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Africa the target of a surging disinformation tsunami, mainly generated by Russia

Africa the target of a surging disinformation tsunami, mainly generated by Russia

The aim of the 189 known disinformation campaigns across Africa is to destabilise democracies, strengthen military juntas and undermine Western influence, says a new in-depth report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

The number of disinformation campaigns – most of them launched by Russia – has almost quadrupled in Africa since 2022, destabilising democracies and bolstering pro-Moscow military juntas.

In South Africa, some of the 11 documented campaigns now under way have been designed by Russia to boost the ANC.

The Kremlin has concentrated most of its fake news efforts in Africa on sabotaging Western-backed democracies in the Sahel, according to a new report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a think-tank within the US Defense Department established and funded by Congress.

The in-depth report cites evidence that former president Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, was among South African influencers who played a key role in the #IStandWithPutin and #IStandWithRussia campaigns launched shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Zuma-Sambudla visited Russia at the time.  

The disinformation surge has been facilitated by an explosion in the use of social media, with 400 million active social media users and 600 million internet users now in Africa, say the authors of the report, titled “Mapping a Surge of Disinformation in Africa”.

They found that African countries experiencing conflict were subject to much greater levels of disinformation than the average – highlighting the connection between instability and disinformation.

“Disinformation campaigns have directly driven deadly violence, promoted and validated military coups, cowed civil society members into silence, and served as smokescreens for corruption and exploitation.

“This has had real-world consequences for diminishing Africans’ rights, freedoms and security.”

Foreign and domestic campaigns

Of the 189 known campaigns – targeting at least 39 African countries specifically – 72 are in west Africa, 33 in east Africa, 25 in southern Africa, 21 in central Africa, 15 in north Africa and 23 are trans-African.

The authors suspect there are more undetected campaigns. 

Eleven of the 25 southern African campaigns are in South Africa. Of these, six campaigns are conducted by “Kremlin-linked actors”, two by “CCP [Chinese Communist Party]-linked actors” and three by “domestic political actors”, the report says.

“Russia has been the primary disinformation actor in South Africa. In addition to pushing narratives intended to polarise communities, fan distrust and bolster the African National Congress, Russia has used influential South Africans to promote pro-Russian narratives within South Africa and abroad,” the report says.

It adds that China has been the primary external purveyor of disinformation in Zimbabwe, enacting campaigns to support Zanu-PF by suppressing opposition and civil society voices, promoting Chinese political and business propaganda, and pushing anti-Western narratives. 

The report found that nearly 60% of disinformation campaigns on the continent are foreign state-sponsored – with Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the primary sponsors.

African elections are a prime target for disinformation.

“One private Israeli group, dubbed ‘Team Jorge’, has reportedly implemented disinformation campaigns to disrupt over 20 African elections since 2015,” the report notes. 

The report adds that domestic political forces have also increasingly resorted to disinformation tactics, notably during Kenya’s 2022 and Nigeria’s 2023 elections.

“Disinformation is surging in African information spaces at a time when press freedom – a critical protective barrier against disinformation – is in decline.”

The report also says African countries that uphold presidential term limits – i.e. have stronger checks and balances – are less vulnerable to foreign-sponsored disinformation.

Though the field of perpetrators is expanding, Russia remains the primary purveyor of disinformation in Africa, sponsoring 80 documented campaigns – nearly 40% of the total – targeting more than 22 countries, to gain influence in Africa and displace the West, the report says. 

Russia has deployed disinformation to undermine democracy in at least 19 African countries, “contributing to the continent’s backsliding on this front”. 

West Africa

The report says that in west Africa, 38 of the 72 disinformation campaigns have been organised by “Kremlin-linked actors” – mostly the private military/mercenary company Wagner, founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a suspicious aircraft crash last August after launching a mutiny against Russia’s military command. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Wagner has a new name tag but still plunders Africa’s minerals

Russia has homed in on Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, with 19 of the campaigns directed at these countries which are governed by military juntas that recently seized power in coups. 

The report highlights how Wagner-linked campaigns hit Niger with a barrage of fake content before, during and after the July 2023 coup.  

This included spreading rumours of a coup months before it happened, encouraging the violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators in Niamey after the coup, and “exploiting the confusion to frame the events as anti-France and as representing a momentous surge in African support for a Russian vision of the global order”.

The Wagner campaigns also tried to derail negotiations between the Niger junta and regional mediators, including by spreading fake news that the regional body, Ecowas, was about to invade Niger supported by French jets which had supposedly already landed in Senegal. 

The Russian bots then celebrated the coup as an affirmation of support for Russia.

Read more in Daily Maverick: With the signing of an ‘all-for-one’ pact, Russia’s new African empire starts to take shape

‘Industrial scale’ 

The report also notes that Russia, with 16 operations, and China with five, are the largest purveyors of the 23 transnational disinformation campaigns in Africa. 

