West-East Proxy War in West Africa: A 12-month Outlook


    As the world’s attention focuses on the Russia-Ukraine war and a military escalation in East Asia, the proxy war in West Africa has gained minor attention. As China establishes a forceful presence in the region, there are prospects for the United States (US) to balance efforts soon. Furthermore, violent developments among different terrorist groups have spurred discontent towards West African governments. There is an ongoing trend of military coups with several examples in previous years, which create an opportunity for external influence. Russian military presence and the private security they provide through the Wagner Group have put pressure on French stabilising efforts. Due to the discrepancy between valuable natural resources and production, there are incentives for future conflict in the region when external actors strive to fulfill the domestic demands of energy and tech minerals vital for a green transition.

    KJ-1: It is highly likely that the U.S. will increase its investments in West Africa and balance Chinese influence over the next 12 months.

    • There is an ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China in West Africa competing for rare earth minerals [source].
    • China is the dominant global supplier of rare earth minerals and has a significant footprint in Africa [source].
    • Following China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the country uses debt obligations as a tool of soft power on West African nations [source].
    • Chinese commercial fishing vessels utilise West Africa’s waters for fishing, to the extent of becoming the largest fishing power in the region [source].
    • China has secured critical mineral import from Guinea, which accounts for 27% of the world’s total supply of bauxite [source; source].
    • In 2022, the U.S. with allies increased investments in Africa to bolster critical mineral supply chains [source].
    • West Africa has become a focus for mineral exploration and exploitation with large resources of gold, iron ore, diamonds, bauxite, phosphate, and uranium [source].
    • Apart from critical minerals, West Africa has significant energy resources and accounts for about one-third of African gas and oil reserves [source].
    • However, crude production has fallen by one-third since 2010 and expects to drop further [source]. Hence, there is a large discrepancy between output and capacity.
    • Through AFRICOM, the U.S. has a large military footprint in West African states [source].
    • There are indications of China seeking to increase its military presence in West Africa [source].

    KJ-2: It is likely that China will challenge French influence in West Africa in the next 12 months.

    • France has a well-established military presence in Niger [source].
    • Since 2018 Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger enjoy Russian military support [source].
    • After the Western withdrawal from Mali, the Russian Wagner group established relations with the Malinese government as security provider [source].
    • Since the recent coup in Burkina Faso, a broad Russian support has been clear [source].
    • While the main Western focus is on Ukraine, Russia is actively spreading anti-Western propaganda in West Africa [source].

    KJ-3: Following external influence, it is highly likely that there will be further coup attempts in West Africa in the next 12 months.

    • Since 2010, there have been 20 coup attempts in West Africa and the Sahel [source].
    • During the last 2 years, coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad have increased tensions between external actors and the new regimes [source].
    • In 2021, governments in Guinea and Mali were overthrown and a military takeover was repulsed in Niger [source].
    • In 2022, a further coup in Burkina Faso and a failed coup in Guinea Bissau took place [source].

    Intelligence Cut-Off date: November 19, 2022

    Oscar Rosengren
    Oscar Rosengren
    Oscar Rosengren is a student at the Swedish Defence University in Stockholm. His main focus area is the Sahel Region and West Africa. Specific interests are asymmetric threats, mainly terrorism, covert action, and cyber threats.

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