How Russia and Wagner carry out their disinformation campaigns in Africa – an example with the GPCI

Over the past few months, our team has carried out several investigations into the “Groupe panafricain pour le commerce et l’investissement” (Pan-African Group for Trade and Investment – GPCI), a network of fake media outlets financed by Wagner. Officially, the GPCI is a digital marketing communications company, but that’s a mere façade. In reality, it’s a network of fake media broadcasting pro-Russian and pro-Wagner narratives in Africa. The GPCI is officially owned by Harouna Douamba. These are the elements gathered during our investigation:

This graphic illustrates how the GPCI operates

Precise methods and well-refined procedures

How is the GPCI spreading its disinformation? The GPCI is an organized network that relies not only on fake media, but also on a whole network of fake Facebook accounts to disseminate its content. The GPCI’s modus operandi is quite simple: once an article has been published on the website of one of its many fake media webpages, it is then systematically picked up by Facebook pages and groups affiliated to the GPCI. The content is then shared in other, larger groups that are seemingly unrelated to those affiliated with the GPCI. Despite their limited impact, many of these fake media pages exist and their editorial team is very active, publishing several articles a day. The articles have little visibility (around 300 followers). However, the multiple sharing of these articles via Facebook, makes it possible to target a wider audience and have a greater impact.

An involvement of Burkina Faso’s government?

On August 2 and 3, 2023, the official Facebook page of Burkina Faso’s Presidency mistakenly published a GPCI article quoting a certain Alpha Diallo. This blunder shows the complicity between Burkina Faso and Wagner, or at least a proximity between the social media manager of the GPCI and the Presidency of Burkina Faso. The Presidency’s publication, which was quickly deleted, was attributed to a “handling error” on the part of the Community Manager.

Apology post made by the Facebook account of the Presidency of Burkina Faso after republishing a post of the GPCI by mistake

According to the investigation we carried out following this incident, the Burkinabe administration was directly involved in these operations: The GPCI’s official headquarters are located on the premises of the Burkina Faso Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI-BF) in Togo. When comparing images of the GPCI and CCI-BF premises, it becomes clear that they are indeed in the same office. Admittedly, it is difficult to prove explicitly that this operation was directly sponsored by Burkina Faso. However, the presence of the GPCI on the premises of a Burkinabe public institution demonstrates at least a certain complicity between these two actors. It is unacceptable for the CCI-BF to rent its office space to such an organization. The CCI-BF should logically have refused to host the GPCI, whose links with Wagner are well established, inside its walls. An audit of the organization’s activities should have been carried out before accepting it as a client.

Image showing the similarity between the offices of the GPCI and the CCI-BF

Fortune Younga, an important relay for the GPCI?

Yassia “Fortune” Younga is a young man from Burkina Faso. He is the founder and administrator of four Facebook pages on which he publishes pro-Russian narratives.

-Fortune live 24 (~113k followers)

-Fortune Younga (~80k followers)

-Fortune Younga Loroum (~11k followers)

-Fortune Médias (~4k followers)

Fortune Younga comes from the Loroum region in northern Burkina Faso. He was one of the first to sound the alarm about insecurity in this region. He publishes mainly local news, and claims that France is the source of all problems in Burkina Faso. As he gained in popularity, his discourse became increasingly favorable to Russia and Wagner. Fortune Younga has also been interviewed by Russian media, including Sputnik, which quoted him directly in an interview.

Fortune Younga

Links beyond the media – NGOs and political marketing

Besides the fake media serving as relays for pro-Wagner propaganda, there are other organizations which are tied to the GPCI. These include the NGO “Aimons Notre Afrique” (Let’s love our Africa – ANA) and Igescom, a group specializing in digital and political marketing, both of which are linked to the GPCI ecosystem. Like the GPCI, ANA is owned by Harouna Douamba, a pan-Africanist with close ties to Wagner. Part of ANA’s premises are in the same office as those of the GPCI, which demonstrates the direct link between these two organizations. Igescom links with the GPCI were established after an analysis of their IP addresses and Adsense number (Google’s advertising program), which are identical. Is the GPCI planning to diversify its disinformation operations?

Photo of the office the NGO “ANA”

What does the future hold for the GPCI?

Now that Wagner’s future is uncertain, especially after the creation of the AfricaCorps by Moscow, the GPCI’s future is also fragile. Despite the links between the GPCI and Wagner, it is unlikely that Russia will deprive itself of such a useful propaganda network. A takeover of the GPCI by AfricaCorps, or by another body directly controlled by Moscow, seems therefore likely in the near future.

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