As published by NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Spring 2021

This chapter is based on social media analysis of pro-Russian content on Facebook pages, Facebook profiles, Facebook groups, Telegram channels, Telegram profiles, Twitter feeds, and websites. Working with a programmer, all posts from several Facebook pages with pro-Russian narratives were scraped. CrowdTangle was used to discover other Facebook pages and groups sharing similar material. The study followed a general inductive approach for qualitative data analysis, during which narratives were manually detected.

Capitalising on a small, underfunded and underdeveloped media environment, Russia has created or co-opted a constellation of social media and web publications, as well as a terrestrial broadcast outlet, to transmit its narratives regarding the Central African Republic (CAR). Russia has backed up its communication with action. After a 2017 meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and
CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, Russia started providing weapons and security training to the CAR with approval from the UN Security Council.

The CAR’s traditional Western supporters, mostly France and the United States, have been reticent to provide lethal aid, concerned that the weapons will end up in rebel hands and further fuel the ongoing conflict.

As with much of sub-Saharan Africa, radio is the most popular and widely-accessible medium in the Central African Republic. The EU-funded radio station, Radio Ndeke Luka, is widely regarded as one of the most objective outlets. MINUSCA also funds its own radio station, called Guira FM. Aside from a state-run radio station, there are another two dozen privately-owned radio stations.

International state-funded broadcasters Radio France International (RFI), Voice of America (VOA), Deutsche Welle (DW), and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) also broadcast primarily in French on radio airwaves in the country. Newspapers are not widely distributed. The World Bank estimates that roughly 4.3 percent of Central Africans have access to the internet — amongst the lowest internet penetration in the world.

The narrow market, however, makes this medium especially powerful for orchestrated information campaigns targeting ‘the wealthy, the educated and the elite’. Russia’s involvement in the country dramatically escalated after President Touadéra met with Russia’s foreign minister in October 2017. A Russian government communique noted that the two countries plan to ‘build up practical cooperation in the political, trade, economic, and cultural areas and pointed to the considerable potential for partnership in mineral resources exploration’.

In October 2020, Russia opened an office in Bangui representing its defence ministry.61 Russia has also provided military training for the FACA, police, gendarme, and presidential guard.62 About 40 Russians also augment Touadéra’s personal security detail. Thirty Russian soldiers have joined the ranks of MINUSCA. Former Russian intelligence official Valery Zakharov was installed as Touadéra’s national security advisor. Multiple reports allege the Russians in the CAR are either Russian special forces or members of the Kremlin-linked private military company, Wagner Group. Zakharov claims they are merely reservists. Armed Russian citizens are providing armed security services for a Moscow-linked company operating in the CAR.

Estimates of the total number of Russians in the CAR vary from 250 to 1,000. Extensive investigative reporting has shown that Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin is affiliated with various companies in the CAR and is leading Russia’s covert operations in Africa. A close confidant of Putin, Prigozhin, was indicted in the United States for financing the Internet Research Agency’s ‘information warfare’ during the 2016 American election.

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