Blood Gold: The Mercenaries Plundering Africa to Fuel the Kremlin's War Machine

Wagner Group
Wagner Group (Getty Images)

"Never again," said the world after the Holocaust. And again after Bosnia. And again after Rwanda. And again after Darfur. And again after ISIS. And again in Ukraine. And so it goes, again.

Today those same genocidal militias in Sudan, now exceedingly more powerful and reconstituted as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), continue to terrorize Darfur with impunity. Led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo, "Hemedti," the RSF has seized and taken control of lucrative artisan gold mines throughout Darfur to further arm and equip its forces. 

Blood Money
(Photo : Getty Images ) Blood Money

Through the export of the gold extracted from these mines, coupled with the hiring out of his fighters to fight for the Saudi-Emirati coalition in Yemen and Khalifa Haftar in Libya, "Hemedti" has gone from Janjaweed militia commander to one of the region's most powerful warlords. So what does this mean for Russia's empire? What for Africa? And what for gold? 

Make no mistake about it. Hemedti's meteoric rise to power and riches was propelled by rivers of innocent blood. The former camel trader and his RSF fighters are mercenaries of the very worst sort of armed opportunists-rapists, torturers, mutilators, and killers for hire. They kill all that breathe and burn all that stands. Without hesitation. Without conscience. Without mercy. They are, to Sudan, and the world, an affliction. A metastasizing cancer. A cancer being armed and equipped by a Western ally in the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates, and others seeking to establish their own or undermine Western influence in the region.

Enter Russia's Wagner Group. The private military company (PMC), which serves as a thinly veiled Kremlin proxy force, has long been accused of extensive human rights abuses and war crimes throughout the world including the rape, torture, and the summary execution of civilians and prisoners of war. Wagner fighters, by comparison to those of the RSF in Sudan, are no better. They too are guns for hire of the very worst mankind has to offer. Violent criminals, often convicted murderers and rapists, released from Russian prisons to wreak havoc on foreign battlefields with little to lose but their lives.  

The paths of these Wagner and RSF fighters have converged in Africa where mutual interests-namely, weapons and gold-have brought them together. A bit of quid pro quo between two of Africa's most powerful groups of quasi-state armed actors. Wagner Group needs gold to fund Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine, and it has plenty of weapons. The RSF has plenty of gold, but it needs weapons to further its fight against the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in its bid to take control of Sudan. And this is where the Kremlin's genocidal proxies intersect with Darfur's genocidal militias in Africa.

Between February 2022 and February 2023, Wagner mercenaries "smuggled an estimated 32.7 metric tons of gold worth nearly $1.9 billion out of the country," according to the Africa Defense Forum. And through its bases in Libya and the Central African Republic (CAR) bordering Sudan, Wagner Group is reportedly supplying the RSF with the surface-to-air missiles and other weapons and military equipment. Flights from Wagner bases in Syria to RSF bases in Sudan have also been confirmed by various officials and investigators tasked with tracking and monitoring the trafficking of illicit arms and sanctioned resources.

This part one of a series on Blood Gold. Stay tuned for the next installment.

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