How African gold mines have turned into hotbeds of conflict between Russia and China
Mercenaries of the Wagner group, a Russian private military company, are allegedly targeting Chinese nationals over rivalry in the mining industry in the Central African Republic.
On March 19, an armed attack on a Chinese private company in the Central African Republic (CAR) killed nine Chinese nationals and severely injured two others. The victims were Chinese workers at a site run by the Gold Coast Group in Bambari. It is alleged that mercenaries of the Russian Wagner group, which controls a gold mine, were responsible for the attack.
While French companies dominate the mining industry in the former French colony, foreign firms, including those from China and Russia, have made inroads into the flourishing business. However, tensions have risen in the CAR due to the increasing involvement of China and Russia in the mining industry.
Evariste Ngamana, the vice president of the CAR’s national assembly, held “foreign mercenaries” responsible for the killings.
France, the former colonial power, until last year had troops stationed in the CAR.
In 2020, President Touadera asked Moscow for help after armed groups took control of two-thirds of the country and attacked the capital, Bangui. Hundreds of Russian paramilitaries joined the few hundred already present since 2018, pushing back against the rebel offensive and reclaiming a large part of the territories and cities they controlled.
Beijing’s recent attempt to make inroads into the CAR’s mining industry is likely being seen as a threat by Russia’s mining businesses in the country. However, amid the war in Ukraine, a fallout with Beijing as a result of the Chimbolo killings is something Russia is desperate to avoid. China has emerged as Russia’s biggest diplomatic, financial, and technological supporter during the Russia-Ukraine war.
The allegation that the Wagner Group is involved in the Chimbolo attack could strain the relations between Moscow and Beijing. The Chinese government dispatched a team to the mine, and a working group from the embassy rushed to the site to coordinate the response to the attack. The CAR government is taking measures to avoid a political fallout with Beijing, with President Touadera reportedly planning to travel to China to reassure investors of their safety in the country. If Beijing is convinced that the Wagner Group is responsible for the killings and Touadera does not handle the situation well, tensions could escalate between the CAR and China on one hand and China and Russia on the other hand.
Those killed in the Chimbolo mine attack, according to reports, have been former criminals and convicts in China. Many Chinese workers in Africa reportedly have criminal records back home. Chinese workers have been accused of human rights abuses in Africa in the past. A Chinese coal mine owner was charged with attempted murder in 2020 after shooting and seriously injuring two Zimbabwean workers during a wage dispute in the town of Gweru. The trial is still pending.
In August 2021, a video showing a Chinese mining manager whipping two Rwandan employees went viral, causing widespread outrage. According to a report from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, there were 181 human rights abuse allegations connected to Chinese investments in Africa between 2013 and 2020. The highest number of incidents occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.