Anti-French Propaganda in Africa: How Wagner extends Russian Influence

The feeling of hostility towards France is gaining more and more ground in Africa, especially in the French-speaking countries of the continent. Hence some countries refused the French presence on their soil, such as in Mali or Burkina Faso. Along with this anti-French context is also added the growing Russian presence, embodied by the Wagner group, which conducts operations in Africa, and consequently extends its influence there, in particular through propaganda.
Captures d'écran d'une des vidéos de Wagner Twitter / @CartesDuMonde
Captures d’écran d’une des vidéos de Wagner Twitter / @CartesDuMonde
Anti-French and pro-Wagner videos

During December 2022 and January 2023, two pro Russian animation videos about France and Africa were broadcasted on social networks.

The first video shows a rat embodying France and the French president (“Emmanuel the rat”) looting the house of an African. A radio at the same time says: “It’s the rat Emmanuel, he is your friend, he came to help you, you can’t do anything without him, you need him” . The rat grows bigger and becomes more and more aggressive until he tells the owner to “get out”. Seeing Wagner’s name in the diary he keeps, he calls the Russian group to help him. Immediately, a mercenary kills the rat with a sledgehammer.

In the second video, Emmanuel Macron wishes to “conquer all Africa”, starting by Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. On one side, the French army is represented as zombies and a gigantic snake, which are called “Macron’s demons”. On the other side, Wagner mercenaries are portrayed as selfless heroes who save the oppressed populations. The video shows a victorious battle for the African armies against the French invader, thanks to Wagner intervention. First in Mali, where a Malian soldier running out of munitions is supplied his “friend”. Then in Burkina Faso, where a Russian pick-up comes to the rescue of the Burkinabe army by bringing weapons. Finally in Ivory Coast, invaded by French zombies, about to get helped by African armies and Wagner mercenaries. “Down with imperialism, down with France,” the clip concludes.

Russia, “an anti-colonialist ally against French imperialism”

Led by Yevgeny Prigojine, who is close to Putin, Wagner is a private military organization. It claims to be independent of Russian power. However, it acts to ensure the defense of Russia’s external interests without official Russian intervention. The organization has been established in Africa for some time, particularly in countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso following coups, and wishes to expand the pro-Russian zone of influence.

Rally in support of Russia, in Bangui, (Central African Republic), March 5, 2022. CAROL VALADE/AFP

The Wagner Group seeks to influence public opinion. These caricatural cartoons broadcasted on social networks are intended for the country of sub-Saharan Africa. The goal is to make the local populations think that France is present there only to invade them and plunder its resources, whereas Wagner is the only able to fight against “French imperialism” while claiming to act for the sovereignty of African states. They praise a friendship between African countries and Russia. Wagner is perceived as anti-colonialist, and also liberator of Africa against the neocolonial invaders. There is a broad anti-Western movement in the continent. But in West Africa, France is more present and is therefore the main target.

Consequently, Paris accuses the Wagner group of manipulating public opinion against France in several African countries, particularly in the Central African Republic (CAR). France also denounces Wagner’s economic predation in the Continent, as the project All eyes on Wagner is trying to denounce.

“Lion Bear” and the Central African Russian cooperation

“To cooperation between CAR and Russia”, Lion Bear, Youtube,

This type of propaganda disguised as a cartoon is nothing new. In July 2019, a video glorifying the Russian presence in Africa titled “Lion Bear” was posted on YouTube. This videos does not talk about Wagner. Its topic is the cooperation between the Central African Republic and Russia represented by a lion and a bear. A childish voice tells the story of the lion, who came to defend an elephant, which represents the people, against hyenas which steal their harvests. The Russian bear saves the elephant and “establishes peace” between the different animals of the savannah. We still find this image of the Russian presence as being a benefactor against any invading evil and guaranteeing peace. These are animations with strong messages and simple graphics which make these videos understandable by a very wide audience, including the youngest.

An information war is therefore waged on the African continent in favor of Russia through the media and often seems to be indirect.

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