Connect with us

Feature/OPED

Information Operations: An Understudied Facet of Russian Influence in Africa

Published

on

russia invest south africa

By Miriam Roday and Sarah Daly

In a quiet neighbourhood just outside of Accra, 16 Ghanaians were instructed to create social media accounts, representing themselves as Americans, to post content about divisive political issues, where and when U.S. audiences were most active online.

Starting in June 2019, posts like this tweet trickled into users’ newsfeeds: “How can a #police officer kill an 11-year-old #black boy and go unpunished? Why, are some lives more important than others?”

In the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Russian operatives from Ghana and Nigeria crafted fake profiles on social media to stoke tensions and widen cleavages in American society.

Russian trolls posted in Facebook groups about police brutality and racial inequity, implying or claiming that they lived in the United States, and in one case, purported to be the cousin of a Black American who had died in police custody.

These trolling tactics may sound familiar. They were central themes of Moscow’s “sweeping and systematic” campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Under the direction of Russian financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Kremlin deployed an army of professional trolls from the now-infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA) based in St. Petersburg to manipulate social media platforms and flood the information space with divisive and inflammatory narratives. During the 2016 election cycle, the effort succeeded in fomenting unrest and conflict.

Russia’s most recent campaign to sow discord within the American electorate, however, marks its first use of Africa as a launchpad for disinformation campaigns aimed at the United States.

Earlier in 2021, the intelligence community confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to influence the contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, including by “exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US” and using troll farms in Ghana and Nigeria to “propagate US-focused narratives.”

A months-long investigation by CNN uncovered details about the pop-up operation in Ghana masquerading as a non-profit that received funding from an “anonymous source” in Europe. Its 16 employees, some unaware they were working with and for Russian operatives, built audiences and coordinated their posts by time and topic to maximize engagement with American users. Facebook corroborated these findings and linked several of the accounts to Prigozhin’s IRA that it had previously removed for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour.”

The Kremlin uses these troll accounts on social media to establish digital networks of influence and advance its agenda in the information space—to subvert public discourse and disseminate anti-Western messaging.

Russia’s interference campaign in 2016 illustrated how damaging these low-cost, low-risk tactics can be, especially against a fractious electorate in a highly polarized media environment. This threat is particularly palpable in Africa, where geopolitical developments and democratic backsliding make many states vulnerable to Russian interference.

And while the Kremlin’s use of Africa as a base for its information operations targeting a U.S. election may be novel, Russia has been running information manipulation campaigns within Africa for years. Moscow’s weaponization of information is an understudied, overlooked component of its strategic influence efforts that presents immediate national security risks to democratic processes and institutions across the continent.

Russia’s Evolving Information Operations 

The conversation surrounding Russian power projection in Africa often focuses on its revitalization of Soviet-era relationships and strategies to strike military, trade, and resource deals across the continent.

Russia’s use of parastatal and opaque private military companies to accomplish its goals has drawn international scrutiny. Nominally private, these entities and individuals operate at the direction of the Kremlin, and often deploy information operations to advance Russia’s broader goals in Africa: building a positive reputation for Russia as a “revitalized great power, international mediator, humanitarian actor, and effective counter-terrorism partner”; and courting current and future African leaders to establish long-term ties that will benefit its strategic interests.

Russian reputation-building campaigns involve circulating propaganda through various media, from social and state-funded to proxy sources in foreign news outlets. The Kremlin infiltrates and controls the information space by buying local media outlets or inserting Russian state-owned television channels RT and Sputnik in-country. Establishing mass media control allows Russia to shape the citizenry’s impressions of current events. The resulting de-democratization of information creates a similar effect to that of Russia’s social media campaigns: the Kremlin can develop and disseminate narratives not immediately identifiable as foreign propaganda and impose them onto a population.

Russia sees sidelining Western influence in Africa as integral to its campaign of upending the international order led by the United States. Using an ad-hoc blend of private military companies, non-governmental organizations, and local agents to carry its messages, Russia can launder narratives through the information ecosystem that paint the West as exploitative interventionist actors, and Moscow as a benevolent partner engaging with Africa on mutually beneficial terms.

Common tactics include criticizing the U.S. and French security assistance efforts and praising Russia’s ability to serve as a mediator and counter-terrorism partner despite limited evidence to support its effectiveness at either.

In addition to propagandizing, Russia uses its “franchised” proxies—local troll farms established by Russian operatives and affiliates—to influence domestic politics in Africa, often as a means to court political elites and secure support for extracting resources and building Russian military bases.