The Russian and Chinese campaigns aim to “advance their geostrategic interests and shape narratives that undermine democratic processes, promote coups in Africa, stoke anti-Western and anti-United Nations sentiment, and spread confusion about climate change science, among others”.

Russia, especially, conducts its campaigns “on an industrial scale”. 

The report cites two prominent disinformation influencers connected to Russia, for example, who have a combined social media following of over 28 million users “and their content has been amplified by a sprawling ecosystem of hundreds of Russian-linked accounts and pages.

“These disinformation campaigns employ paid African influencers, digital avatars, and the circulation of fake and out-of-context videos and photographs. These messages copy-and-paste from and are amplified through multiple channels of Russian state-controlled media, radio and official communications, creating the repetitive echo chambers in which disinformation narratives become rote.” 

The report adds that Russian embassies appear to have helped set up a network of ostensibly African grassroots front organisations to generate and amplify disinformation.

“The Wagner Group has been the Kremlin’s primary vehicle for engineering disinformation in Africa – with direct links to approximately half of all Russian-linked campaigns on the continent.”

With Prigozhin’s death, Wagner’s disinformation operations are being absorbed into Russia’s newly established Africa Corps and the Africa Initiative news agency, connected to Russian intelligence services and overseen by Artem Sergeyevich Kureyev from Moscow. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Max Ozinsky says:

    No mention of disinformation campaigns from the US, the Five Eyes or the former colonial powers like France, the UK and Germany? Maybe this article was written as part of one of their disinformation campaigns?

    • Mariella Norman says:

      Are you perhaps trying to discredit any factual reporting done, with reputable references, that might shine a light on the manipulative tactics of the Russian disinformation campaign that weaponises ignorance and poverty in Africa to undermine civil institutions and democracies, for power. I can’t imagine why you would do that? Please be more specific about the other campaigns in Africa you so confidently refer to. I wait with anticipation.

      • Max Ozinsky says:

        Some disinformation campaigns in Africa not mentioned in the article:
        * The US campaign to discredit France in Niger, Burkino Faso and Mali which led French troops to be replaced by US troops.
        * The Brenthurst Foundation activities with CIA front organisations to bolster opposition politicians in Africa – glowingly recorded in the Daily Maverick.
        * The Daily Maverick headed by a US state department and CIA trained individual.
        * The US led campaign on the Lady R which ended in embarrassment for Washington.
        * and many many more….

        • Skinyela Skinyela says:

          “The Daily Maverick headed by a US state department and CIA trained individual”

          Well, if that is the case then, he is a traitor of note.

          Look at what the US did to his former country, Yugoslavia.

      • Hidden Name says:

        Well said.

      • Rdp Pdr says:

        Well said Mariella.We’ll probably have to wait a long time to hear back from this commentator.

      • Dietmar Horn says:

        If you respond directly to the member of a cadre party, you are wasting your time. As such, he is a natural multiplier in the service of these campaigns and you trigger his schooled ideological rhetoric. Dialectical argumentation is not possible with such people; they lack the ability to critically self-reflect on their own point of view.

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      The general attitude is that the US is a benevolent empire and whatever wrong she does is not born of malicious intent.

      There is this biblical verse(1 Corinthians 1:25) that says “for the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom”

      Replace the word God with USA in that quote and you have your answer.

      So, to all the atrocities committed by the US since the end of 2nd World War the rationale is that IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE… WE MURDERED MILLIONS IN ORDER TO SAVE MILLIONS.

      • Mariella Norman says:

        I am guessing there are many who do not view the US as a benevolent state (although it was the largest donor of humanitarian aid in the world last year – just saying!) It is a powerful democracy with a strong civil society, free press and independent institutions where the rule of law prevails. The only way to get at the US and undermine it is to manipulate its population through misinformation – which Russia and China are trying very hard to do – two empires that have none of these things. I don’t see people queueing at the borders and risking life and limb to get into Russia or China. Do you?

        • Skinyela Skinyela says:

          Greater majority of the people immigrating to USA are from US neighbours on her Southern borders, and you and I knows that
          conditions in those countries are not the same with conditions in the neighbours of China and Russia.

          A two party state(in fact it is one party with two factions called Republicans and Democrats) is not a model of a true democracy.

          Where you can win a presidential
          election without winning the popular vote, electoral college decides.

          You have an electoral system where each of the 50 states has its own electoral rules that are different from others, is rife with gerrymandering and many voters get disenfranchised now and then.

          Free press!?
          Rule of law prevails!?
          Really!!?

          Maybe you meant elites press and rule of elites prevails.

