Africa offers Russia a convenient and alluring theatre where it can promote its objectives with little financial or political risk. Weak Governments, significant natural resources, a mistrust of European colonisers and no less than 54 United Nations’ votes offer a significant return to Russian interest.
Two French journalists sought to gather first-hand information on the way the Russians are increasing their sphere of influence, including through infiltration and misinformation in a number of poor, war-stricken, African countries. For this inspiring work, Carol Valade and Clément Di Roma are the winners of this years’ Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize, which celebrates outstanding journalism work based on the principles and values of the European Union.
CDE.News secured Valade’s first comments immediately following this announcement, with his first reaction being to pay tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia. “This award is an incredible honour for us, it is a great responsibility to carry the prize associated with the name of a journalist who gave her life for investigation and bringing truth to light”.
He dedicates this win to all journalists killed around the world for doing their job.
The investigation unearthed the ways that the Russians, through the proxy Wagner group, are gaining unprecedented support in African nations. Through private militias, the group has supported the unstable regime of the CAR to defend itself against rebels. Throughout the country, it has engaged itself in harrowing activities including looting, abuse and rape. Yet, for many people fearing the insurgence of the rebels, the Russian presence has brought a semblance of security. While a number of locals actively support Russia for their newly achieved sense of security, others are bribed, with small amounts, to express such support. Misinformation abounds at all levels.
Valade explains that the success of this reportage was that the journalists sought to understand both sides, including those who actively support the Russians. At the same time, very few were willing to show their face when expressing their disapproval of the situation for fear of retribution. “Very few journalists work in these areas, with some places actually being completely inaccessible to foreigners”.
Working in this environment was no mean feat. Valade speaks about a climate of pressure around journalists. Being French, put him at a disadvantage given that the locals view this nation as colonisers. “We could feel people were afraid to talk. There is no press freedom – people feared we worked for the French government, or that we were spies”, he explains.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize winner explains that this nation is a laboratory for the Wagner group. The feature shows how propaganda works, with the Wagner group going at lengths to even create a blockbuster movie which celebrates the role of the Russians in keeping the country safe. Valade sees the Russians exporting this model: “they are using the CAR experience to sell the model in other unstable countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso”.
He calls on European leaders to wake up to this increasing threat so close to the continent. Addressing this situation is no mean feat. Although the closeness of the Wagner Group with the Kremlin is documented, the Group is technically a symbiosis of a number of independent contracting entities, whose primary objective is power and money, and therefore do not necessarily take every decision in line with Moscow.
Europe should be concerned about what’s happening, he adds. Russia’s success in Africa, he argues, is also a failure of the values which Europe defends, including freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, Africans are losing out too. While a false sense of security may be felt by some, the continent is turning towards an authoritarian model.
While Valade and De Roma had previously made no plans in doubling up on this investigation, the former says that this prize brings with it a sense of responsibility to do so. Once again, he recalls the memory of Daphne: “When a journalist is killed, a dozen journalists will take up his or her story. It is our duty to continue unearthing stories that deserve to be told”.