Home » Russia in Africa: How disinformation operations target the continent
Africa Defence Economic Featured Global News Government News Politics

Russia in Africa: How disinformation operations target the continent

AFP via Getty Images

A large social network that promotes anti-Western and pro-Kremlin ideas is helping Russia expand its influence at the expense of France in some of its former colonies in Africa.

Called Russosphère (Russian Sphere), typical posts accuse France of modern-day “colonialism”, eulogise Vladimir Putin, and call the Ukrainian army “Nazis” and “Satanists”, echoing the official Russian line.

They also heap praise on Russia’s Wagner mercenaries – even sharing recruitment information should followers want to join up.

Experts say that such misinformation drives mistrust between African nations and the West, and contributes to a lack of support for Ukraine on the continent.

Working with Logically, the tech organisation who traced the network, the BBC’s Global Disinformation Team tracked down the surprising figure behind it: a 65-year-old Belgian politician who calls himself a Stalinist.

Defending Russia and thanking Wagner

Russosphère describes itself as “a network in defence of Russia”. Made up of several social media groups on different platforms, it was created in 2021 but fully launched in February 2022 – just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The network swiftly gained over 80,000 followers.

A typical post on Russosphère

After the invasion, Russian state media was restricted or banned from all mainstream social platforms. Russosphère was not, and quickly became active on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in addition to Telegram and VK – Russia’s homegrown version of Facebook.

The discovery comes at a time of a swift deterioration in relationships between France and several African nations that analysts partly attribute to the Kremlin’s influence and a growing pro-Russian sentiment fuelled by propaganda.

Kyle Walter is head of US investigations at Logically. Using data from their internal artificial intelligence-powered platform combined with open source intelligence, Logically tracked the network back to a man called Luc Michel.

In the past, Mr Michel has worked to legitimise votes in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories, and been linked to “Merci [thank you] Wagner”, a group supporting the work of the Russian mercenaries.

We contacted Mr Michel and he agreed to discuss Russosphère. He told us he created it, but said it received no financial support from Russia, saying it is funded by “private money”.

He also insisted that he had no connections with Wagner and its head Yevgeny Prigozhin. “I manage the cyberwar, the media war… and Prigozhin conducts military activities,” he said.

Luc Michel is little known in Europe, but promotes himself in Africa

According to Mr Walter, a co-author of Logically’s report, this campaign is the first time Mr Michel’s efforts have had real-world impact. “Russosphère is the first time Luc Michel and the general influence operations he runs have had significant success,” he says.

“Even if the groups have been helped by bots in the beginning, they are now an authentic organic influence operation, with a large portion of real followers from across Africa.”

Admirer of Gaddafi and Putin

Mr Michel’s early history may seem unusual for a self-proclaimed friend of Africa.

Born in 1958, he was politically active from a young age, first in the neo-fascist groups of his native Belgium, and later as a follower of Jean Thiriart, a former Nazi collaborator who envisioned a “Euro-Soviet empire from Vladivostok to Dublin”, united against America.

His career took him to Libya in support of the country’s leader at the time, Muammar Gaddafi. He also went to Burundi as an advisor to then-President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Mr Michel interviewing the CAR President Touadéra

Throughout, he maintained a Russian connection, working with “Nashi”, the Kremlin’s youth movement, and creating a self-styled “election-monitoring group” that declared Moscow’s 2014 illegal referendums in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk “free and fair”.

“I am a Stalinist,” he told the BBC. “I have defended Russia since the 1980s. I think that Russia is the only force left in Europe that is anti-American. I am nostalgic of the Soviet Union. I want a free world without America.”

From social media to the streets

It is difficult to assess the impact of specific disinformation campaigns, but in Africa the pro-Russian message is being heard – amplified, say analysts, by local influencers cultivated by Russia.

“The success of people like Luc Michel is because of his opposition to France. It taps into real grievances on the ground,” says Kevin Limonier, an associate professor at the University of Paris-8 studying Moscow’s information operations in Africa.

“Russian misinformation was a factor helping to drive the French forces out of Sahel countries, especially Burkina Faso,” according to Ulf Laessing, from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a centre-right German think tank.

From 2013, some 5,000 French troops had been deployed to fight militant jihadist groups in Mali as well as in Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania. But last year, they pulled out of Mali and are preparing to leave Burkina Faso.

A Russian flag at a protest in Chad in October 2022

They have been under pressure from the military governments in the two countries but Beverly Ochieng from BBC Monitoring agrees that popular sentiment may have had something to do with it.

“Russian flags were waved at protests in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, and that is in part due to pro-Russian info-ops,” she says.

