On Tuesday evening, freelance Journalist James Courtright, who resides in Dakar, Senegal, posted on twitter that he had been receiving advertisements sponsored by the U.S Embassy in Paris. The adverts, written in French, were being targeted at the West-African nation and were pushing content openly critical of China. The promoted tweets accused Beijing of fishing in Senegal’s waters, undermining local fisherman and breaking international law. They came despite a well-publicized ban a year earlier on the platform of all political advertising, seemingly the U.S embassy is exempt. An associated free press journalist also based in the country later confirmed he received the same thing.
Suspicious enough, in a separate development I then stumbled upon a website titled “Africa Verified”- the website, marketing itself as “Your Home for Trustworthy News”- came with a tagline at the bottom stating “funded by the United States of America”- Who specifically exactly? Nobody knows, although its reference to the country as a whole can only assume it is government related. The website consisted of an aggregation of news stories which were again largely focused on being critical of China, as well as promoting American activities on the continent in a positive light. There were stories which fell outside of this paradigm, making it obvious what the political motivations of the website were.
These two incidents were separate, yet clearly espoused with a common purpose; the United States government is quite openly and abashedly stepping up its “Information warfare” to put it mildly, against China across the African continent. As part of a broader State Department effort led by Mike Pompeo which vilifies Beijing on a daily basis in a highly aggressive manner, the U.S government are working in lockstep to demonize China and tarnish its reputation across the African continent. Washington has long expressed disapproval of China’s activities in Africa and has long pledged to try and hold its own against Beijing’s scale of investment and cooperation across the region, which obviously includes the information level too.
To do it in this way however, is disingenuous and bad faith. It deserves more scrutiny. If China run content throughout Africa, or for that matter any country, attacking and smearing the United States, especially from embassies targeting countries they are not even based in, it would receive considerable media attention and we would be hearing endless cries of so-called “wolf warrior diplomacy”- as well as discourses of “Propaganda”, “Misinformation”, how this constitutes a threat to the continent and so on. It would be a big deal. Yet, when the United States run a campaign which is clearly designed to vilify China, this is somehow not even worth a passing reference from the mainstream media. There is this passing assumption that when it comes to foreign policy, only “adversary” countries are dishonest.
Given this, African countries have to be on guard for potential disinformation stemming from Washington sponsored channels, which are not acting in the best interests of the targeted countries but in fact pushing a geopolitical agenda which solely benefits the United States. This episode is abusing diplomatic immunity to openly interfere in Senegal’s internal affairs. As Senegal’s President Macky Sall quoted very recently in response to open American criticism of Chinese investment in his country: “Africans today know exactly what their priorities are. We don’t want our friends to see China’s intervention & China as a threat to the partnership we have with them”.
Ultimately, it is for Africa to safeguard and look after its own best interests. Even if there are disputes with countries (there was a report recently that Korea had done so, as opposed to China) using the territorial waters of Dakar in ways which are unfair to local fishermen, this is an issue for the country itself to handle, rather than being latched upon and weaponised by the Cold Warriors of Washington. The continent must take precautions to ensure that it is deceived or entangled in an emerging propaganda war, seeing it only as a means to an end for global dominance, than truly promoting development, growth and prosperity within such respective countries.
Tom Fowdy is a Political Columnist for The Southern African Times. He is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S.