The Voice of America’s Russian correspondent Danila Galperovich wrote an article about the Russia-Africa summit held in St. Petersburg on July 28 to 29, of which we highlight the most important.
The ideology still exists, and that ideology is anti-Western, states Professor William Gumede of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg: “Russian propaganda in Africa was effective precisely because it presented Russia’s war in Ukraine as Russia’s war with the West, where Ukraine is a representative of the West. This was done in the face of strong anti-Westernism in many African countries that remember their colonial past. In many countries, these feelings are strong among ordinary citizens as well as among the leadership.”
“It’s like a new Cold War is playing out in Africa, where the rival sides are trying to gain influence,” said William Gumede.
Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, waging what some say is the most intense competition for influence on the continent since the Cold War.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been working to win support in Africa for several years, reinvigorating friendships that date back a half-century, when the Soviet Union backed many African movements fighting to end colonial rule.
“Now that campaign has gone into high gear,” Gumede said.
He also noted that African countries are also understandably sensitive to racism, and Russia has promoted disinformation that Ukraine is a racist country.
However, a professor at the University of Johannesburg emphasizes that the Kremlin has a problem with this kind of propagandist stance: “Putin severely undermined his own impression of himself when he spoke in an imperial tone with the African peacekeeping mission that came to him a month ago, interrupting them and letting them know that he already knew everything they wanted to tell him. It was a mission that was very much followed in Africa, it was widely talked about and many considered his approach to them to be racist.”
However, in February of this year, a large-scale campaign was revealed on social networks aimed at promoting Russia and discrediting Ukraine in the French-speaking countries of Africa.
Russia is also courting African public opinion through its state television network, RT, formerly known as Russia Today. RT has announced that it will open a new bureau in Johannesburg.
On his tour of Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron accused the Kremlin of using TV channels like RT to spread propaganda in support of the war. And he charged the Kremlin with blackmailing the world by thwarting the export of grain from Ukraine.
“They are blackmailing because they are the ones who blocked cereals in Ukraine. They are the ones who regulate their cereals,” he said in Benin. His itinerary also included Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau.
Macron appealed to Africans to side against Russia.
“I’m telling you here in Africa, a continent that has suffered from colonial imperialism: Russia is one of the last colonial, imperial powers. She decides to invade a neighbouring country to defend her interests,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
Catrina Doxsee, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): “The most important message for Putin that he wanted to convey to African leaders and also to all observers is that everything is going well and Russia will continue to deliver on everything it promises and there is no reason to worry. Of course, we can see that this signal is being sent at a time when Putin has just endured the greatest challenge to his control of power in Russia of his entire reign. We are currently seeing cracks in his regime, and although Putin’s regime will not collapse tomorrow, more and more of these cracks will appear.”
In this context, according to Catrina Doxsee, photos of the “Kremlin chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin of his meeting in St. Petersburg with an African diplomat during the summit were also published, primarily to confirm: everything is fine with the Wagner group, it continues to exist and therefore continues its activities in Africa.
Here, according to Catrina Doxsee, the West has difficulty not to put too much pressure on African countries to make them refuse the services of Russian mercenaries: “One of the biggest fears in this regard is that it plays into the narrative of ‘us or them’, forcing these countries to choose between ‘Team Russia” or “Team West”. This may encourage such countries to use the Wagner Group’s services even more, rather than abandoning them.
Catrina Doxsee is convinced that the West can show its willingness to help the people of African countries: “Foremost, it is necessary to respond to the very real problems facing the citizens of these countries. One of the complexities that we see, and the vacuum that Russia has been able to exploit, is that there really is a lack, particularly in the US, but more broadly in the West, of viable long-term alternatives. This would really work in Africa.”
William Gumede emphasizes that the West should not talk Africa down: “The West should really trade with Africa on an equal footing. African countries demand it, and Russia says this is how it communicates with Africa. For example, African countries find it very difficult to ship finished products to the US or Europe due to trade barriers, and they can only send raw materials. This is critical. Africa needs significant agreements with the West, the impact of which they can feel.”
Putin’s partners in Africa are often coup regimes unwilling to call elections or hand over power to civilian governments. The coup in Niger is just the latest example of how easy it is for a civilian government to fall prey to the local military. Janusz Bugajski, a senior expert at the Jamestown Foundation, notes that African leaders do not understand the extent to which Russia itself is a colonial state, with all the previous aid from Moscow to anti-colonial movements in Africa: “Russia presents itself as a defender of peoples’ freedom from colonial dependence, but also opposes these peoples to so-called Western imperialism, talking about US hegemony, from the unipolar western world and everything is based on it. At the same time, it is worth looking at Russia’s own power structure, which should be a federal state, but is actually a centralized autocracy.”
He compares Russian colonialism with Western colonialism: “In Africa, the traditions of European colonialism were embodied in the biggest and worst form. All major European countries had colonies there. Russia also made some efforts there, but without success – its main colonial activities were undertaken in Siberia, the Far East and the Far North. Therefore, Africa itself did not experience Russian colonialism, but others did. And the Western countries eventually broke away from their colonies, but Russia, even in two periods of disintegration, first the empire, then the USSR, did not break away from all of them and still keeps these colonies.”
As a result, experts believe that Russia is turning to the “global south” in its struggle with the West, and wants to get the support of these countries. And the West hangs around watching what Russia is “selling” to them on all these fronts. This became especially clear with the outbreak of the war against Ukraine.