During his three-day trip to Africa, Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to talk to the heads of state of Senegal, Niger and South Africa about economic relations, security policy and climate protection. The Chancellor also wants to counteract Russian attempts to expand their own sphere of influence on the continent, reports the AFP news agency, citing government circles.
Accordingly, there is a “massive Russian disinformation campaign” in the countries of the south. In it, Russia is attempting to present itself as a victim of Western aggression against which it is legitimately defending itself – “in a manner that can definitely be described as aggressive”.
Investigative journalist and founder of Code for Africa, Justin Arenstein, explains in an interview with Deutsche Welle that it is by no means new that Russia is using disinformation campaigns in Africa. In recent years, Russian disinformation campaigns have become more and more professional. In Nairobi, for example, RT, formerly Russia Today, operates offices “that are among the largest in the world”.
The primary goal up until the invasion of Ukraine was “to create a pro-Russian mood,” explains Arenstein, “initially to prepare the way for operations by mercenary units of the Wagner Group or other Russian economic or military interests in Africa “.
In doing so, the Russians were able to build on the often benevolent view of the Soviet Union, which supported resistance movements and governments in Africa with weapons and military training during the Cold War.
The most ambitious campaign so far may have been the action film “Tourist” from 2021. In less than a hundred minutes, Russian soldiers are fighting on the side of the Central African Republic against putschists who want to prevent elections in the country.
The strip celebrated its premiere in front of thousands of spectators in the national stadium of the Central African capital, reports the “NZZ”. The government of the Central African country hailed the production as “a glorious page for the deployment of the Russian armed forces,” quoted the Africa editorial team of the public television channel TV5 Monde.
The Russian involvement in the Central African country began in 2014 in the middle of the civil war, reports “ntv”. In 2018, the country asked for help building up its ailing army. Weapons and mercenaries from the Wagner group were delivered, according to a report in the “Tagesschau”. Russian mercenaries are already stationed in other African countries.
For their commitment in the Central African Republic, Russian companies received licenses to mine gold and diamonds, as reported by Deutsche Welle. But the Central African country is not the only one receiving arms supplies from Russia. According to the Swedish peace research institute SIPRI, 49 percent of the continent’s total arms imports now come from there. Positions two to four are: France, the USA and China.
In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared relations with Africa a priority of Russian foreign policy. The Russian hosts were expecting 10,000 participants at a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, the “Tagesschau” reported. Heads of state came from 47 African countries. Parallel to the summit, a business forum was held at the former venue of the Winter Olympics.
Russian efforts to increase its influence in Africa appear to be bearing fruit. “Some are of the opinion that the former liberation movement still owes the Russians a lot since the days of the Cold War, and now we Africans have to shut up in the face of the Russian invasion,” Angolan political scientist Olívio N’kilumbo told DW.
That could explain the voting result on March 2nd in the UN General Assembly. 141 out of 193 UN member countries voted for an “immediate, complete and unconditional” withdrawal of Russia from Ukraine.