Russia in Africa

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Russia has arguably expanded its influence in Africa in recent years more than any other external actor. These engagements extend from deepening ties in North Africa, expanding its reach in the Central African Republic and the Sahel, and rekindling Cold War ties in southern Africa. Russia’s approach is distinctive among external actors in that Moscow typically relies on irregular (and frequently extralegal) means to expand its influence—deployment of mercenaries, disinformation, election interference, support for coups, and arms for resources deals, among others. This low-cost, high influence strategy seeks to advance a very different world order than the rules-based, democratic political systems to which most Africans aspire. The outcomes from Russia’s interventions in Africa, therefore, will have far reaching implications for governance norms and security on the continent. Following are a series of Africa Center analyses of Russia’s engagements in Africa.

Spotlight

Inflection Point for Africa–Russia Relations after Prigozhin’s Death

By Joseph Siegle
September 6, 2023

By taking over the operations of the Wagner Group after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russia loses the plausible deniability of Wagner’s irregular and illegal actions central to expanding Russian influence.

Spotlight

Africa’s Interests in Strengthening the United Nations System

By Paul Nantulya
August 14, 2023

African countries have played an overlooked role shaping the UN international system, remain committed to preserving and improving it, and oppose efforts to destabilize, dismantle, or overturn it.

Spotlight

Using Africa as a Stage at the Russia–Africa Summit

By Joseph Siegle
July 21, 2023

The Russia-Africa Summit provides a stage for Russia to elevate its geostrategic posture despite the instability its irregular tactics are creating in Africa.

Interview

It’s Business as Usual for Wagner Group in Africa, despite Russian Turbulence

By Joseph Siegle
July 14, 2023

In the wake of the recent short-lived mutiny, Putin faces a dilemma: He can allow the Wagner escapades to continue in Africa unhindered—thereby generating further influence and some resources for the government—or he can attempt to take over these operations but lose the influence and benefits Wagner brings the Kremlin.

Infographic

Mali Catastrophe Accelerating under Junta Rule

July 10, 2023

The threat of militant Islamist groups is spreading to all parts of Mali as the military junta stakes its claim to stay in power indefinitely.

Infographic

Tracking Russian Interference to Derail Democracy in Africa

June 21, 2023

Systematic efforts by Russia to undercut democracy in Africa have inhibited democratic development in two dozen African countries.

Spotlight

Intervening to Undermine Democracy in Africa: Russia’s Playbook for Influence

By Joseph Siegle
February 22, 2023

Russia has systematically sought to undercut democracy in Africa, both to normalize authoritarianism as well as to create an entry point for Russian influence.

Disinformation Drilling into Africa’s Information Ecosystems

Expert Publication

Disinformation Drilling into Africa’s Information Ecosystems

By Mark Duerksen
February 8, 2023

Rapidly shifting information pathways have created vulnerabilities that foreign powers—led by Russia, China, and the Gulf States—have aggressively exploited.

The Creeping Loss of African Sovereignty

Expert Publication

The Creeping Loss of African Sovereignty

By Joseph Siegle
February 8, 2023

Unaccountable regimes in Africa are highly vulnerable to exploitation by external authoritarian actors—at a heavy cost to citizen sovereignty.

Decoding Russia’s Economic Engagements in Africa

Spotlight

Decoding Russia’s Economic Engagements in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
January 6, 2023

While Russia has little to offer Africa economically, the political incentives for Moscow to engage on the continent have only grown stronger following its invasion of Ukraine.

Expert Publication

The Disruptor—A Recent History of Russia in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
December 9, 2022

With few enduring ties on the continent, the strategy that Vladimir Putin settled on early for Africa was to be a disruptor—in line with his vision of a multipolar international system. Russia's focus would be anti-Western, anti-democratic, counter–colored revolutions, and, over time, anti-UN.

A soldier from the Central African Armed Forces wearing a Wagner Group patch

Testimony

Russia’s Use of Private Military Contractors

By Joseph Siegle
October 7, 2022

Russia has deployed the shadowy paramilitary outfit, the Wagner Group, in at least a half dozen African countries in recent years, leaving a wake of instability for the citizens of the host country and the further retrenchment of illiberal actors.

Spotlight

Why Russia is on a Charm Offensive in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
July 26, 2022

Moscow is trying to gain influence in Africa without investing in it, a strategy that can only gain traction if certain African leaders see Russia as a means to validate their own hold on power regardless of popular will.

Testimony

Russia’s Strategic Objectives and Influences in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
July 22, 2022

Russia’s irregular means of gaining influence in Africa are destabilizing for the continent and disenfranchising for African citizens.

