Russia on the offensive against France in Africa

Of course, the Russians are waging war on us in the field of information and representation in Africa. Their goal? Get us out of this continent! “ This French military source recently engaged in this frontal and unconventional war between Paris and Moscow on the African theater specifies: It is Russia that is waging this war against us, it is Russia that has put us in this confrontation situation. We defend ourselves! “ And to add: For the Russians, all shots are allowed, which cannot be the case here. “

Orchestrated anti-French campaigns

Every time ? Lies, staging, corruption, intimidation, intoxication operations on social networks, in alternative media taken over by fake accounts, by influencers, some of which are paid for by Moscow and to which are added real accounts of people to whom these accusations reinforce their representation the world. And examples abound.

The most terrible, revealed in April by Paris, was the false mass grave of Gossi (in northern Mali), attributed to Barkhane’s forces. In this manipulation, a Twitter account with a fake profile, a certain “Dia Diarra”, publishes images of a mass grave accusing Barkhane of being the author. In response, the French army delivers to the media the images taken by one of its drones of the rough staging carried out, according to it, by Wagner’s Russian agents. The only real thing in this disassembled montage: the filmed corpses.

Attributing scandalous acts and projects to one’s enemy in order to discredit him in the eyes of the society in which he operates is not new. “All the art of war is the art of deception”, Mao Zedong was already saying. Overcoming minds through manipulation, through information and disinformation, through legitimizing one’s own actions and de-legitimizing those of others was the backbone of the Cold War. As a good former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin – “Homo kagibus”, as historian Françoise Thom calls it, perpetuates this practice by sweeping cyberspace to weaken Westerners. Among these objectives, France in Africa.

The three pillars of the Prigozhin sphere

To this end, he relies on the war machine created by Evgueni Prigojine, a businessman close to the Kremlin: a myriad of companies attacking Moscow’s designated enemies and reaping profits. This megastructure – active since 2014 in Ukraine and Syria – is based on three pillars.

The first is security and is embodied in the mercenary company Wagner. This private army offers its services to regimes threatened by rebel groups. He supervises and trains national forces, protects the authorities and works on the ground to neutralize the regime’s enemies.

The second is economical. To finance its actions, the Prigojine sphere obtains mineral rights in the countries in which it operates. The third pillar ensures propaganda for Moscow and its customers through the Patriot Media Group, a structure made up of eleven media, one of which, the Federal Press Agency (Ria Fan), is particularly oriented towards Africa. Created in 2019, the Patriot Media Group also has 130 media partners, according to researcher Irsem Maxime Audinet (1).

troll factories

Over the years, the Prigojine method has been perfected. In the field of information, it promotes local media topics that suit it and produces its own content, which it distributes on its own communication channels. To do this, he gives a voice to those whose “investigations” suit him, relies on “useful idiots” (a concept generally attributed to Lenin), buys journalists and opinion leaders, creates media in his target countries such as Radio Lengo Songo in the Central African Republic (RCA), produces blockbuster cartoons and films that glorify its action.

Among his tools, the troll factories from which his anti-French campaigns are launched or in favor of his “friends” on social networks. In Africa, the Russians have installed them in different countries such as South Africa and Cameroon “, assures an actor of this informational struggle. According to him, more than a thousand fake accounts produce or transmit anti-French information to the continent. It is very volatile, accounts are initiated, disabled and then re-enabled opportunistically“, He explains.

In the sights of the Russians, the recalcitrant journalists. The Prigojine sphere is even suspected of having killed several of them, particularly in the Central African Republic: three Russians and at least two Central Africans, according to a diplomatic source. As a result, fewer and fewer people on the continent dare to openly criticize or deconstruct the actions and abuses of the Prigojine sphere.

Ideas that predate Russian propaganda

“It must be seen that the African terrain is very favorable to him to attack France on the information field”, observes Caroline Roussy, of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris). Anti-French propaganda broadcast by Russian channels collects and promotes ideas and perceptions already very present in French-speaking Africa “, explains research director Iris.

Among the arguments that precede Russian propaganda is the negative security record of ten years of military intervention in the Sahel. “For the Sahelians,Barkhane is a failure and they didn’t need the Russians to think so “, observes Jean-Pierre Maulny, from Iris.

Other topics “irritants”to use Caroline Roussy’s expression, the way the French executive is perceived in Africa: “Arrogant and disrespectful. “”Malians and Pan Africans also denounce the repeated distortions of France against their sovereignty “, adds Jean-Pierre Maulny.

In intellectual circles

The accusation of the double game attributed to the French in the Sahel is also very performative: far from fighting against the “terrorists”, they would secretly help them and take advantage of it to discreetly exploit the country’s wealth. It is a mistake to think that these ideas are in the minority and those of poorly educated people. I also hear them in intellectual circles in Niger, Burkina and Mali “, testifies Gwenola Possémé-Rageau, a youth expert on the continent.

In the information war, recalls Jérôme Pigné of the Network for Strategic Reflection on Security in the Sahel, there is no nothing is easier and more effective than creating fake accounts and disseminating false information that pleases the intended audience ”. This is the secret of successful propaganda, the philosopher Jacques Ellul already theorized. However, with France, observes Jérôme Pigné, the Russians play on velvet in Africa. “

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The response of France

A unit dedicated to “information warfare” it was established by Chief of Defense (CEMA) Thierry Burkhard.

This discreet structure is responsible for the anticipation and deconstruction of fake news that target France’s action on social networks.

At the Quai d’Orsay, the former collaborator of Jean-Yves Le Drian and former ambassador of Ghana Anne-Sophie Avé was appointed, on 1 September, “special envoy for public diplomacy in Africa” ​​with the mission of overseeing the so-called “strategic” communication. She leads a team of ten people, she is placed under the supervision of the Africa and Indian Ocean Department (DAOI) of the Quai d’Orsay.

The Communication and Press Department (DCP) of the Quai d’Orsay is now loaded “animate the network of diplomatic and consular offices (…) on the manipulation of information “.

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