While the Kremlin views the forging of strong relations with African leaders as geopolitical sustenance, Russia is actively engaging in a campaign of indoctrination within African societies, much like it does on home soil. Although Russia is not well-known for its soft-power activities, this reputation downplays the country’s interest in improving its public perceptions abroad. Russia’s soft power involvement in Africa, which works in parallel to and underpins its security and resources interests has accelerated in recent years to infiltrate communications. Between 100 and 200 Russian “spin doctors” have been sent to Africa with the aim of influencing political marketing and social-media discourse.

The soft-power measures of the Kremlin have been designed to craft an impression of Russian dependability as Africa diverts resources and political focus away from its usual allies in the West. While Russian influence is growing via commercial contracts and PMC (Private Military Company) deployment, the Kremlin is ensuring its influence not simply as short-term measure but instead as means of embedding new generations of Russian-admiring Africans who will serve its interests in the decades to come.

The dynamics through which Putin exerts Russian influence within the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa are much the same: to gain traction and leverage by assisting isolated  political leaders. As Russia has become persona non grata on the international stage following the invasion of Ukraine, it needs to counter this status by drawing on Soviet-era tactics and 21st-century disinformation campaigns to exert the soft power that can rebalance the consequences of its more destructive hard-power measures.

Education Programs

As part of its efforts to double the number of African students in the coming years, Russia is offering scholarships directly too. Angola, for instance, plans to send 300 master’s level students to Russia annually. Moreover, Russian soft-power influence is growing in the opposite direction with the Central African Republic announcing that learning Russian will become compulsory for university students.

Russia is also working to assert its preferred narrative through conventional media sources, including pro-Russian television channels such as Cameroon-based Afrique Media and the launch of a pan-African radio financed by Russia.   Meanwhile Russian media exports, such as RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik, are expanding their reach on the continent including in Eritrea.

Russian Connections with African Activists and Influencers

There are allegations of pro-Russian hackers in Africa working to delegitimize the West, with a particular focus on France. Adopting an anti-colonial narrative, Russia is working to supplant the West as a more attractive alternative, using in-country influencers that it pays in countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali and Niger.  In Nigeria, anti-Putin tweets from high-profile influencers were recently met with a barrage of pro-Putin responses, with many immediately removed, indicating the likelihood that they were Russian bots working on behalf of the Kremlin. Such tactics are part of a larger strategy under which Russia is outsourcing its African disinformation and propaganda campaign to local residents on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram, therefore making them more credible and harder to track.

How Russia seeks to influence the media landscape in contemporary Africa, and how it deliberately strives to craft a media narrative supportive of its interests and against those of the West, particularly the US and France.

Through instruments such as the Sputnik 2 news service and the RT television channel, Russia deliberately spreads content that portrays itself and its allies in the best possible light, and its competitors in the worst. Russia’s media influence plays on its rhetorical support for national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, even as it seeks to influence those very affairs in its favor. Russia deliberately works to cast doubt on Western claims of the universality of human rights, aggravate societal fault lines and undermine the notion of truth itself. It also rails against what it perceives as anti-Russian bias in Western media.

Russia’s state-owned media outlets are clearly a key driver of its soft power in Africa. State-owned media service RT’s clear mission to cover issues marginalized by the so-called ‘mainstream media’, finds resonance among African editors and influencers, who re-transmit their content.’ Apart from positioning itself as an alternative to the West, RT aspires to be a viable international broadcaster in its own right. A line-up of international reporters, anchors and guests gives the outlet a global face and its conspiratorial culture appeals to some audiences. Russia’s anti-imperialist credentials also find support among African elites (and to an extent the general population). The country makes a lot of never having colonized Africa, and many African leaders were educated or trained in the USSR or the former Eastern Bloc. To influence the media landscape and provide a more balanced image of Russia, RT provides content in English, French and Arabic to African countries, such as Algeria, the DRC, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa, where they also swap content with local media. RT has also supported state broadcasters in Côte d’Ivoire and Eritrea with equipment and finances. When it comes to humanitarian assistance, Russia is eager to be seen as a major international contributor in Africa, and it leverages state media outlets and official statements to highlight the limited assistance it provides. Russia has also used the media to amplify support for African dictators. Official channels spread fake news linking protesters to foreign powers. Kremlin-sponsored media, in particular RT and Sputnik, are rising in popularity across the African continent. Cooperation agreements with local media outlets Russian state-owned media have signed cooperation agreements with local media outlets to share content and in some areas train local journalists.

