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JOHANNESBURG—The Chinese communist regime has annexed media spaces across Africa, severely restricting citizens’ access to fair and accurate news, while allowing Beijing to spread anti-American messaging at will, according to separate research completed by two authorities on China’s activities on the continent.

Reports from Paul Nantulya, at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, and Joshua Eisenman, senior fellow for China studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, paint a disturbing picture of the Chinese regime’s success in spreading propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation in Africa.

The experts’ research shows that the U.S. government has done little to counter China’s dominance of African media landscapes. To the contrary, budget cuts have forced the U.S. government’s international broadcaster, Voice of America (VOA), to shutter African bureaus and severely limit reporting from staff and freelancers on the continent.

In his report, Mr. Nantulya said media controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are now “embedded” in news and information ecosystems across Africa, “distorting” the truth and limiting access to “independent information shaping citizen debates on a host of issues ranging from governance, society, and the economy.”

Mr. Nantulya’s and Mr. Eisenman’s research reveals that CCP agents have recruited hundreds of African media personnel to work at four major news outlets operating across the continent.

These are Xinhua, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Daily, and China Radio International. Xinhua and China Radio International are both state-owned CCP official mouthpiece, while the other two outlets are controlled by the regime’s Publicity Department.

The studies reveal the Chinese organizations recruit high-profile African media personalities, offering them high salaries to give its propaganda “credibility.”

Mr. Eisenman concluded that “all four receive vast state resources that allow them to cover a wealth of stories using various types of media (print, television, radio, and online) in all six United Nations languages”—Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

He said each of the agencies has “numerous multilingual, outward-facing social media accounts with millions of followers on platforms that are blocked in China, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.”

Through Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio International, and China Daily, the CCP funds many struggling African media houses, demanding “favorable” reporting in return, said Mr. Eisenman.

“To consolidate China’s voice, the CCP Propaganda Department provides free content, negotiates content sharing agreements with government and private broadcasters, pays handsomely for supplements, offers state-of-the-art equipment, buys stakes in leading media companies” and offers training, he wrote in his report.

“These (trainings) entail a seemingly endless conveyor belt of African journalists going to China on fully paid trips where they receive first-class treatment and guided tours to instill positive images and experiences.”

Many of Africa’s young journalists are trained in China and paid by Chinese media organizations. In Kenya alone, 500 journalists and local staff are employed by Chinese media agencies, relaying at least 1,800 English-language news items monthly, according to a 2013 report by Shubi Li and Helge Ronning published by Norway-based research institute CMI.
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A technician inspects copies of Chinese owned newspaper, China Daily at the printing press in Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2013. (Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

Pervasive Presence

Mr. Eisenman said China’s media presence began “expanding markedly” in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

“While budget cuts forced many Western news outlets to reduce their overseas coverage, China launched a worldwide $7.25 billion campaign known as ‘Big Foreign Propaganda,’” he wrote.

Mr. Nantulya said the campaign has been sustained worldwide, but especially in Africa, as it’s become clear how important the continent is set to be in the near future.

Many African countries contain vast deposits of the rare earth and precious metals and minerals needed to manufacture alternative energy products such as wind turbines and solar batteries, computers, cell phones, and weapons systems.

Xinhua, China’s top state media organ, answers directly to the CCP’s Propaganda Department.

“Xinhua’s Africa coverage reflects the agency’s brief to only carry positive stories about China, the Communist Party, and President Xi,” Professor Herman Wasserman, head of the University of Cape Town’s media studies department, told The Epoch Times.

“A big part of Xinhua’s work is to cast the U.S. in a negative light, like it did with a recent piece focusing on the Biden administration’s raising of taxes on Chinese energy products, basically saying the decision would backfire on the U.S.”

Xinhua is present in all but 14 of Africa’s 54 countries. It has 40 African bureaus, more than any other media agency on the continent, and is staffed by almost 1,000 people, mostly Africans.

VOA has one bureau left on the continent.

“Five years ago we had five bureaus, with each one covering a different region of Africa,” a senior VOA staff member told The Epoch Times.

“We had a bureau in Johannesburg for Southern Africa and a bureau in Dakar [Senegal] for West Africa. On top of that, we had satellite offices in many of Africa’s main cities, and we always had funds to pay stringers [freelancers].