African Union leader meets with Putin

Expert Publication

African Union Leader Meets with Putin

By The World
June 7, 2022

At the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, the chairman of the African Union, Senegal's President Macky Sall, headed to Russia on Friday for talks about the impact of the war in Ukraine on African countries. Both Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of grain to the continent, accounting for over 40% of wheat imports to African countries in recent years, according to the UN. Host Marco Werman spoke with Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. 

Putin’s World Order Would Be Devastating for Africa

Expert Publication

Putin’s World Order Would Be Devastating for Africa

By Joseph Siegle and Jeffrey Smith
May 30, 2022

As Africans grapple with the more present and disastrous aftershocks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is important to recognize the threat this form of authoritarian expansion will have on the continent if it is normalized.

Spotlight

Russia and the Future International Order in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
May 11, 2022

The application of a Russian-shaped international order in Africa would have destabilizing repercussions for the continent.

Infographic

Mapping Disinformation in Africa

April 26, 2022

Russia has pioneered a model of disinformation to gain political influence in Africa that is now being replicated by other actors across the continent.

How Russia is pursuing state capture in Africa

Expert Publication

How Russia is Pursuing State Capture in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
March 21, 2022

The pushback in African states against state capture is simultaneously a push for better governance. Putin’s vision for Africa, in contrast, is a return to big man rule – where the big man is in Moscow.

Ukraine War: Fresh Warning That Africa Needs to be Vigilant against Russia’s Destabilizing Influence

Spotlight

Strategic Implications for Africa from Russia’s Invasion in Ukraine

By Joseph Siegle
March 9, 2022

The invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call to the implications of Russia’s attempts to export its governance model to Africa—with sobering consequences for African sovereignty and stability.

The Future of Russia-Africa Relations

Expert Publication

The Future of Russia-Africa Relations

By Joseph Siegle
February 2, 2022

To understand Russia’s engagements in Africa, it is necessary to be clear that the “partnerships” that Russia seeks are not state- but elite-based.

Spotlight

Africa’s Coups and the Role of External Actors

By Joseph Siegle
December 17, 2021

The recent rise in coups in Africa reflects a waning regional and international willingness to enforce anti-coup norms. Reversing the trend requires incentivizing democracy and consistently imposing real costs on coup makers.

Disinformation

Spotlight

Domestic Disinformation on the Rise in Africa

October 6, 2021

A growing trend of domestic political actors deploying targeted disinformation schemes requires expanded fact-checking capacity in Africa and collaboration with social media organizations.

Spotlight

Russia in Africa: Undermining Democracy through Elite Capture

By Joseph Siegle
September 24, 2021

Russia’s strategic objective of degrading the model of democratic governance in Africa is frequently effected through the cooption of isolated African leaders.

Russia's Wagner Play Undermines the Transition in Mali

Spotlight

Russia’s Wagner Play Undermines the Transition in Mali

By Joseph Siegle and Daniel Eizenga
September 23, 2021

The prospective deployment of Russia’s Wagner mercenaries should not be confused with addressing Mali’s security situation but is a means of expanding Russian influence while propping up the military junta.

Russia’s asymmetric strategy for expanding influence in Africa

Expert Publication

Russia’s Asymmetric Strategy for Expanding Influence in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
September 17, 2021

While projecting the image of a Great Power, Russia relies on asymmetric tactics to gain influence and pursue its strategic objectives in Africa.

Expert Publication

Russia’s Strategic Goals in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
May 6, 2021

While Russia’s engagements in Africa are often viewed as opportunistic, in the space of a few years Moscow has been able to gain a foothold in the southern Mediterranean, become a powerbroker in geographically strategic countries, and undermine democratic norms on the continent.

A Light in Libya’s Fog of Disinformation

Spotlight

A Light in Libya’s Fog of Disinformation

October 9, 2020

Divisions within Libya’s civil war have been amplified by foreign-sponsored disinformation campaigns. Reconciliation and peacebuilding will require local actors to reclaim Libya’s digital spaces.

Spotlight

Russian Disinformation Campaigns Target Africa:
An Interview with Dr. Shelby Grossman

February 18, 2020

The growing sophistication of Russia’s disinformation campaigns in Africa demand greater vigilance from tech companies, internet watchdog groups, and governments.

Presidents Faustin Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic and Vladimir Putin of Russia. (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Expert Publication

Recommended US Response to Russian Activities in Africa

By Joseph Siegle
May 9, 2019

Russia has significantly expanded its engagements in Africa in recent years. These engagements often take the form of propping up embattled and isolated autocratic leaders of countries that are rich in natural resources. The United States can draw a distinction with Russia’s destabilizing role by pursuing a positive engagement strategy in Africa. The United States must avoid the Cold War trap of competing with Russia for the affections of corrupt, autocratic leaders in Africa, however, as such a policy would be disastrous for Africa while not advancing US interests.