by Scott Morgan
The reports that the American Private Military Company Bancroft was having conversations with President Toudene of the Central African Republic regarding a potential move into the country.
There are several interesting and tantalizing questions that deserve to be asked. The first question is why now? There are two trains of thought regarding this. Is the reputation of the Wagner Group being tarnished as it has been in Mali? Is this an effort to create a carve out to allow the country to avoid sanctions?
At first glance this appears to be an effort to allow for some humanitarian relief. Initial reporting suggested that the offer first reported in July 2023 would call for Bancroft to train units of the Military and increase Humanitarian Aid in exchange for the removal of the presence of Wagner. One caveat of the deal that raises questions about this potentially could be about Sanctions Relief is a clause that suggests that these troops would provide security at some mines.
Another train of thought suggests that is another effort by the Biden Administration to follow through with a promise made at the African Leadership Summit to engage more with African Partners. Some reporting has indicated that the State Department first proposed this move during the summit. This report indicates that this action can be seen as an effort to counter the growing Russian presence in Africa as it presents itself as a viable option compared to China, the United States and the EU. So countering Russia may be the obvious answer as to why the State Department would support this.
The activities of Wagner in the Central African Republic have not gone unnoticed either. In 2022 USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) designated the group to be an EPC (Entity of Particular Concern) specifically for their actions in the country. For the actions that took place in the country in 2023 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken placed the Central African Republic on the Special Watch List under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) however Wagner was removed from the EPC list.
One can ask why would Bancroft undertake this effort? One train of thought suggests that Western interests see an opportunity for an advantage to exploit as the group reorganizes after the death of its founder Yevgeny Prighozin in a plane crash last summer. Another line follows the statement of President Faustin-Archange Toudera from 2018 when he asked for assistance from all countries to train the Military. The proposal from Bancroft Global to the government does appear to fall under the request that was made by the President. To this day the country still struggles against militant groups.
This effort would not be the first such project that Bancroft has undertaken either. Currently the group is conducting a similar project in Somalia. This project is billed as a mentoring program to the current African Union Transition Mission which is scheduled to leave the country before the end of December 2024. The efforts of Bancroft in Somalia have been considered to be a success by some people as Somalia has made strides at strengthening some institutions within the country.
With an apparent end date visible for the operations in Somalia, It appears that the company is searching for new opportunities in Africa. The situation within the Central African Republic does present another opportunity if successful to organize and conduct a similar program in the country along similar veins to what was able to be accomplished in Somalia.
One thing that appears to be overlooked is the reaction by Wagner and its proxies with CAR itself. On Feb 9th reports emerged that an employee of Bancroft was detained by Police and Russian Paramilitary Forces. This is being presented as a setback for Bancroft. It is clear that Wagner considers any potential deal with Bancroft as a threat to their bottom line. Therefore any action taken against Bancroft will be justified. The situation is even more confusing as an unnamed Presidential advisor has stated that Bancroft is in the country and is not operational and furthermore stated that “nothing has been signed.”
It may be too early to determine whether or not Bancroft operates within the country. Certainly Wagner will take steps that it deems are necessary to protect its operations against what will be considered to be interlopers. The Biden Administration sees an opportunity to enhance its presence in Central Africa. How this plays out may be one of the most hidden foreign policy challenges of 2024.