Burkina Faso Denies Hiring Wagner Mercenaries

Published: 23 December 2022

Burkina Faso FlagBurkina Faso, facing a growing Islamist insurgency, has been through two military coups this year. (Photo: Public Domain Pictures, License)

By Josef Skrdlik

Burkina Faso’s Minister of Mines Simon-Pierre Boussim denied Tuesday Ghana’s claim that his country contracted mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked private military group Wagner in exchange for a mining concession.

Ghanaian President Nana Akuffo Addo raised the accusation during last week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders summit in Washington, alleging that the concession specifically concerned a gold mine in southern Burkina Faso. He complained that Russian mercenaries are now encroaching on Ghana’s northern border.

The claim gave rise to speculations that Wagner is quickly expanding its presence in the Sahel after it landed a deal to provide military support to the Malian junta last December.

The Sahel is a highly volatile region stretching along the southern edge of the Sahara, stricken by a growing Islamist insurgency.

Alongside Mali, Burkina Faso has been the hardest-hit country, registering 2,354 fatalities last year and maintaining state control over only 60% of its territory.

Dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the crisis has led to two military coups this year. During both coups, protesters were seen waving Russian flags, saying they wanted Burkina Faso to end its military partnership with France and turn to Russia instead.

But Boussim, in response to Addo’s accusation, denied any Wagner presence on the Burkinabe territory.

Boussim admitted that on December 7, a subsidiary of Russia’s gold-mining company Nordgold was given a concession for a mining site in the central Samtenga district. But he added that Nordgold has been in Burkina Faso for the past 15 years and no new license has been issued to any company in the south of the country this year.

Wagner, which gained global notoriety for its involvement in the war in Ukraine and Syria, also maintains a strong presence in the Central African Republic, where it supports the government of Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the fight against rebels and is reported to be involved in the local mining sector.

The group appears to be active in at least four other African countries, including Mali, Libya, Sudan and Mozambique.