In October 2019, researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory together with social media analytics firm, Graphika, uncovered Russian-linked information operations aimed at influencing the politics and public discourse of eight African countries.

Their joint report shows how using local trolls to augment mass and social media campaigns pays dividends allowing Russia to deploy effective, low-cost operations to more easily evade detection and obviate the need to conduct the operations within its own borders.

Russia has demonstrated a preference for autocratic or authoritarian-leaning political leaders and regimes that often coexist with a controlled information and media space.

For instance, in 2019, Russia orchestrated information operations in Sudan aimed at delegitimizing protestors in Khartoum and Moscow. Private researchers found that Prigozhin-linked proxies set up a Facebook page disguised as a local news network and frequently re-shared Sputnik articles.

The proxies, who were attempting to preserve President Omar al-Bashir’s leadership against popular opposition, also recommended public messaging themes to the regime and security responses to demonstrations. Though al-Bashir was deposed in April 2019, Russia’s influence campaign in Sudan corresponded to interests in licensing for gold mines and military basing in Port Sudan on the Red Sea. For Russia, relationship building, with later economic and security agreements in mind, supersede loyalty to a particular candidate or political platform.

Moscow has demonstrated this ideological flexibility in its extensive electioneering and propaganda efforts in the Central African Republic, Libya, Madagascar, and Mozambique, among others. The Kremlin seizes upon the information space as a means to gain political allies and threaten U.S. and French interests, even if it only manages to hijack African social and political discourse in the short term or on a particular issue.

To this end, Russian state-backed media outlets offer training courses on social media and the Kremlin sends “spin doctors” or propaganda specialists overseas to African clients. These impermanent and relatively agile information operations are ideal for producing a maximum effect on African states with minimum effort.

Growing Threat to Democracy 

Russia’s efforts to infiltrate the information space in Africa brought to the fore with its most recent attempt to influence the 2020 U.S. election, will likely grow in scale and sophistication. In the past few years, such campaigns have enabled the Kremlin to dictate the terms of the truth and to degrade democratic discourse, which directly undermines U.S. stated interests in the region, namely its commitment to strengthening democratic progress and peace. These campaigns draw Africa into the spotlight as a battlefield where Russia can hone its weaponization of the information space against the United States and its allies.

Just as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, Russia perceives the African information environment as permissive and less monitored, a place where it can experiment with tactics to influence political processes, fan the flames of social unrest, and deflect culpability. The threat to Africa, however, is acute. Russian information operations could fuel conflict in states prone to election violence, could destabilize governments and economies, and further erode democratic gains across the continent.

The United States and its allies can mitigate this risk by bolstering the African information environment against Russian exploitation. Specifically, the West can double down on its support for African nations and leaders working to strengthen election integrity and public discourse and to preserve independent and diverse media.

Also, establishing the means for greater collaboration between governments, civil society, and tech companies to expose and raise awareness about Russian disinformation can increase societal resilience against it.

Countering Russia’s subversive activities in the information environment will not only stymy its attempt to broker political, economic, and security deals across the continent, but promote the endurance of democratic institutions at home and abroad.

Miriam Roday is a researcher in the Joint Advanced Warfighting Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses with a focus on digital disinformation, Russia, and transatlantic security.

Sarah Daly is an adjunct researcher in the Intelligence Analysis Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses with a focus on geopolitical and security developments in Africa.

The views, opinions, and findings expressed in this paper should not be construed as representing the official position of the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Feature/OPED

Managing Talent to Cultivate Character, Competency & Career

Published

on

Tech Talents

By FBNQuest

On June 21, 2022, the United Kingdom confirmed that Ukraine had destroyed a Russian vessel in the Black Sea. The strike was considered a game-changer for Ukraine, now viewed as a talented underdog in the Russia-Ukraine war. This also sparked a conversation about how the military recruits and retains top performers.

In a Marine Corps’ talent management report (released November 2021), the Corps Commandant, David H. Berger, explained that the Force “must bring into the service the right people with the right skill sets, measure their talents, and then match their skills to the duties they desire and are suited to perform.”

In the same way, organisations realise that to outperform the competition, developing a good supply chain for talent is non-negotiable: you simply get what you plan for.

Identifying Character and Competency

Usually, organisations would analyse past performance to identify future leaders. But interesting new research (by James Intagliata, Jennifer Sturman, and Stephen Kincaid) reveals that previous achievements are not always the sole measure of one’s capabilities.

