Russia – Africa: Blocked in Europe, ‘Russia Today’ is eyeing West Africa

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on Thursday, 17 March 2022 14:40, updated on Monday, 21 March 2022 16:11
Presenter Eunan O'Neill at the Russia Today offices in Moscow. © Iliya Pitalev/Sputnik via AFP

Banned by the European Union following the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian television channel Russia Today is increasing its number of contacts on the continent in the hopes of setting up shop there.

On Eutelsat’s airwaves, Russia Today (RT) has been banned from screens ever since the European Union (EU) put an embargo, which also targets the Sputnik channel, in force on 2 March. According to our information, several members of the Paris-based newsroom’s management team of this powerful medium, which has about 100 employees, are now considering moving operations to West Africa.

Xenia Fedorova, president and news director of RT‘s French branch, reached out to Séga Diarrah, head of the “pure player” Maliactu, on 28 February, four days after Russia launched its offensive on Ukraine. Dimitri Mendjisky, a Frenchman of Russian origin who heads the channel’s operations, was also present at the meeting via Zoom. Maliactu is also the Wagner nebula’s main source of influence in Bamako.

Was RT, which is now mainly broadcast in English-speaking African countries, already anticipating the European embargo?

Heading for Burkina?

The director of RT France told Diarrah that the media organisation’s new strategy was to split up the French editorial staff in order to open up an Africa department of Russia Today. “She explained to me the merits of the approach, which aims to meet the demand of French-speaking viewers in Africa, of which there are more than the French,” says the head of the Malian media. But the idea is to establish a stronger partnership with Maliactu before this project comes to fruition.

Initially, the pure player would serve as an interface for RT to broadcast its own news stories, which can currently only be viewed in France using a VPN, a network that makes it possible to bypass geographical restrictions. In the long term, this could lead to a stake in Mali’s media landscape.

Of course, all these developments are still in their early stages, but there is a real desire to expand on the continent and the ground is fertile for the Russian press. An RT executive in Paris told us that the Russian channel has been trying to break into the French-speaking African market for five years. “RT France has the chance to be French-speaking and not be perceived as French media. This is a considerable asset given how many Africans mistrust the former colonial power.”

In recent months, Russian media have been setting up shop in West Africa, where several military regimes are currently in power. According to our sources, RT’s French branch has also expressed a desire to get in touch with local media in Burkina Faso.

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