          Ask yourself why DON’T they join the ICC, why are they persecuting Julian Assange, why don’t they prosecute Epstein’s accomplices, why do they hold people in Guantanamo bay without charging
          them?

  • Jean Racine says:

    The spotlight should always be shone on disinfo campaigns everywhere.
    I do wonder though, if Fabricius the Stenographer, spots the irony in transcribing from an information campaign report by a “think-tank” based in the Pentagon.

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      Very perceptive comment!! I am sure he is too focused on the “facts” to notice.

      • Rdp Pdr says:

        Would love your opinion on Putin’s recent landslide victory in Russia’s election.

        • Max Ozinsky says:

          Given that he has strengthened Russia’s economy, delivered spectacular GDP per capita growth, all whilst winning the war in Ukraine, it seems like a logical outcome to me.

          • Louise Wilkins says:

            You are joking!!!

            Strengthened Russia’s economy?
            Delivered spectacular GDP per capita growth?
            Winning the war in Ukraine?

            You must be smoking your socks. What world do you live in???

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    This is a cause for concern as the elections approach, especially with the current polling for the ANC in key provinces like Gauteng and KZN, it would not be surprising if some “friends” are enlisted to help the ANC in its efforts to cling to power.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    “In South Africa, some of the 11 documented campaigns now under way have been designed by Russia to boost the ANC.”
    “The in-depth report cites evidence that former president Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, was among South African influencers who played a key role in the #IStandWithPutin and #IStandWithRussia campaigns launched shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Zuma-Sambudla visited Russia at the time. ”
    “The Russian and Chinese campaigns aim to “advance their geostrategic interests and shape narratives that undermine democratic processes, promote coups in Africa, stoke anti-Western and anti-United Nations sentiment, and spread confusion about climate change science, among others”.
    So when it comes to election time shouldn’t we be very worried about outside communist influences and their support to keep ANC in power by any means whatsoever?

    • Rodney Weidemann says:

      Well, apart from the fact that modern Russia and its leader are the very antithesis of ‘communist’, you are spot on in your assertion…

  • Guy Goes says:

    Fake news is arriving via the media in huge amounts. I get constantly ambushed by spam adverts, offered untold wealth and health and see how fake cops attack innocent black motorists with false accusations.
    Covit amateur experts still try to convince me of my error by getting vaccinated and numerous unknown remedies are touted to make me the raging sexual athlete I never was.
    Our ANC government is the most denial institution in the land, there is no crime, hopeless health services, poor education, failed SOEs and a dysfunctional parliament supporting hopeless ministers taking the crown of absurd incompetence.
    I have experienced civil servants at government and municipal levels who, by the best imagination possible, would never afford the slightest value to the public.

  • Rae Earl says:

    Ramaphosa and Naledi Pandor are the primary stooges following Putin’s commands in SA. Their gullibility is sickening akin to being led to the slaughter house by a rope attached to a ring in the nose. Ramaphosa rush to kiss Mnangagwa’s feet when he again stole the Zim elections last year says it all. Our president. No pride, no courage, no leadership. A Russian lackey bowing and scraping to a dictator.

  • Blank Mastermind says:

    Were re these disinformation campaigns, I spend about 14 hours a day online both the normal web and dark web due to my job. I have not come across any one of these, the other thing is there no common sense anymore to know what is rubbish and what is real.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Communism is a boring disinformation policy by itself

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      Where does communism come in? Neither Russia nor Putin are communists. The Russian Communist Party got 7% of the vote in the election. The world has changed since the cold war.

      • John Belyeu says:

        Too right! Communism has died Oligarchy rules! Oligarchy disinformation and Neo-Russian Imperialistic disinformation to the point of the unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine must be righteous? You are the symptom of the disease

  • District Six says:

    Okay, so you are quoting a report from this organisation: (wiki) “The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) is self-described as “a U.S. Department of Defense institution established and funded by Congress for the study of security issues relating to Africa and serving as a forum for bilateral and multilateral research, communication, and exchange of ideas involving military and civilian participants.”

    So, US propaganda then?

    Nonetheless, interesting that it cites Israeli disinformation campaigns.

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      Israel was thrown in the mix in order to make the report look objective, independent and balanced.

      It was mentioned in passing.

  • Stanislav Zimela Nkosi kaMthembu says:

    It increasingly looks like Western education is a fake. People cannot go to school and continue to unthink others’ right to existence.

  • Yvonne Riester says:

    Putin is the biggest danger to world peace at the present time. He detests democracy and freedom. He loves conflict and war. Because of fake news and his anti-West propaganda so many people fall into his trap and countries of the global south are becoming increasingly unstable. ANC ‘s love affair with Putin is very worrying.

  • Nanette JOLLY says:

    We have to keep in mind that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Whatever the ideals/policies of the powerful. Someone has to lead, but our best protection is to change those in power regularly.

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