Drawing on a database of more than 23,000 candidate assessments for roles at public and private companies, the researchers analysed the behaviours of 1,500 individuals, from entry-level professionals to senior leaders, and isolated the following three psychological markers as reliable predictions of an individual’s ability to grow and handle increased complexity in new roles:

Cognitive Quotient (CQ): While many organisations zero in on intellectual horsepower when considering leadership qualities, CQ measures advanced behaviours which differentiate individuals who creatively use their intellect to solve problems. Is it in their character to step back from tasks to see things from the perspective of their manager? In decision-making (big or small), are they able to scrutinise the landscape to anticipate the unexpected while proactively planning to create value, whatever their findings maybe? CQ is the person’s ability to demonstrate creativity and innovation in solving problems and involves intuition, perception, and intellectual curiosity.

Drive Quotient (DQ): People with a high DQ continuously go beyond their comfort zones to happily take on new challenges. The motivation to excel, a strong work ethic, and persistence are excellent qualities that aspiring leaders commonly display, but the DQ differentiator is how the individual applies their energy. Not just to maximise personal performance but to develop and leverage the capabilities of others for organisational good. This is a distinction often overlooked in many models.

Emotional Quotient (EQ): Companies know they need leaders with emotional intelligence, but according to the researchers, they tend to focus on basic skills such as self-awareness, getting along with people, and being able to read the room, which is necessary but not sufficient. To find people with high EQ, the differentiators identified in the new research point toward a search for individuals who engage for impact. For example, those intentionally channelling their insights to influence stakeholders and negotiate outcomes. And in addition, individuals who are able and willing to deliver difficult messages with courage and empathy.

CQ, DQ, and EQ are each impactful. But together, these markers can help organisations identify and develop the leadership required to navigate unidentified challenges. In one of the researchers’ double-blind studies, the three markers also accurately differentiated those who later made it to the C-Suite from those who didn’t, two times out of three.

Optimising Career Development and Employee Retention in a Hybrid World

The COVID-19 crisis revealed a transformative relationship between Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs), with the majority of CEOs surveyed saying that they would prefer their CHROs to spend more time finding, retaining, re-skilling and upskilling great employees. Talent management was top of mind.

There have also been massive changes in the mindset of employees, for whom re-assessing their career development has become more important than ever in the new hybrid work environment. In a recent interview with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, he suggested the need for Human Resource (HR) leaders and their companies to make the work experience inclusive and meaningful for employees, a paradigm shift from “I work for Microsoft” to “How well does Microsoft work for me?”

Asides from attracting and retaining talent, employee commitment is built over time through expanded opportunities, learnings, feedback, and career coaching. An O.C. Tanner Institute study has shown that companies that prioritise career development see an increased likelihood of engagement (+115%), opportunity (+167%), and personal success (+152%). The probability of increased engagement is 3.7 times higher for companies that provide opportunities to grow in specific areas, acquire new skills, and work on special projects.

To help CHROs execute core talent management components such as planning, recruitment, employee onboarding, performance management, learning and professional development, compensation management, and succession planning – an automated Talent Management System (TMS) is deployed to deliver these processes via software modules. TMSs are also increasingly responsible for supporting the remote workforce by promoting proactive conversations, increasing shared commitment, and driving social engagement.

In Conclusion

The Future of Work Today’s HR leaders is expected to deliver quite a handful by attracting top talent, building an effective and engaged team, actively listening to employees, developing retention strategies, nurturing a happy and inclusive workplace, and developing a strong employer brand, while also seeking cost-effective mechanisms that tackle current and future uncertainties.

Little surprise that leading HR departments underscore the need to understand better and refine the employee experience to turn any possible attrition into attraction regardless of employee location (on-site or remote).

The future of work clearly demands that organisations must now leverage technology to power and scale a refined talent management system that fosters a culture of sustained innovation.

Continue Reading

Feature/OPED

How Can Businesses Use Low-Code to Enable and Empower Teams?

Published

on

Hyther Nizam low-code

By Hyther Nizam

Most entrepreneurs understand how important it is to innovate and build new products constantly, but doing that the traditional way can be incredibly time and resource intensive. Even if you have the investment and funding needed for a team of developers, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get new applications out at the speed you need to remain competitive.

It also doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the best possible applications for your wants and needs. After all, with traditional app development, you’re relying only on developers to understand input from various teams within the organization and turn them into viable products. If your business is still in its early phases and people are still getting used to working with each other, that’s not always a given.

