A drone or helicopter attacks a base of Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic in the night. Speculations started immediately: was it the French or the Ukrainians? The background is a civil war in the country that has lasted for almost ten years.
It sounds like a robber's gun straight out of a movie: An "unidentified flying object" without a light entered the airspace of the Central African Republic late Sunday night, according to an official press release from the African country's government. It dropped a bomb on a cotton factory in the north of the country in the town of Bossangoa, which serves as a military base.
The massive explosion caused "considerable property damage". Soldiers from the national army are also affected, as well as the troops of “our allies”. What is meant are the Russian mercenaries from the Wagner security company, which does dirty jobs for the Kremlin not only in Ukraine. Only a few days before the attack, Wagner mercenaries had been housed in this cotton factory.
The government of the Central African Republic did not provide any information on the dead or injured. "The aircraft flew north after committing these crimes and crossed our borders there," the statement said. An investigation into the incident will be launched to identify those responsible for the "unworthy act committed by the enemies of peace". The government also announced retaliation.
Residents of Bossangoa said the Russian mercenaries shot in the air at dawn "to express their anger," as local journalist Robert Faradanga said on a radio show on Monday: "At the moment the town is quiet, the shops are still open not open because people are afraid to go about their business." Bossangoa Mayor Pierre Denamguere says the craft, which made little noise, flew without lights and dropped four bombs. One had exploded in the garden of a house near the cotton factory. Local residents say it contained nails and other shrapnel.
The incident is one of the most mysterious happenings in the small Central African country that has been at war with civil war since 2013. Immediately there was speculation about the origin of the flying object: was it the French? The Ukrainians? The Sudanese or their northern neighbor Chad?
The attack and the speculation about it contain political explosives. Because although the conflict in the small country with just five million inhabitants has local causes, world politics is taking place there. The Central African Republic was once a French colony and a close ally on the African continent until the fall of the pro-France government of ex-President Francois Bosize in 2013.
Then the current President Faustin Touadera brought the Russian Wagner mercenaries into the country in 2018. Officially, they are supposed to "train and advise" the national army. Unofficially, they are actively fighting the rebels and committing cruel human rights crimes against the population. The Russians also provide the president's personal bodyguards. He is in close contact with Russia's head of state Vladimir Putin. Just two weeks ago, in a telephone call, he promised his counterpart that he would help the desperately poor and war-ravaged country in view of the global economic and food crisis.
The alliance with Russia has led to the withdrawal of the French - after more than a hundred years of military presence in the heart of the continent. In October, they closed their air force base at the airport in the capital, Bangui, from where they previously controlled the airspace. The last 130 French soldiers will leave the country at the end of the year. This marks the end of an era of French sovereignty over the region.
The Russians are taking over now. Russia recently attempted to ban UN planes from flying at night at the UN Security Council in New York, where France was presiding over the extension of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic. They want to control the airspace themselves.
The French air base was moved to neighboring Chad, now France's main military partner in the region. The border with Chad runs around 200 kilometers north of Bossangoa. Allegedly, the flying object - probably a combat drone or a combat helicopter - had flown back there. The small town of Bossangoa was until recently under the control of rebels fighting the Touadera government. In 2020, Wagner mercenaries prevented the rebels from taking the capital and overthrowing the president.
Pro-government media now suspect the rebels of the CPC, the "Coalition of Patriots for Change," to be behind the attack. The coalition of all anti-government militias was formed in Bossangoa in 2020, led by ex-President Bozize, who was not admitted as a candidate for the presidential election at the time. Shortly before the election they tried to storm Bangui, which the Russians were able to prevent. Until a few days ago, CPC fighters fought a fierce battle with the Wagner mercenaries around Bossangoa. The Russians used attack helicopters to drive the fighters away.
They then withdrew to Chad. Central Africa's government is now accusing Chad's government, and thus indirectly the French, of supporting the CPC. In their eyes, the air raid seems to confirm the assumption. Analysts fear that a proxy war between France and Russia could be brewing in the region.