The Russian Grip on Central African Media
While Russian information operations in Bangui rely on Facebook or school propaganda, radio stations and the press are also manipulated: these maneuvers are described in an instructive french report by Saber Jendoubi, who spent three years in the Central African Republic as a war correspondent and collected many testimonies from Central African journalists.
In the context of a civil war, the situation in Bangui is marked by the development of the Russian presence from 2017 on the one hand, and the vulnerability of the media on the other hand: in Bangui, a journalist earns between 20,000 CFA (€ 30) and 100,000 CFA (150 €) per month, and a freelance 25,000 CFA per month. Two actors exploit this vulnerability: the President's security adviser, Valery Zakharov, ex-KGB (and two spin doctors: Vasily Alexandrov and Stanislav Skopylatov, both natives of Saint Petersburg), and Evgueny Prigozhin's conglomerate (in this case: the mining company Lobaye Invest, and the contractors of the private military company Wagner Group).
Lobaye Invest - the infamous funder of a cartoon targeting Central African schoolchildren - funds Lengo Songo radio and other media. Saber Jendoubi reveals that teams from Zakharov and the Russian Embassy also offered help to journalists and bloggers: some have accepted, and one of them says that these teams wrote all of his articles in 2018. Moreover, journalists are also paid when they write pro-Russian or anti-French articles. These articles were relayed by radios, and the state radio persistently broadcast these anti-French editorials.
The situation of some journalists deteriorated in July 2018, with the assassination of three Russian journalists who were investigating the activities of Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic. Saber Jendoubi reports that the international media then offered to pay Central African journalists to investigate these murders: some of them were then put under surveillance and threatened. One of them claims that the Primature offered him 750,000 CFA, which he refused, and that following this refusal the Presidency contacted his family. Others were accused of acting at the behest of the Russian opposition or France and threatened by the military.
Six months later, Reporters Without Borders noted that the investigation into these murders had not progressed, and called for an international investigation.
The situation of French journalists in the Central African Republic also worsened: according to Saber Jendoubi their relations with Valery Zakharov started to deteriorate following the publication of articles about his activities. The situation escalated after the murder of the three Russian journalists. Valery Zakharov then invited two journalists to Berengo: there, they were arrested on their arrival, accused of espionage, and were blocked for eight hours at the local gendarmerie. Subsequently, they were put under surveillance and threatened, as well as their sources and Central African acquaintances.
- French report by Saber Jendoubi : Panorama de la presse centrafricaine, Entre pauvreté et politique d'influence
- Meurtres de journalistes en Centrafrique : sur la piste d'un guet-apens orchestré en Russie
- Russia, The New Power in Central Africa
- Death, Diamonds and Russia’s Africa Project
- Afrique: la Russie place ses pions en Afrique
- Trois journalistes russes assassinés en Centrafrique
- Three Russian journalists murdered in Central Africa Republic
- RSF demande une enquête internationale indépendante sur l’assassinat des journalistes russes en RCA
- Call for international inquiry into triple murder of Russian journalists in CAR