“All this is gone; the only African bureau left is Nairobi and we have very little funding to pay stringers so we miss a lot of what’s happening in Africa.”

Professor Glenda Daniels, of Wits University’s media studies department in Johannesburg, told The Epoch Times that “messaging” from CCP-controlled media and their “African proxies” is reaching at least a quarter of the continent’s 1.5 billion people on a regular basis.

Xinhua, for example, has a content-sharing agreement with Kenya’s Nation Media Group. It allows the Chinese mouthpiece to use eight radio and TV stations in four East and Central African countries; its reports reach 11.3 million people every month.

The agreement also gives Xinhua access to 28 million social media followers and a daily newspaper circulation of 90,000, according to a 2020 congressional testimony from Mr. Nantulya.
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People watch a live broadcast of the International Criminal Court trial of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, in Abidjan, Ivaory Coast, on Jan. 28, 2016. (Sia Kambou/AFP via Getty Images)

VOA’s various Africa services claim a weekly audience of 78 million people.

China Radio International broadcasts in at least nine African languages from its regional bureaus in Harare (Southern Africa), Lagos (West Africa) and Cairo (North Africa). In 2018, the CCP’s Propaganda Department merged China Radio International with China National Radio to create Voice of China.

Mr. Nantulya said Voice of China’s 14,000 employees are tasked with “propagating the [CCP’s] theories, directions, principles, and policies” and “telling good Chinese stories.”

CGTN Africa has approximately 200 mostly African employees spread across the continent who are “briefed to say only good things about China,” said Mr. Wasserman.

He highlighted CGTN’s coverage of the Association of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS), which now also includes Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates.

“CGTN has really pushed the narrative that BRICS is a feasible rival to the G7 and is taking economic power away from the West,” said Mr. Wasserman.

“In the past, though, their reports were generally of a poor quality. These days the quality of their material, in terms of high-quality graphics and video, delivered by very eloquent presenters, rivals the material being put out by the BBC and CNN. That makes CGTN reports seem extremely credible.”

But that “veneer easily slips,” he said, when one takes a closer look at the ways in which Chinese media in Africa are reporting Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is “unashamedly” pushing the line that President Vladimir Putin’s invasion is legitimate and designed to prevent “Western expansionism.”

“I’ve seen CGTN and Xinhua reports that detail how U.S. companies are profiting from the war, suggesting that Washington is keeping the war going because it’s making money,” said Mr. Wasserman.

He said CCP disinformation is having “serious consequences across Africa,” pointing to CCP assistance to Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF regime in late 2022.

Mr. Wasserman said CCP disinformation claiming there was a conspiracy to depose the ZANU-PF government “created an excuse for the regime to jail journalists and activists.”

Big Budgets

He said the United States has “hardly fired a shot back in anger” at Chinese propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation in Zimbabwe, and in Africa as a whole.

At the U.S.–Africa Summit in December 2022, the first since 2014, President Joe Biden pledged to invest $55 billion on the continent in 2023, 2024, and 2025.

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U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a photo with the leaders of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on Dec. 15, 2022. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Some of this money, he said, would be used to support “democratic” African media to counter “false information.”

Both Ms. Daniels and Mr. Wasserman said they’re not aware of any major U.S. government-funded media projects in Africa.

“Bill Gates funds a few media groups in Africa, as do American donors like the Open Society Foundations,” said Ms. Daniels. “But I don’t know of any media focused on specifically tackling China’s propaganda in Africa.”

In a March 2023 statement to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) CEO Amanda Bennett said its networks had “made significant gains in … bolstering media partners in regions targeted by China despite independent global media operating with only a fraction of the budget of China’s state-controlled media.”

The USAGM oversees operations at seven international broadcasting networks: VOA, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Open Technology Fund.

Ms. Bennett highlighted VOA’s English-language fact-checking project, Polygraph, which produces “videos and articles in Mandarin to confront China’s disinformation efforts and present evidence to debunk falsehoods.”

In March 2023, the USAGM made a 2024 budget request of $944 million to fund all seven of its entities.

Ms. Bennett said in a statement that the budget was formulated to counter “information manipulation and media suppression tactics emanating from authoritarian governments in China, Russia, Iran, and others, who strive to undermine American values and incite political, economic, and humanitarian crises around the world.”