With low-code platforms, employees are better equipped to execute their day-to-day tasks while solving their specialized difficulties and driving extra value from their current toolset without putting the organization or its security at risk. Fortunately, thanks to the rise of low-code platforms, this is increasingly feasible.

Understanding low-code

Civilians and professional developers can use low-code platforms. Basic low-code platforms allow business users with little coding experience to build apps to suit their business needs. The potential benefits of this might be obvious, but in case they aren’t, here’s a short breakdown of the benefits of using low-code platforms.

For the average startup developer team, it can eliminate a lot of heavy lifting. Since low-code platforms provide standard components such as forms, report templates, and ready-to-use code snippets, they immediately eliminate many of the repetitive tasks that make up the bulk of application development. The most progressive low-code development platforms have a full heap of capacities expected for making enterprise applications. Additionally, they can help eliminate errors, further taking time out of the development process. When utilized properly, they can help organizations build applications months faster than they would otherwise be able to.

Professional developers can also use low-code platforms that support developer-centric features, such as a full-fledged developer environment to hard code features to write functions that extend beyond low-code capabilities. Low-code platforms with additional capabilities allow users to build and scale complex business applications, too. This allows speedier delivery of custom solutions and better synergy between the business and the IT teams. With those benefits, it should hardly be surprising that, according to Statista, low-code development platforms will be worth US$65 billion by 2027.

Enabling and empowering

Knowing what the potential low-code platforms offer is one thing, but using them to enable and empower people across the organization to build applications is another. To get to the ideal position with low-code platforms, you should start with knowing what to look for in a low-code platform.

As well as the visual modelling and drag-and-drop interfaces which make low-code platforms easier to use, the platform should be secure. It should offer features to make your apps safer. No matter how appealing an app is, users are unlikely to embrace it if they feel unsafe using it. Having built-in security is even more important if sensitive data is involved at any step in the process. The last thing any business wants is to risk using a tool which potentially opens up a gateway to hackers.

Low-code platforms should additionally allow for multi-device deployment (meaning that an app only has to be created once accessible on any device) and facilitate scalability. More specifically, any applications created by an organization should allow it to add more users as the organization grows. This is especially critical for startup organizations, which have the chance to grow silo free and foster a habit of cross-organizational collaboration from the start.

It’s in this kind of environment that people feel free to experiment and try things, regardless of whether or not they have any development experience. Most low-code platforms provide end-to-end application lifecycle management as well, so application quality is never compromised.

Accelerating serendipity

For startups especially, quick turnarounds can only be a good thing. At the very least, it means the startup will achieve its goals quicker than it would otherwise have done. It might also accelerate serendipitous developments that allow startups to pivot and achieve bigger and better things than if they’d stayed on their original paths.

The history of startups is littered with these developments. Flickr and Slack, for example, both started as internal tools for a massively multiplayer online game. Suppose multiple people across the organization are building tools that have the potential to be useful internally. In that case, there’s a better chance that one of them will be useful for other people too.

A trusted companion to traditional development

Ultimately, every organization should want its employees to be as empowered as possible. The best way to ensure that is to get it right from the start. Low-code platforms can be incredibly powerful to ensure this is the case. While it will not replace traditional development, it can be a trusted companion, helping to reduce the load on professional developers and improving the efficiency of custom apps. As such, it can be a differentiator for businesses wanting to stand out in a competitive environment.

Hyther Nizam is the President MEA at Zoho Corporation

Continue Reading

Feature/OPED

Minimum Wage Gimmicks and Leadership Tailored Challenges

Published

on

minimum wage gimmicks

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

It may not be characterised as hasty to conclude that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government, after living in denial for a very long time, have finally come to terms with the fact that Nigerian workers have, in the past seven to eight years, faced unprecedented hardship as the government continues to debate minimum wage, and not even living wage, in a country where every commodity has skyrocketed except the monthly take-home of workers.

The above belief flows from a recent statement by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who revealed this at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) public presentation titled Contemporary history of working-class struggle in Abuja, where he, among other things, stated that there are plans to increase the N30,000 minimum wage in the light of inflation raving the world.

He said, “The inflation is worldwide; we shall adjust the minimum wage in conformity with what is happening now. The 2019 Minimum Wage Act has a new clause for review. The adjustment has started with the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) because the stage they are with their primary employers, the Ministry of Education, is a collective bargaining agreement negotiation. The adjustment had become important to reflect what was happening globally. In the current economic situation, the current minimum wage of N30,000 would not, in the present economic reality, pay workers’ transportation fares to work for a month.

