Russia’s war in online media: How Kremlin propaganda discredits Ukraine in Africa

Russia’s war in online media: How Kremlin propaganda discredits Ukraine in Africa

In the online media of African countries, Russian narratives have been detected purposefully shifting responsibility for “all troubles” to Ukraine — the food crisis, the Russian war against Ukraine, shelling of civilians in Ukraine, etc. 

To find out what African online media write about Russia’s war against Ukraine and how Russian propaganda influences it, the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security analyzed in detail the media landscape in June and July of 4 African countries — Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and the Republic of South Africa. 

The main trends were identified during the monitoring conducted by the Ukrainian social startup LetsData in partnership with the NGO Detector Media. In real-time, publications containing references to Ukraine and/or Russia’s war against Ukraine are collected in the original language and processed using artificial intelligence elements.

What Topics about Ukraine Are Covered in the Online Media of African Countries? 

June 13 throughout July 29, the activity of covering topics varied, but the economy was consistently the first one, with the largest number of publications during the study period, although in the second half of July the topic of news from the front line was also added to the study, which was ahead of the topic of the economy in the number of publications. 

Invariably, in June and July, the issue of military assistance to Ukraine was the least covered. This trend corresponds to the global one, in particular, we noted the low activity of coverage of this issue in the study of the media landscape of European and North American countries in the period from July 1 to July 14. However, further monitoring of LetsData indicates that this trend continues until at least the end of July.

It is also worth noting the topic of the food crisis, which was not below fourth in the activity of coverage during the study period, and in the period from July 1 to July 14 even came second. Back in March, Human Rights Watch reported on the growing food crisis in the Middle East and North Africa due to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In particular, Libya imports more than 40% of wheat from Ukraine, and Egypt purchases wheat and large volumes of oil. So, the topic is quite important for African countries. And this, by the way, is what Russia manipulates, which we will discuss in more detail in the section on the Kremlin’s narratives.

Africa’s online media quoting pro-Kremlin sources

*The study of pro-Kremlin media citation indicators began on July 1

The citation of the pro-Kremlin media in some African countries is quite frequent. For example, from July 15 to July 29, the percentage of citations among all publications on Ukraine amounted to 6.4% in Egypt, which was the highest indicator among the 29 countries studied on 5 continents. In the first half of July, Nigeria had a similar percentage of citations (6.9%), which was also among the leaders in citations among the 29 countries studied between July 1 and 14, next to Kazakhstan (16.72%), and Lithuania and Latvia (8.65% overall).

All the main propaganda media of the RF such as RIA Novosti, TASS Agency, Sputnik, RT are represented in the online media of Africa, only Izvestia is not very popular among the cited media. In particular, for the study period in July, they were noted only in Egypt (no more than 2%).  

How do African online media call Russia’s war against Ukraine?

Some publications of the study noted the use of toxic vocabulary, in particular the Kremlin terminology to designate the Russian war against Ukraine. For example:

“Special military operation.” The highest rate of using this formulation was detected in Egypt between July 1 and 14. It should be noted here that the use of this term to refer to the war of the RF against Ukraine is a dangerous option in any case. For example, the absence of quotation marks indicates the reproduction of Russian narratives, while its use as a quote, on the one hand, indicates the inappropriateness of the term, on the other — the citation of Russian sources.  

“Conflict.” The term is the most used among the toxic vocabulary in the online media of all four countries— Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, and the Republic of South Africa. For example, in the period from July 1 to July 14, it was mostly used in the online media of Egypt, and in the second half of July — in the online media of the Republic of South Africa (the study of indicators of toxic language use in South Africa began on July 15).

“Ukrainian crisis.” Currently, “Ukrainian crisis” is the least used term to refer to Russia’s war against Ukraine overall in the global dimension, but in the online media of Africa it is still preserved in Egypt. 

Kremlin narratives in Africa’s online media

In the online media of Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, and the Republic of South Africa during June and July, Russian narratives about Russia’s war against Ukraine concerned a large number of topics. However, a common feature was that almost all narratives constructed the image of Ukraine as the “state to blame for all the troubles” — Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the food crisis, etc.   

Justification of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. Africa’s online media did not find a single “reason” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so, in June-July, several Russian narratives on this topic were detected. In particular, in Nigeria — “the West provoked the war of the Russian Federation,” in Kenya — “people who remain in the frontline cities of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are often considered pro-Russian, waiting for the arrival of Russian troops,” in Egypt — “Ukraine has not fulfilled the previous peace agreement.” 

Shifting responsibility for the food crisis onto Ukraine. Above, we have already noted the impact of illegal actions of the RF regarding Ukrainian grain on African countries. Therefore, this topic is quite important for the inhabitants of this continent and the Kremlin’s narratives entering the information space with manipulations and disinformation on this topic only play into the hands of the Kremlin. Such narratives manipulate painful issues for audiences in Africa, and therefore have a stronger impact. It is not surprising that this is exactly what Russia is trying to take advantage of. For example, in Egypt, it is said that “Ukraine set fire to wheat fields on the border with Kherson oblast,” and in the Republic of South Africa — “Russia convinces African countries that it is not to blame for the food shortage.” 

Sanctions against Russia and their consequences. The narrative about the negative consequences of economic sanctions against Russia for African countries was identified in Kenya in the first half of July — “Kenyan farmers suffer from sanctions against Russia.” 

“Ukraine is shelling its own cities and civilians.” Such a narrative was noted in the online media of the Republic of South Africa from July 15 to July 29 in the context of the shelling in Olenivka and the Donetsk oil depot, in Egypt from July 1 to July 14 — in the context of the shelling of Nova Kakhovka. Therefore, it is not surprising that during June-July, descriptions of events in Ukraine as a “civil war” appeared in African online media from time to time.

Supply of military assistance to Ukraine. Although the percentage of coverage of Ukraine’s military assistance in Africa’s online media is insignificant, even among it, the presence of toxic narratives has been noted. For example, in Kenya, the narrative “the conflict was fuelled by large arms supplies to Ukraine from the West” was detected, in Egypt — “Western support will not continue, weapons stocks are running out” and “Western weapons threaten to shell Russia’s territory.”

“Ukraine will lose the war.” This narrative was detected in the first half of July in the online media of Egypt and Kenya. 

Newsbreaks in an attempt to pit Africa against the West and Ukraine. Some newsbreaks focused on the hostility of the West and Ukrainians to African countries.  Such stories are not frequent, but were found in the second half of July in Egypt — “Lavrov criticized the West’s position on Africa” and in Kenya — “a Ukrainian woman emphasized her dislike for Nigeria on social networks.”

However, it is worth noting that the agenda of Africa’s online media includes not only Kremlin narratives; the study also discovered neutral and productive messages.

Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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