has sparked concerns that Burkina Faso may hire the Kremlin's private military company, the Wagner Group, to help contain the country's worsening jihadist insurgency. The potential hire of the Wagner Group would result in a further upsurge in jihadi violence, entrench Russian influence in Africa, and create humanitarian concerns given the group's human rights record. The country's political instability and increasing militarization of society, due to corruption and the hollowing-out of state institutions, are factors contributing to the potential hire of the Wagner Group.

"Burkina Faso's Desperate Search for Stability Amid Rising Terrorism Threats"

Burkina Faso has been plagued by political instability and a worsening jihadist insurgency in recent years. The country's latest coup, led by Captain Ibrahim Traore, came after months of anti-French sentiment and the removal of French troops from the country. The potential hire of the Wagner Group as private military contractors has raised concerns over the entrenchment of Russian influence in Africa and a further upsurge in jihadi violence. Burkina Faso's reliance on private military contractors is a symptom of the wider structural issues plaguing the country, including corruption, the hollowing-out of state institutions, and a militarization of society. The article serves as an exploration of the potential consequences of a Wagner deployment to Burkina Faso and its previous experiences in Africa.

Russian Influence in Burkina Faso Exposed

On January 20, 2023, hundreds of protesters gathered in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, to protest the French military presence in the country and demand that French troops leave within a month. The protest featured banners of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Burkina Faso President Ibrahim Traore, fueling speculation of a growing Russian influence in the country.

The recent influence operation, targeting Burkina Faso through an animated video clip, depicts the Wagner Group as a good friend and savior of Burkina Faso and Mali, and France as an evil enemy. Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group and a close ally of Putin, publicly supports Captain Ibrahim Traore, though any hard confirmation of further Wagner interference in Burkina has not come to light. There have been reports of a deal between Burkina's junta and Wagner, though the Burkinabe junta has not confirmed these rumors.

Damiba's Downfall: The Rise and Fall of Burkina Faso's Leader

Interim President Damiba came to power in Burkina Faso in 2022 after leading the overthrow of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore. Damiba and his allies promised to improve the security situation and assured a return to civilian rule in 2024 elections. However, Damiba's rule was marked by continued insecurity, a series of massacres, and a worsening spillover of jihadi violence. Despite seeking political solutions and overseeing Burkina Faso's secretive drone program, Damiba's efforts were overwhelmed by the increasing operational tempo of militant groups, leading to his downfall.

Burkina Faso's Crises Deepens Despite Damiba's Efforts

Regardless of Damiba's efforts at the military and political level, Burkina Faso faced profound problems and a deep-rooted crisis. Despite Damiba's optimistic statements, the situation continued to deteriorate during his tenure, and Burkinabe military efforts were outpaced by the operational tempo of the militant groups. With Burkina Faso's leaders playing coy on their sentiments regarding Russia and rumors of a deal with the Wagner Group, the future of Burkina Faso remains uncertain.

The Growing Security Concerns in Burkina Faso

The Previous Regime's Downfall and the New President's Response

Former President Damiba's rule in Burkina Faso was marked by his overly optimistic approach towards improving the country's security situation. He favored continued military cooperation with France, which caused him to face opposition from those who capitalized on the growing anti-French sentiment in the country. On the other hand, the current transition president, Ibrahim Traore, has adopted a populist approach and has called for the recruitment of 50,000 volunteer fighters to take back lost territories. However, the state-backed self-defense program has received criticism for its contribution to increased violence and potential for abuse.

The Spreading Jihadi Insurgency in Burkina Faso

The Deadliest Year Since the Conflict Began

The jihadi insurgency in Burkina Faso has spread to 11 out of the country's 13 regions and has seen a 77% increase in conflict fatalities in 2022 compared to the previous year. The country has been the subject of simultaneous campaigns by two jihadi groups: JNIM and the Islamic State's Greater Sahara branch. The territory of Burkina Faso has become a battleground between the two groups, with JNIM exerting control over large portions of the country while ISGS continues to wreak havoc in the northeastern provinces.

Burkina Faso at the Crossroads of Jihadi Insurgency

This article delves into the growing security concerns in Burkina Faso as the country grapples with the spreading jihadi insurgency. The country is caught in a battle between two jihadi groups, JNIM and the Islamic State's Greater Sahara, making the future uncertain for its people.

Jihadist Violence Spreads Across West Africa

Burkina Faso Exports Chaos to Neighboring Countries

The security situation in Burkina Faso has been rapidly deteriorating, with the rise of jihadist groups such as Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen (JNIM) leading to increased violence and instability in the country. JNIM has not only targeted military and civilian targets within Burkina Faso, but has also carried out cross-border attacks into neighboring countries such as Benin, Togo, and Côte d'Ivoire, putting pressure on these countries to reinforce their northern borders and improve their security.

Burkina Faso under Pressure to Hire Wagner Group

Internal and External Factors Driving Cooperation with Russian PMCs

Traore, the current leader of Burkina Faso, is facing pressure from various sources to cooperate with the Russian Wagner Group, a private military company, to improve the country's security situation. The Burkinabe "street" has been demonstrating for military cooperation with Russia, while several officers within the military are calling for cooperation with PMCs due to military fatigue. Additionally, businesses and economic operators may increase pressure on the government to hire PMCs to protect their interests and ensure the security of their operations.

Anti-French Sentiment Hardens in Burkina Faso

Suspension of RFI Broadcasting Reflects Growing Tension

In December 2022, the Burkinabe authorities suspended the broadcasting of Radio France Internationale (RFI) for reporting on a video message released by Ansaroul Islam. This suspension reflects a growing hardening of anti-French sentiment in Burkina Faso and highlights the ongoing tension between the country and France.

Title: Russia Strengthening Ties with Burkina Faso Amid Coup

The recent coup in Burkina Faso has seen a strengthening of ties between the West African nation and Russia. Just a week before the ouster of former leader Damiba, the two countries had met to strengthen bilateral relations. After the coup, Russian aircraft delivered weapons and helicopters that were previously ordered by Damiba. The new Prime Minister, Appolinaire Kyelem de Tembela, stated that the country would reconsider its relationship with Russia and carried out a discreet visit to Moscow in early December.

Burkina Faso's Dependence on PMCs and PSCs

Private Military Companies (PMCs) and Private Security Companies (PSCs) have played a role in Burkina Faso's fight against the jihadi insurgency. The country has relied on these companies for protection, particularly in the mining sector. However, the presence of PMCs in the country is not well documented and their activities have come under scrutiny. Ukrainian and Bulgarian mercenary pilots were deployed to Burkina Faso in 2018 and Ukrainian PMC Omega Consulting featured its operations in the country in 2018.

The Track Record of Wagner Group in Africa

The Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, has a well-documented history of operations on the African continent. The company first deployed to Sudan in 2017 and later to the Central African Republic in 2018. As the security situation in the CAR worsened, Wagner became one of the most significant armed actors in the conflict and directed the majority of its military activity against civilians. In 2019, the company expanded its operations to Libya and Mozambique.