While this piece ‘celebrates’ the federal government’s sudden but late realisation that life in Nigeria, quoting Thomas Hobbs, has become nasty, brutish, and short as  Nigerians diminish socially and economically. The privileged political class, on their part, continues to flourish in obscene splendour as they pillage and ravage the resources of our country at will; there is an urgent need for the federal government to go beyond this salary increase gimmick to recognise the fact that presently, no nation on the surface of the earth best typifies a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various sociopolitical groups than Nigeria as myriads of sociopolitical contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace.

As a nation, Nigerians have never had it so bad.

Take, as an illustration, Nigeria, says a commentator, is a nation soaked with captivating development visions, policies and plans. Still, impoverished leadership and corruption-induced failure of implementation of development projects on the part of the political leaders are responsible for the under-development in the country. Mountains of evidence support how seriously off track the present administration in the country has taken the nation with their deformed policies, ill-conceived reforms and strategies,

Today, the greatest and immediate danger to the survival of the Nigerian state today is the unwarranted, senseless, premeditated, well-organised and orchestrated killings across the country.

Again, under the present administration, the country’s economy on its part has shown its inability to sustain any kind of meaningful growth that promotes the social welfare of the people. The result can be seen in the grinding poverty in the land (80 per cent of Nigerians are living on less than $2 per day – according) to the African Development Bank (AfDB) 2018 Nigeria Economic Outlook. Nigeria is ranked among the poorest countries in the world.

Sadly, according to a report from Brookings Institute, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor in early 2018 in the world. At the end of May 2018, Brookings Institute’s trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute.

This gory account has since morphed from bad to worse.

In education, for instance, ASUU has been on strike for over six months. In the same vein, 10.5 million children, according to reports, are out of school in Nigeria, the highest in the world.

Our industries continue to bear the brunt of a negative economic environment. As a result, job losses and unemployment continue to skyrocket, creating a serious case of social dislocation for most of our people.

The running of our country’s economy continues to go against the provisions of our constitution, which stipulates forcefully that the commanding heights of the economy must not be concentrated in the hands of a few people. The continuous takeover of national assets through dubious (privatisation) programs by politicians and their collaborators are deplorable and clearly against the people of Nigeria. ‘The attempt to disengage governance from public sector control of the economy has only played into the hands of private profiteers of goods and services to the detriment of the Nigerian people’.

This malfeasance at all levels of governance has led to the destruction of social infrastructure relevant to a meaningful and acceptable level of social existence for our people. Adequate investment in this area, it has been shown, is not the priority of those in power.

Our hospitals, whether state-owned or federal-owned, have become veritable death centres where people go to die rather than to be healed. The absence of basic items such as hand gloves and masks is indicative of the level of decadence and rot in the country’s health national budget recommended by the United Nations.

Regarding the criminal justice system, our people, especially the poor and vulnerable, continue to suffer unprecedented acts of intimidation and violation of rights at the hands of security agencies across the country. As noted elsewhere, extrajudicial killings, lack of scientific-based investigation of crimes and corruption in the judiciary contribute to acts of injustice against the innocent. Our prisons have become places where prisoners are hardened rather than places of reformation of prisoners for reintegration back into society.

As to the solution to these challenges, this piece and, of course, Nigerians with critical minds believe that leadership not only holds the key to unlocking the transformation question in Nigeria but to sustain this drive, leaders must carry certain genes and attributes that are representative of this order.

Thus, as the nation braces up for the 2023 general election, one point Nigerians must not fail to remember is that only a sincere and selfless leader and a politically and economically restructured polity brought about by national consensus can unleash the social and economic forces that can ensure the total transformation of the country and propel her to true greatness.

This, as argued by Nigerians with critical minds, will help ensure that there is the provision of adequate social infrastructures such as genuine poverty alleviation programmes and policies, healthcare, education, job provision, massive industrialisation, and electricity provision, to mention a few. It is critical to jettison this present socio-economic system that has bred corruption, inefficiency, primitive capital accumulation and socially excluded the vast majority of our people.

For me, the only way this can be done is to work to build a new social and political order that can mobilize the people around common interests, with visionary leadership to drive this venture. Only then can we truly resolve some of the socio-economic contradictions afflicting the nation.

But in the interim, the federal government must abandon these minimum wage gimmicks and look for another thing to tell Nigerians.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

Continue Reading

Latest News on Business Post

Like Our Facebook Page

%d bloggers like this: