The US military’s Africa Command says it is concerned about Chinese expansion into Africa and instances where China is exploiting African countries.
General Stephen J Townsend, Commander of Africom, during a digital press briefing on 3 February said he doesn’t begrudge China’s ability to rise as a power in the world. “But they also have a view to expand into Africa, particularly into West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. And where they’re helping African partners in a useful and positive way, I’m happy to see that and happy to see our African partners benefit from that.
“But where they’re exploiting our African partners, I think we ought to shine a spotlight on that. And there are some places where that’s going on. And one area that concerns me is the Gulf of Guinea,” Townsend elaborated. “The Chinese, I think, aspire to have a naval base in that area. And I think they aspire to have a maritime task force in that area, all for the purpose of preventing piracy and illegal fishing. But all the studies that I have seen say that the number one purveyor of illegal fishing in the Gulf of Guinea are Chinese fishing fleets. So I think we ought to keep shining a spotlight on that kind of unhelpful involvement in the African continent.”
Townsend also condemned Russian mercenary activity in Africa, particularly through the Wagner Group. “We have observer the Malian junta bring Russian mercenaries into their country,” he explained. “They’ve invited them. They continue to deny this in public, but my information is pretty clear that they have brought in Wagner. We think they are on the ground in several hundred and expanding to some unknown number.
“I’ve got reason to believe that the Malian Government tab for Wagner’s services is $10 million a month. I don’t know where the Malian Government comes up with $10 million a month. So I think they will have to trade in kind with natural resources such as gold and other minerals, gemstones, those kinds of things because I don’t know how they come up with $10 million a month in cash.
“Here’s the big thing about Wagner. This group is beholden to no government, and they follow no rules. They do not operate within the law of armed conflict, and there is no oversight. So they are making up their own rules wherever they go in the world, and I have clearly seen them in – operate in Syria. I have personal experience with them in Syria. And I have seen them operate in Libya and in other countries in Africa and they are going to do more harm. They are there for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the Malian people,” Townsend said.
“I have watched this Wagner – this is not the Russian military we’re talking about. These are mercenaries that happen to be from Russia. And I have watched this group of actors in Syria. I’ve watched them in Libya. I’ve watched them in Sudan. I’ve watched them in Central African Republic. And I’ve watched them in Mozambique. And they never leave the situation better than they found it. My experience is they will leave it much worse and they will also exploit the country at expense,” Townsend said.