The death of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, if confirmed, will test the resilience of operations by thousands of mercenaries active in Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Libya.
Wagner has a decentralised command on the continent where it provides security for some African leaders in exchange for mineral and other strategic economic and military concessions.
The group has also been instrumental in spreading Russian influence through media campaigns that primarily discredit the West.
In the CAR, where Wagner forces were invited by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in 2018, the mercenaries have expanded into the media, timber and even vodka to consolidate economic interests in the mineral-rich country.
Earlier this week, the Russia House, a cultural centre affiliated with Wagner based in CAR’s capital, Bangui, announced a three-month trade fair for Russian businesses interested in expanding operations in the region.
This could ostensibly enable companies linked to Wagner to operate in the CAR and circumvent Western sanctions.
However, the mercenaries operating in CAR have been accused of atrocities while fighting rebels behind the country’s chronic instability.
Mali’s military-led government has also become heavily dependent on Wagner after ending security agreements with France and the UN peacekeeping force.
At least 1,000 mercenaries were deployed there in late 2021, though officials deny their presence.
In May, the US sanctioned Wagner’s de facto leader there, Ivan Maslov, for using Mali to obtain weapons for Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine.
The range of operations underscore Africa’s importance to Russia’s foreign policy.
However, the loyalty of Wagner operatives on the continent will be crucial in consolidating Moscow’s future influence.