How Putin Became a Hero on African TV

Pro-Russian content presenting a distorted version of the war in Ukraine and promoting Russia’s interests in Africa is gaining an audience on the continent..

In South Africa, a social media influencer who added “Vladimir” to his Twitter name to convey his reverence for the Russian president transmits Russian-generated content over Twitter and Telegram to a growing audience that now numbers 148,000 followers.

On Afrique Média, a television channel based in Cameroon that reaches millions of people in Africa and recently signed a partnership with RT, the state-funded Russian television network, pundits regularly praise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with one recently declaring, “Glory to Putin.”

An animated video circulating online — and a cause of alarm in one newly revealed U.S. intelligence document — shows a brave Russian commando from the Wagner group, which is fighting for Russia in Ukraine, joining West African soldiers to defeat a horde of invading zombies from France.

Over the past year, a flood of pro-Russian content has increasingly been surfacing on news outlets and social media platforms in Africa. The messages aim to drum up support for the invasion of Ukraine, and to frame Russia’s growing presence on the African continent as beneficial, while vilifying American and European — especially French — involvement in Africa.

Among the U.S. intelligence documents found leaked last week is a report saying that Russia’s military intelligence agency in February planned a propaganda campaign using African media to “realign” public opinion in Africa with Russia, away from the West.

A broad mix of media has been carrying this content, including influencers on social media and news websites and television networks that have signed partnerships with Kremlin-funded operations.

Some of the outlets, according to experts, are affiliated with the Wagner group, the Kremlin-backed network that is operating in several African countries, seeding disinformation while sending thousands of mercenaries to prop up friendly governments and mine for gold and other natural resources.

“Russian fake news is produced on an industrial scale here,” said Abdoulaye Guindo, the coordinator of Benbere, a fact-checking website based in Mali, where the Wagner group has a sizable presence. “The prowess of pro-Russian accounts is undeniable.”

At the same time, the reach of Western news outlets has been dwindling on some parts of the continent. The BBC is cutting dozens of journalists in Africa and shutting down at least three channels broadcasting in local African languages, part of a broader retrenchment.

Radio France Internationale and France 24, which are funded by the French government, have been suspended in Mali and Burkina Faso, where leaders aligned with Russia have expelled French reporters. Such bans and expulsions “have created space for media favorable to a pro-Russian narrative,” Reporters Without Borders said in a recent study

From the Central African Republic to Madagascar, Mali to South Africa, Russia aims to position itself as a bulwark against the West in Africa. That influence became even more apparent to Western governments when 26 of the continent’s 54 countries refused to join a U.N. vote condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Interviews with more than two dozen government officials, analysts and journalists show how media and disinformation operations are promoting Russian interests in Africa.

“We’re facing a juggernaut,” said Gen. Pascal Ianni, a French military official in charge of countering Russia’s disinformation operations in West Africa.


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