Moscow’s efforts to influence public opinion on the continent should nevertheless be seen as a part of a broader strategy. This is in an attempt to push back US attempts to spread liberal democracy and democratic values on the one hand, and to promote the business interests of Russian companies (with links to the government) on the other. These efforts are meant to help revive Russia as a superpower with global reach, which it does by promoting anti Western views. Africa, with its weak governments, abundant natural resources, colonial legacies, proximity to Europe, and fifty-four votes at the United Nations General Assembly, provides Russia an easy and attractive theatre where it can advance its interests with limited financial or political costs. Influence-building using social media Influence-building using social media is one of the key aspects of Russia’s media strategy in Africa. It is used to sow doubt and to build trust in alternative news sources. And, unlike previous campaigns, Russian networks are increasingly working with local actors in African countries to better disguise their activities. Interestingly, much of the content being shared on social media by Russian networks is not ‘fake news’; in most cases it is hyper-partisan and polarizing.

‘Russia’s disinformation efforts have begun “franchising” their model by creating or sponsoring African hosts for the pro-Russian and anti-West messaging. This approach gives the disinformation campaign more cultural context while making it more difficult for ordinary readers to identify inauthentic accounts. It also provides the Russian Government with plausible deniability should the campaign be uncovered. The success of online influence campaigns also depends on how connected societies are to the digital world. It is perhaps because of this that Russia increasingly uses a combination of social media and other public diplomacy instruments to build influence in Africa. Education initiatives and cultural institutions, for example, work together with Russia’s media strategy and complement one another.


Following Russia’s resurgence in Africa, it is clear that it has been attempting to influence the media landscape and perceptions on the continent. Building on decades of experience in propaganda campaigns, Russia has striven to create media narratives that portray itself as an ally, at the same time discrediting Africa’s traditional partners such as France and the US. It can do this through the high levels of control the Kremlin exerts over much of Russia’s media ecosystem. These attempts have proven somewhat effective in Africa, where Russia’s anti-imperialist credentials find resonance and where the West’s perceived negative media coverage of the continent (and Russia) is a sore point. Russian state-owned media outlets such as RT, Sputnik and TASS are key players. They actively seek partnerships with African media outlets, even offering media training to newsrooms. The Kremlin has also adapted well to the digital age – online content, produced by RT and Sputnik but published in French, have become popular in francophone Africa, and supports Russia’s aim to cast doubt on France as a legitimate actor in the region. This also forms part of Russia’s broader strategy of resisting liberal democracy (more recently) while advancing its own interests on the continent.

Social media is another driver of Russian narratives in Africa. Campaigns in several African countries bear two important similarities: content is created to sow confusion (and is therefore hyper-partisan) and will often support Russia’s role on the continent while denouncing the presence of other foreign actors. Social media campaigns increasingly include local players giving them an air of credibility and cultural context. However, social media networks and research organizations have become adept at identifying inauthentic behavior. This, in addition to low levels of connectivity on the continent, could prove to be a challenge. It is important to remember that African countries have agency and exercise choice about who their partners and supporters will be, including in the media arena. Discrediting others is not the only value offered by RT and Sputnik – they also seek to report on neglected stories from Africa by offering a different viewpoint, which appeals to African states. But while Russia has managed to restore its image as a genuine power in some parts of the continent, the popularity of Russian sponsored content may rely more on its appropriation by African actors. And although Russia continues to push certain narratives to convince African audiences of its foreign policy, it does so on a limited budget and, so far, with limited benefit.

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