In Burkina Faso, protesters attacked the French embassy and were heard demanding closer ties between Ouagadougou and Moscow.

This chimes directly with Mr Michel’s aims. “I think that Russia must replace the French in all of Africa,” he told the BBC.

“Estimating the impact of information operations is almost impossible,” says Mr Limonier, expert in the Kremlin’s influence campaigns.

But one thing is clear: such operations worry the West.

In Paris, according to Mr Limonier, “the diplomats and the military, they read it, they see it and they say: ‘Oh my gosh’.”

Source : The British Broadcasting Corporation

Instagram

Instagram has returned empty data. Please authorize your Instagram account in the plugin settings .

Advertisement

Advertisement Small

Flickr

  • Cape Florida
  • La playa
  • Boater's
  • Trolley
  • PAMM
  • Mono bicolore
  • Red stairs
  • Coconut Groove
  • Dwntwn

ThemeForest

Collaboratively harness market-driven processes whereas resource-leveling internal or "organic" sources. Competently formulate.

Calendar

April 2024
M T W T F S S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  

RSS Meks Blog

  • 10 Best Knowledge Base & Wiki WordPress Themes 2021 September 15, 2021
    Running a successful online business requires an exceptional WordPress knowledge base theme that organizes documentation and helps customers. Customization options, intuitive navigation, unique layouts, and fast responsiveness are just some of the features you need. The following 10 WordPress wiki themes represent the best options for 2021 and beyond. Explore the full range to determine […]
    Dusan Milovanovic
  • How to increase WordPress Memory Limit (quick fixes) June 16, 2021
    Here is a post about how to increase the memory limit in WordPress. Allowed memory size exhausted error message showed up in your WordPress installation? No worries – this is one of the most common errors in WordPress. You can apply an easy fix by increasing the memory limit in your PHP. Table of Contents […]
    Dusan Milovanovic
  • How to use (and why) WordPress sitemap plugin March 1, 2021
    Did you know that by knowing how to use the WordPress sitemap plugin you can significantly improve your site’s visibility and traffic? Although it isn’t mandatory to have a sitemap on your site, having one significantly improves the site’s quality, crawlability and indexing. All this is important for better optimization, which is why we wanted […]
    Ivana Cirkovic
  • 22 free and premium podcast software for your show [2021 edition] January 18, 2021
    You’re determined to start or improve your podcast but don’t know which podcast software to use to really make it stand out? We’ve got you! #podcasting Top 22 free and premium podcast software for your show #WordPressTips #podcasting The post 22 free and premium podcast software for your show [2021 edition] appeared first on Meks.
    Ivana Cirkovic
  • Digital storytelling with WordPress – an all-in-one guide to make your web stories pop! November 23, 2020
    Wondering how to improve digital storytelling with WordPress and build more awareness and exposure of your business? Let our guide lead the way. The post Digital storytelling with WordPress – an all-in-one guide to make your web stories pop! appeared first on Meks.
    Ivana Cirkovic
  • How to use WordPress autoposting plugin to improve your visibility and SEO? September 10, 2020
    Did you know you can use the WordPress autoposting plugin for your content efforts and improve not only your time management but your business and visibility as well? The post How to use WordPress autoposting plugin to improve your visibility and SEO? appeared first on Meks.
    Ivana Cirkovic
  • How to create a personal branding site? Step-by-step DIY guide August 15, 2020
    Looking for ways and means to create a personal branding site? Well, look no further ’cause we’re giving away all the how-to’s to do it yourselves! The post How to create a personal branding site? Step-by-step DIY guide appeared first on Meks.
    Ivana Cirkovic
  • Top 15 WordPress content plugins and tools to improve your visibility and rankings July 16, 2020
    Let’s take a look at some of the must-have WordPress content plugins and tools to use to improve both your UX and rankings. The post Top 15 WordPress content plugins and tools to improve your visibility and rankings appeared first on Meks.
    Ivana Cirkovic
  • WCEU 2020 recap – key takeaways from the biggest online WordPress conference June 9, 2020
    Missed WCEU 2020 and all the exciting stuff from there? Here are all the key takeaways and main points to remember so, take notes! The post WCEU 2020 recap – key takeaways from the biggest online WordPress conference appeared first on Meks.
    Ivana Cirkovic
  • How to change the WordPress username? An easy step-by-step guide May 14, 2020
    Wondering how can you change WordPress username once you set up your blog or site? Read all about it in our helpful guide! The post How to change the WordPress username? An easy step-by-step guide appeared first on Meks.
    Ivana Cirkovic

Text

Distinctively utilize long-term high-impact total linkage whereas high-payoff experiences. Appropriately communicate 24/365.