Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said the military government of Burkina Faso has hired Russian mercenaries to help fight an insurgency in their country and is using a mine to pay them.
Militants have made increasing inroads into Burkina Faso, triggering two coup d’etats this year, one in January and one in September, as the military tries to re-establish control of the country.
Experts believe Burkina Faso’s current leader, army captain Ibrahim Traore, is using Russian mercenaries from the shadowy Wagner group to fight the jihadists.
Speaking Wednesday in Washington as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, Akufo-Addo expressed concern about the suspected development.
“Today, Russian mercenaries are on our northern border,” Akufo-Addo said. “Burkina Faso has now entered into an arrangement to go along with Mali in employing the Wagner forces there and I believe a mine in the southern part of Burkina has been allocated to them as a form of payment for their service. To have them operating on our northern border is particularly distressing for us in Ghana.”
An official involved in the border security of Burkina Faso, speaking on condition of anonymity, commented on Akufo-Addo's remarks in a text message to VOA.
He did not deny the presence of mercenaries, instead saying “Burkina does not need foreign fighters, but equipment. We have men capable” of fighting terrorism.
Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar, executive director of West Africa Center for Counter-Extremism (WACCE), said the recent withdrawal of European, mainly French, peacekeeping troops from the Sahel is a loss in the fight against jihadists.
He said it will enable Russia’s push to establish a strong foothold in Africa.
“Now that we are seeing the withdrawal of the French forces, which is followed by the other European partners, is a big blow to the region and to all of us here along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea,” Muqthar said. “The Russian mercenaries are in there and they seem to be building some significant sense of goodwill from the local population as against traditional European partners and that should worry all of us.”
Muqthar said focusing solely on using combat to fight terrorism in West Africa is not the best way to go, saying it failed in the Sahel regions.
“Combat measures are very important to hold territories and to stop these extremists,” he said. “But it’s not enough to sustain any gains relating to combating terrorism. We need to match it with significant noncombat measures, which is the people. It’s important that military measures must be development linked and must be linked to the realities of the problem because people don’t just wake up to fight.”
Recently, West African leaders met in Accra to discuss terrorism and worsening security in the region. They resolved at the Accra Initiative to establish an anti-jihadist force within a month to protect coastal countries, such as Ghana.