Russia has launched sympathetic media outlets, courted anti-French public support, and created fake civil society organizations in turbulent African states, according to an investigation by Microsoft.
The computing giant’s report noted that coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Gabon have brought instability to the continent, and Russia is capitalizing upon this instability with a range of influence campaigns.
Using Content to Stoke Anti-French Sentiment
In Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, where the prevalence of the French language is a post-colonial holdover, coup leaders have named Radio France International and France 24 as adversaries, silencing the largest French-language sources of news from the West, and enabling other narratives to thrive.
Russia’s efforts thus have included placing content on pro-Russian media aimed at stoking anti-French sentiment, praising both coup leaders and broadcasting supportive messages from nations that are friendly to Russia. In particular, Russia is championing national sovereignty while denigrating France, enflaming tensions with specific provocations for Western nations to withdraw diplomats, among other calls to action.
Russia has also created the Russia-Africa Alternative Partnership for Economic Development, with chapters in multiple African countries and a Nigerien leader. Members have appeared at pro-coup protests, declaring their support for junta regimes and their hope for partnership with Russia.
It is also supporting l’Union des patriotes panafricanistes, a political party whose leader has declared support for Russia’s actions in enabling the Niger coup, and won the support of Nigerien musicians, some of whom released a music video opposing the French army.
How Is the Wagner Group Involved?
The Russian state-funded private military company Wagner Group has used Facebook groups to promote pro-Russian propaganda and broadcast pro-coup messaging. Wagner was first deployed to Mali in December 2021 to engage in combat operations and run influence campaigns, which led to the Malian constitutional referendum.
In Niger, the Russian government did not directly declare support for the coup, but Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin did, before his death in August.
Microsoft claims that following Prigozhin’s death the fate of Wagner operatives on the continent remains unknown, but the organization was one actor among many in Russia’s influence apparatus.
A summit held in Saint Petersburg in July saw Russian president Vladimir Putin meet African leaders, although according to reports, only 17 African leaders attended — a number lower than those who had attended the previous summit in 2019.