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Disinformation Avalanche: Russia's Destabilizing Influence Spreads Across Africa

Published March 20, 2024
2 months ago

Africa is currently grappling with a disinformation tsunami, with Russia at the forefront of these deceptive efforts. A startling report from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies indicates that the continent has witnessed an almost-fourfold increase in disinformation campaigns since 2022. These actions not only sow chaos but also serve to strengthen pro-Moscow military regimes.

In South Africa, among the 11 ongoing campaigns, the Kremlin's hand is distinctly visible, as these have been designed to provide an unwarranted lift to the African National Congress (ANC). The tentacles of these campaigns reach deep, as noted through the involvement of influential South Africans, including former president Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, in pro-Russian propaganda activities.

As the popularity of social media soars across the continent, reaching an active user base of 400 million and 600 million internet users in Africa, these disinformation efforts have found fertile ground. Countries embroiled in conflict are particularly susceptible to larger volumes of disinformation, underscoring a troubling link between instability and misleading information.

The campaigns, as the think-tank's report underscores, have far-reaching consequences. They incite violence, endorse coups, intimidate civil societies, and act as covers for both corruption and exploitation, all while eroding Africans' basic rights and security.

An in-depth analysis of these deceptive undertakings reveals Russia's strategic targeting of West Africa, especially the Sahel region. Here, the Kremlin has launched numerous campaigns aimed at subverting Western-aligned democracies. The report cites substantial evidence of these campaigns, which involve both manipulation and misinformation.

West Africa has been particularly battered with 72 of the 189 identified campaigns, reflecting Russia's goal of gaining continental influence and eclipsing the West. Similar efforts are observed across Southern Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, with trans-African campaigns revealing a worrying trend.

In the larger scheme of things, nearly 60% of the disinformation campaigns in Africa are backed by foreign states, the prime patrons being Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. These strategic misinformation efforts are not just random; they are pointedly deployed during critical moments such as elections to manipulate outcomes and perceptions.

The report points out a growing trend of domestic political forces resorting to disinformation as well, as observed in Kenya's 2022 elections as well as the 2023 elections in Nigeria. This erosive wave has hit at a particularly vulnerable time for the continent, as press freedom, a critical bulwark against misinformation, is on the decline.

Russia leads the charge with a disconcerting stronghold over disinformation in Africa. With 80 documented campaigns, they leverage propaganda to undermine democracy, instill confusion, and foster views sympathetic to the Kremlin's stance on global affairs. Their influence is profound and largely cultivated through industrial-scale operations that paint them as saviors against Western and UN interference.

Finally, the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner and a key figure in Russian disinformation, might not stall these campaigns. Instead, his legacy persists as his operations are assimilated into broader Russian strategic objectives in Africa, signaling the enduring and evolving challenge of combating disinformation on the continent.

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