Russia’s return to Africa is by no means new or underreported as the presence of private military groups such as Wagner, meddling with elections as in Madagascar, signing arms and mining deals with countries such as Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR), as well as backing Libyan warlords is the ‘new normal’ for Russia in Africa. What is underreported, however, is Russia’s use of Pan-Africanism to increase anti-Western sentiment and in turn, increase its influence on the continent.
The Parallel Programme and the ‘Back Office’
The political analysts in Africa are a part of the ‘back office’. The back office is the political wing of the infamous Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ventures. Prigozhin is the man behind the security, policy, mineral infrastructure, and election-export Russia is running in Africa parallel to official arms, mining, and energy deals. The unofficial story, the Prigozhin story, consist of the ‘troll factory’, Wagner, mineral extraction, and the back office. Combined, the three are operating individually or together in at least twenty African countries at this point. The increased Russian presence is evident in the almost doubled number of Russian’s travelling to Africa since 2017.
The back office is believed to be run by Petr Bychkov in coordination with Prigozhin’s chief political advisor, Yaroslav Ignatowski. The two can be seen in pictures on social media with other known Prigozhin associates, such as Mikhail Potepkin, who has been directly involved with the troll factory and M Invest in Sudan. Despite the large involvement on the continent, some countries have a higher priority with a clearer action plan; Francafrique.
Russia Pan-Africanism and Kemi Seba
Pan-Africanism is a global social, cultural, and political movement that embraces increased solidarity among all ethnic groups of African descent stemming from the early 1900s. The movement embraces all African diaspora in the world with the belief that the diaspora should uplift each other. Another feature of Pan-Africanism for some is what is referred to as afro-centric Pan-Africanism which became prominent in the 1980s and 90s. The element of Afrocentrism largely focuses on driving out the Eurocentric elements from the African societies stemming from colonial times, in particular, culture in forms of literature, music, and theatre. Education and European Christianity are also elements that have fused African society with Eurocentric notions that have desacralized indigenous Africa and overall contributed to assimilation.
One prominent Pan-African activist in Africa is Kémi Séba who grew up in Strasbourg. In his late teenagers, he joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) before he founded his own political movement in Paris named Tribu KA. Due to his antisemitic posts on the group’s website, he was sentenced to jail. Upon his release, he converted to Islam and joined an anti-imperialism group with close links to Hezbollah before he further joined the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), a US-based black nationalist, anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist, and Pan-African movement. He quickly became the head of the French wing of the NBPP. In 2011, he left NBPP and moved to Senegal where he began lecturing in Pan-Africanism and became a geopolitical commentator. The Pan-Africanism featuring Afrocentric elements coupled with his anti-imperialist opinions in his teaching earned him popularity in Francophone Africa.
Chadian President Idriss Deby stated in 2015 that there was a cord preventing African development which must be severed. The cord he referred to was the CFA franc. A year later, some European and African economists called it monetary slavery. Prior to the 27th France-Africa Summit in Mali in January 2017, people organised and mobilised to protest against the CFA franc for the first time on the basis that the currency function as a neo-colonial tool.
These protests were initiated and organised by Kemi Seba and his organisation, Urgences Panafricanistes (URPANAF). URPANAF’s main objectives are to deny and resist French neocolonialism, globalism (defined as Westernization), and imperialism in all its form, abolish the CFA franc, and form new alliances. URPANAF is present in 12 countries but seeks to fight French imperialism in 26. Less than a year after he revived anti-CFA franc opinions in Francafrique, Seba was invited to Moscow where a new alliance took shape.
The Russian Connection: Pan-Africanism Turned Into Anti-Westernism
In Moscow, he met with the political analyst Alexandr Dugin. Dugin is known as a nationalist fascist and the author behind ‘Foundations of Geopolitics’ which has had a great influence on Russian strategic thinking, as well as his involvement in hybrid strategies such as ‘managed nationalism.’ His work has led to close relationships with Kremlin and the Russian armed forces. Dugin also established Katehon, a think-tank with deep far-right connections and board members such as Leonid Reshetnikov, a former Russian intelligence operative, and director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.
Katehon has also been accused to be involved in information warfare against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Konstantin Malofeev, known as a far-right oligarch involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, is also on the board of the think tank, as well as both him and Dugin are board members of the Tsargrad group, a far-right anti-western platform.
According to URPANAF, the Seba’s meeting with Dugin is one of the most important meetings of the political journey of the Pan-African movement in recent years. Following the meeting, Seba conducted an interview with Sputnik. Based on his interview, it is clear that he views anti-Westernism as a strategy in the pursuit of a multipolar world, like Russia. In that sense, cooperation between himself and Russia based on turning Pan-Africanism is into an anti-Western mobilisation tool to drive France out of its former colonies makes absolute sense.
The Madagascan Example
Recently, in front of the French embassy in Madagascar, Séba was leading protests demanding France to return the disputed Scattered Islands. His chants stated, among other notions of anti-Westernism, that ‘Africans trust Russia more than America or France.’ The protests were promoted as Pan-Africanism, yet the protests and the conference prior to it were organised by political strategists working for Prigozhin. Seba and some of the protesters were even paid by the Russian’s to carry out the protests.
Leaked documents from Prigozhin’s back office even mention Seba and URPANAF specifically under the headline ‘The Pan-African Project’. The Pan-African Project further outlines the ambition of an African Empire, or at least a coalition of states, like FranceAfrique. To achieve that objective, the political strategists must ensure power in the hands of the selected leaders so that when the time is right, one leader will be recognised – Kemi Seba. Meanwhile, Seba is being given a platform as well as money for his cooperation and participation.
To What End?
Evidently, Russia does have a grand strategy in Africa and one important aspect of it is to drive France out of its former colonies. In order to do so, Russia has invested in Kemi Seba who is utilizing popularity from his Pan-Africanism views mixed with notions of anti-Westernism and anti-imperialism to form an increasingly negative public opinion of the French influence and is specifically eyeing the abolishment of the CFA franc as a means to that objective.
With diminishing French influence, Russia can increase its own and, in the greater scheme, diminish Western influence on the continent and establish many alliances which could be very beneficial for Russia, enabling increased arms export, mining concessions, oil and gas concessions, infrastructure projects (particularly nuclear energy and railways), as well as military cooperation.
Image: Youtube / Current Time TV (link)