As part of the program Regional Initiative for combating disinformation “Western Balkans Combatting disinformation Center: Exposing malicious influences through fact-checking and Analytical Journalism“, we present you a new analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.
The second proxy war between the US and Russia begins in Niger – Wagner has already arrived
The military coup in Niger, which began on July 26. 2023, has overtaken headlines in the world’s media, but it was also used as a means to strengthen pro-Russian narratives. In the previous two weeks, the military junta coup was presented by the Russian media as a victory for the people of Niger against Western neo-colonialism, but also as a victory for Russia, which by supporting this military coup, dealt a serious blow to the further imperialist plans of the West, especially France (whose Niger is a former colony).
Namely, the coup that took place on July 26 was carried out by the presidential guard, and the democratically elected president Mohamed Bazum was arrested. Colonel Amadu Adbramane, who took office with his officers, does not agree with the strict control that France exercises over Niger, as stated by the interlocutors of the Hal Turner Radio show, reported by the Webtribune and Srbin.info portals. President Bazum refused to resign and called on Nigerians to resist and protect the country’s “hard-earned” democratic gains. This call was echoed by Nigerian Foreign Minister Hasumi Masaudu and other senior officials. The Economic Community of West African States – EKOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, the United States, and other democratic governments strongly condemned the coup attempt, while EKOWAS even threatened with military intervention.
The question that arises is whether Russia was involved in the coup. Commentary and analysis provide different answers, from those saying that they are directly involved to some proving it is very unlikely that they have any contact with the military junta. Experts also note that the coup was triggered by Bazum’s decision to replace military officials appointed by his predecessor, claiming that Russia and Wagner were not involved.
Certainly, the fact that Russia is conducting disinformation campaigns on the territory of Africa is nothing new. As in other parts of the world where they pursue their own interests, in African countries, they are implementing an agenda aimed at weakening democracies and strengthening authoritarian and militaristic structures through cooperation with the Wagner Group. The campaigns carried out usually agitate against Great Britain, France, (as the former major colonial powers in Africa) and the United States, accusing them of neo-colonialism and advocating a wider revolution across the Sahel (a strip of semi-arid land that stretches across Africa just below the Sahara desert).
In this regard, Sputnik reports the statement of Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma of Russia, under the title “America, England, and France to compensate Africa for the damage caused by colonialism”. Due to the neo-colonial influence of Western countries, many African countries have had zero or negative economic growth during the 60 years of their existence. This leads to poverty and loss of sovereignty,” said Volodin. “Time passes, but the colonial interests of the USA and numerous Western countries have not disappeared. Only the methods are changing, while the devastation of African deposits of gold, platinum, uranium, critical minerals, and rare earth metals continues. African countries are only a source of raw materials for them,” he emphasized, forgetting that Russia has the same pretensions to raw materials in Africa, but also to approach, in global politics, the increasingly important actor that Africa and its states are becoming.
They would note that the Sahel region is particularly fertile ground for Russian involvement because the governments are fragile and the public largely shares anti-French and anti-Western sentiment. Russian influence is partly directed by the use of such sentiment, but also by the real negative legacy of French colonialism that is still felt today.
According to data provided by the African Center for Strategic Studies, in recent years dozens of carefully designed campaigns have created millions of false and misleading posts on African social networks. Thanks to this, the confusion that followed in decoding facts from fiction had a regressive effect on social trust, critical thinking of citizens, and their ability to engage in politics, which is the basis of the functioning of democracy.
The reports in April 2022 point out that Niger has twice been the target of Russian disinformation campaigns. The goals of these campaigns are aimed rather at confusing citizens than convincing them, thus creating false equivalencies between democratic and non-democratic political actors, causing disillusionment and apathy. This method is also used throughout the Balkans, as Russia works to undermine democratic processes because of the overarching benefits (as it allows them to enter markets that do not respect internationally accepted rules) that this gives them over any other type of disinformation activity.
In addition to the mentioned activities, Russian disinformation campaigns also try to present their position as much better than it is, since they hope to change the policies of African countries, primarily towards Western countries, which is why, among other things, they are organizing a summit of African countries under the patronage of Moscow.
That France is dependent on Nigerian uranium is partly true, but not as presented in the pro-Russian narrative. Russia Today Balkan, in its article “Why the French could be left without electricity due to a coup d’état in Niger” presents the change in the decisions of the coup plotters from Niger regarding the price of uranium as a fateful decision for the national existence of France. France imports a significant part of its uranium reserves from Niger, but not more than 20%.
For the operation of the reactors of the French nuclear power plants, an average of 8,000 tons of natural uranium is needed every year. After the French banned mining on their soil in the early 2000s, they turned to diversification of suppliers and energy sources, which also became a source of energy security for their citizens. Namely, France gets its uranium from five different suppliers, Niger is not even in the first place but Kazakhstan.
When we look at the parameters of uranium production in the whole world, Niger accounts for 4% of world production, far behind Kazakhstan’s 43%, Canada’s 15%, Namibia’s 11%, and Australia’s 8%. Although an important producer, it is not of crucial importance for the French energy existence as it is often presented in Russian disinformation channels. However, the coup that took place and the tense situation in Niger is an important alarm for Europe for another reason. And that is the possibility of a resurgence of illegal migration across the Mediterranean Sea. Niger is the main gateway for illegal immigration from sub-Saharan Africa, which has caused great concern to their neighbor, Algeria.
Authors: Đorđe Terek, Tanja Plavšić