She pledged that VOA and the agency’s other entities would continue providing “fact-based information and gaining trust in markets increasingly being targeted by the Chinese and Russian governments’ malign influence, including Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the broader Pacific.”

The budget request, she said, allowed for an increase in investigative journalism and “fact-checking labs.”

Several VOA staff members told The Epoch Times that very little of this is happening with regard to Africa.

“I don’t know of any money allocated to investigative journalism in Africa,” one staff member said.

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China Central Television (CCTV) Africa’s journalists attend an editorial meeting in the premises of the television in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 12, 2012. (Simon Maina/AFP/GettyImages)

“Polygraph touches on the continent now and again, but its people are based in D.C., not in Africa. We have few Africa-based staff left, just the odd contractor.”

Another staff member commented: “We’re not even out of the starting blocks yet, despite the Biden administration’s promises to counter China in Africa. We need the U.S. government to fund us, to roll out more programs in Africa, and increase budgets to recruit credible on-the-ground correspondents.

“It’s tragic to watch our African budgets being cut to the point where we can’t even pay stringers anymore, and to hear from African journalists that they’re being offered big salaries from the Chinese … We can’t blame them when they accept; they have families to feed.”

The USAGM requested $950 million in its 2025 budget request sent to Congress on March 11.

Ms. Bennett again said the USAGM’s “priority efforts” aim to “counter malign influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Iran, and others.”

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In 2021, VOA spent $32 million—less than 13 percent of its $253 million budget—on developing content for Africa, said Mr. Eisenman’s report.

In 2023, VOA’s budget was $267.5 million, with the broadcaster spending $27 million, or around 10 percent of its budget, in Africa.

In 2014, according to the Australia Center on China in the World, the CCP was spending $6 billion annually on Voice of China alone.

In 2020, Freedom House, U.S.-based think tank estimated that the CCP was “devoting billions of dollars a year to its foreign propaganda and censorship efforts.”

In his report, Mr. Eisenman concluded: “the U.S. government has yet to overtly contest China’s anti-U.S. media propaganda in Africa. The primary reason for this appears to be Washington’s long-standing, bipartisan neglect of Africa.”

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Russian-born writer and broadcaster Victor Franzusoff (1911–1996) broadcasts to the Soviet Union from the Voice of America studios in New York City on March 12 1948. (FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

America Is ‘Far Behind’

Chief of the U.S. military’s Africa command, Gen. Michael Langley, blamed a wave of Russian disinformation for anti-U.S. sentiment in some regions, in an interview with The Associated Press on May 29.

Some governments, including in Chad and Niger, have embraced Russian forces and paramilitaries and are pushing for U.S. forces to leave the Sahel region.

“There was negative sentiment across the last couple of years against one of our most valued allies—France—as you looked at all social media and looked all across media writ large,” Gen. Langley told the outlet. “A lot of that negative sentiment was fuelled by the misinformation and disinformation of the Russian Federation.

“We need to get our narrative out there,” he said.

Johannesburg-based technology and information analyst George Bota agreed.

“The U.S. is far behind China, and even Russia, in all respects in Africa. It must wake up. It’s asleep at the wheel. It’s not funding its own media agencies on the continent, let alone other media. It just doesn’t seem at this stage to grasp the importance of information in this day and age. It’s actually amazing to me,” he said.

“If you have no means to get the right messages to people, you can’t tell your story. If you don’t win hearts and minds, it doesn’t matter how much good you do, no one knows about it.”

Mr. Bota highlighted the Biden administration’s Lobito Corridor Project, announced in May 2023 with an initial commitment of $360 million.
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A French soldier patrols the streets of Gao, Mali, on Dec. 4, 2021. (Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images)

The United States is building a 340-mile rail line and 160 miles of roads in Zambia to provide a route for metals and minerals produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo to be shipped to America and Europe through a harbor at Lobito on the Atlantic coast in Angola.

“Moving those valuable resources from the Central African copper belt to Western markets is key for the U.S. and Europe, particularly as the energy transition unfolds,” said the Trafigura consortium, which is involved in the project.

“It’s going to provide livelihoods to many in Africa. But Africans don’t know anything about it. It may as well not exist,” Mr. Bota said.

“The Chinese fund journalists to cover their infrastructure projects. The U.S. must do the same. America has to start fighting fire with fire in African information spaces, otherwise it’s dead here.”

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