A US private security company, Bancroft Global Development, has confirmed that it is in talks with the Central African Republic (CAR) over possible future activities in the country, where a Russian mercenary group, Wagner, has been operating for years.
Bancroft, which is partly funded by the US State Department but claims to be independent, said it agreed on a framework to discuss potential cooperation with the CAR government in July, but did not provide any details.
The company, which has been active in Somalia for over a decade, said its main objective in CAR was to control and protect mining concessions in areas where armed groups operate, and to share the benefits with the local population and the state.
It also said it planned to train forest rangers to develop high-end hunting tourism for wealthy foreigners.
RFI revealed that Bancroft employees had already arrived in Bangui, but not yet operational.
However, the arrival of Bancroft in CAR has raised some questions and concerns, especially regarding its founder, Michael Stock, who has links to a notorious French mercenary, Bob Denard, and the far right.
Some observers have also expressed worries about Bancroft’s possible use of surveillance and interception tools for the benefit of the CAR presidency, and the implications for human rights and privacy.
Albert Yaloke Mokpeme, spokesman for the presidency, said that his country was carrying out “work to diversify its relations”. He said CAR had called on countries including Russia and the United States to help train soldiers.
“As part of the reconstruction of the national army (…), we called on partners including the Russian Federation, Angola, Morocco, Guinea (…) who are helping us to train our soldiers,” he added. “The United States is also offering to the Central African Republic to train its soldiers, both on Central African soil and on American soil.”
Bancroft’s talks with CAR authorities come as Russia seeks to maintain and expand its influence in Africa, following the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner, Russia’s largest private military company.
Wagner has been present in CAR since 2018, when it signed a deal with the government to train and equip the national army, and to secure mining sites.
Wagner has also been accused of involvement in human rights violations, political meddling, and illicit exploitation of natural resources in CAR and other African countries.
The US has denied any involvement or endorsement of Bancroft’s activities in CAR, and said it was committed to partnering with the Central African people and supporting the country’s peace and stability. It said in a January 11 Department of State Press Briefing, “the Department did not give a green light to Bancroft to begin operations as some have falsely reported.”
From French troops to Russian Wagner, now US Bancroft
President Touadera brought in Wagner in 2018 to help train his armed forces. Hundreds of mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner arrived in the Central African Republic in 2018, officially to train the army, according to Moscow. At the end of 2020, the system was reinforced to curb a rebel offensive on Bangui.
The rise of Russian power in the CAR was accompanied by the disgrace of France, a former colonial power, against a backdrop of growing anti-French sentiment. Wagner has established itself as one of the government’ rooms main security partners and the last French soldiers left the country in December 2022.
The move came after a French peacekeeping operation in CAR ended in 2016.
France, which colonised the country from 1895 to 1960, started sending troops to CAR in December 2013 to help stem a civil war flaring along sectarian lines. The mission, authorised by the United Nations, was supposed to reinforce an African Union peacekeeping force already in place.
Russia has already sent military equipment to CAR and Russian instructors are currently on the ground helping train the country’s armed forces. The country has sent planeloads of light arms and other weapons as well as about 175 military and civilian instructors in 2018 to train CAR soldiers and secure mining projects, marking the start of its highest-profile military foray in sub-Saharan Africa for decades.
On 9 January 2019, the CAR’s defence minister told Russian media that the Central African Republic (CAR) does not rule out the deployment of full-fledged Russian military bases on top of an existing training facility.