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Dirty tactics: How the US tries to break China’s soft power in Africa

By Vsevolod Sviridov


The Americans are promoting their agenda in Africa using the exact same methods that they accuse China of employing.

In April, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) published the article “China’s Strategy to Shape Africa’s Media Space” by research associate Paul Nantulya. The author attempts to expose China’s media strategy in Africa. Criticism of China on the ACSS website is not surprising, since the Center was established within the US Department of Defense and promotes the views and agenda of official US structures. In other words, through organizations like ACSS, the US engages in the same activities which it blames China for.

The article notes that in recent years, Chinese investments in the African media space have surged, and the country intends to establish a long-term institutional presence in the African media and communications market. This is evident from the fact that the state-owned Xinhua news agency has 37 offices throughout Africa, the Chinese provider of satellite TV services StarTimes has become the second largest player in the strategically important African market, China finances and supports African media outlets, and Chinese news agencies speak well of the ruling political elites in those African countries which have friendly relations with China.

According to the author of the article, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays an important role in supporting and financing China’s initiatives, and through this, the CCP gets the chance to spread its “propaganda” and influence the minds of young people.

In addition to the financial component and the expansion of its “physical” media presence, another key aspect of China’s media strategy in Africa is personnel training: it is actively involved in training both students and media professionals through professional development programs, exchanges, and internships. Paul Nantulya warns, “The embedding of CCP media in African media ecosystems risks distorting Africa’s information spaces.”

Such an article is perfectly aligned with the US global foreign policy, and its “fight against disinformation.” It is hardly surprising that ACSS sees China and Russia as the main sources of “disinformation.” ACSS regularly publishes articles and holds events dedicated to combating disinformation in Africa – in 2023, it published seven such materials, and five others have appeared since the beginning of 2024. They include articles titled ‘Mapping a Surge of Disinformation in Africa’ (about China and Russia’s disinformation campaigns in Africa), ‘Tracking Russian Interference to Derail Democracy in Africa’, ‘China’s Influence on African Media’, ‘Intervening to Undermine Democracy in Africa: Russia’s Playbook for Influence’, and so on.

In these articles, general statements about democratic values are mixed with publicly available statistics, and though they may seem trivial, they are part of a systematic approach. Since 2022, combating disinformation has been one of the objectives of the Biden Administration’s “U.S. Strategy Toward Africa,” which states: “We will expand digital democracy programming, defend against digital authoritarianism, fight back against disinformation, combat gender-based online harassment and abuse, and establish standards for responsible conduct in cyberspace.” The US Department of State receives funding to combat China’s “malign actions” in Africa (including disinformation) and the US-supported state structure (the African Center for Strategic Studies) is actively engaged in promoting the US agenda.

Africa’s media space is still dominated by Western-controlled media such as BBC, CNN, CNBC, France 24, Euronews (Africanews), Africa Report / Jeune Afrique, etc. They exert considerable influence on the regional agenda and trends, have access to insider information, and utilize the same methods as China: train personnel, create Africa-oriented media, open additional offices, and invest in information and communications technology infrastructure. The only difference is that Western media have been doing this for over a century. So, in fact, the US approach resembles the well-known saying: He who smelt it, dealt it.

However, in recent years, the role of African media (as well as its quality) has greatly increased. Africa’s media space is becoming more sovereign, and large influential outlets have emerged which are not dependent on the externally imposed agenda. These include newspapers like The East African (Kenya), The Herald (Zimbabwe), The Punch (Nigeria), etc. Non-Western centers of power – such as China, Turkey, the UAE, Russia, and India – play an important role in these developments. Media outlets from these countries cover African events and share professional experience with African colleagues. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the West to compete with alternative sources of information and influence the agenda. Paul Nantulya’s article is similar to US attempts to control TikTok or Israel’s ban of Al Jazeera, since nowadays, the media and various communication channels have also become an arena of global confrontation.

One of the main goals of the US policy in Africa is to oppose the influence of China and Russia. However, Russia should not regard its presence in Africa as a sign of the growing confrontation with the US and the collective West. Russia’s policy in Africa is self-sufficient regardless of the position of Washington or Paris, and should be primarily aimed at the needs of the African audience. Russian media should respond to US pressure by growing its audience, improving the quality of published and broadcast materials, attracting reputable African authors and experts, and expanding TV and radio broadcasting in Africa.

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