Beijing Grows Its Propaganda Activity in Africa

Commentary Beijing has Africa in its sights because the continent has the resources it needs to realize its great power ambitions. Consequently, huge energy has been invested into growing the Belt and Road’s penetration into Africa. The core focus of Belt and Road in Africa has been the building of railways, roads, ports, airports, and power plants to service the China-owned mines, oil fields and farms that now send their products to China. However, an often overlooked feature of Belt and Road has been Beijing’s attempts to copy America’s soft power model. On balance, China’s soft power efforts have failed in most regions of the world. But in Africa, Beijing has had much soft power success. One reason why Beijing’s soft power has worked in Africa is that across the continent, there exists a deeply embedded narrative of anti-colonialism. But importantly, the African version of the anti-colonial narrative was strongly modified by a Marxist interpretation of anti-imperialism. This Marxist interpretation specifically demonized capitalism and constructed a villain-victim narrative in which European (white-capitalist) imperialists exploited Africans. Hence for most Africans, anti-colonialism includes a worldview that inherently distrusts white Western capitalists. Beijing’s soft power machinery in Africa has learned to make use of this antipathy towards white Westerners and capitalism. To capitalize on this antipathy, China developed its own version of the race card, which suggests that a natural Afro-Asian affinity exists due to what Beijing claims is shared victimhood at the hands of Western capitalist-imperialism. A worker tries to get on a scaffold to install decorations promoting the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, on Oct. 27, 2006. (China Photos/Getty Images) But Beijing’s soft power successes in Africa are not only due to this “shared victimhood” narrative. China has also invested heavily in creating its own media infrastructure in Africa, in transferring Chinese media workers there, and in incorporating locals into Beijing’s media networks. And a recent innovation is creating collaboration and partnership deals between Chinese and African-owned media it seems Beijing is learning that soft power works best when media voices look independent.  November 2021 saw two important new developments in the expansion of China’s soft power machinery in Africa. One was the opening of China Media Group (CMG) offices in Nairobi. Secondly tied to this opening was the launch of a CMG Media Cooperation Forum. This Nairobi cooperation forum brought media people together from 40 African countries and produced signed deals with 36 media organizations across the continent. These included collaboration agreements; content sharing agreements; co-creation agreements; and agreements for China to provide its partners with technical training. This CMG forum served to draw attention to how much money Beijing is throwing at soft power in Africa. Nairobi became a hive of Beijing soft power activity over the past decade, beginning when China Global Television Network (CGTN) built its African HQ in Nairobi. This was opened in 2012 as an English language news service designed to compete with the likes of BBC and CNN. CGTN allowed Beijing to speak directly to Africans instead of having to rely on mediation through Western global media. CGTN Africa also set up bureaus in Johannesburg, Lagos, and Cairo. Significantly, the network overwhelmingly uses African journalists, which gives its news programming more appeal and credibility with local audiences. China Daily also has offices in Nairobi and Johannesburg, while Xinhua News Agency runs the largest foreign correspondent network in Africa, with major offices in Nairobi and Cairo. There’s even a Beijing-run radio station in Nairobi RCI 91.9FM.  Pang Xinhua (L), the managing editor of China Central Television Africa, talks to local journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, as he shows them how the organization has expanded in different parts of Africa, on June 12, 2012. (Simon Maina/AFP/GettyImages) Nairobi also hosts the HQ of Chinese digital satellite television service StarTimes, which offers multiple channels (including popular sports channels). StarTimes moved into Africa in 2007 and now has 33 million users across 30 African countries. By offering cheap packages, StarTimes has become especially popular in rural areas. An important feature of Beijing’s soft power is its employment of hundreds of African journalists. And many Africans are now routed through journalism training and exchange programs that take them to China for periods ranging from 2 weeks to 10 months. Beijing selects left-wing Africans for these programs. The result is a growing cadre of China-trained journalists (and not all of them work for Beijing-run media). By running a large network of Beijing-employed journalists based in A

Beijing Grows Its Propaganda Activity in Africa

Commentary

Beijing has Africa in its sights because the continent has the resources it needs to realize its great power ambitions. Consequently, huge energy has been invested into growing the Belt and Road’s penetration into Africa.

The core focus of Belt and Road in Africa has been the building of railways, roads, ports, airports, and power plants to service the China-owned mines, oil fields and farms that now send their products to China.

However, an often overlooked feature of Belt and Road has been Beijing’s attempts to copy America’s soft power model. On balance, China’s soft power efforts have failed in most regions of the world. But in Africa, Beijing has had much soft power success.

One reason why Beijing’s soft power has worked in Africa is that across the continent, there exists a deeply embedded narrative of anti-colonialism. But importantly, the African version of the anti-colonial narrative was strongly modified by a Marxist interpretation of anti-imperialism.

This Marxist interpretation specifically demonized capitalism and constructed a villain-victim narrative in which European (white-capitalist) imperialists exploited Africans. Hence for most Africans, anti-colonialism includes a worldview that inherently distrusts white Western capitalists.

Beijing’s soft power machinery in Africa has learned to make use of this antipathy towards white Westerners and capitalism.

To capitalize on this antipathy, China developed its own version of the race card, which suggests that a natural Afro-Asian affinity exists due to what Beijing claims is shared victimhood at the hands of Western capitalist-imperialism.

Epoch Times Photo
A worker tries to get on a scaffold to install decorations promoting the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, on Oct. 27, 2006. (China Photos/Getty Images)

But Beijing’s soft power successes in Africa are not only due to this “shared victimhood” narrative. China has also invested heavily in creating its own media infrastructure in Africa, in transferring Chinese media workers there, and in incorporating locals into Beijing’s media networks. And a recent innovation is creating collaboration and partnership deals between Chinese and African-owned media it seems Beijing is learning that soft power works best when media voices look independent. 

November 2021 saw two important new developments in the expansion of China’s soft power machinery in Africa.

One was the opening of China Media Group (CMG) offices in Nairobi. Secondly tied to this opening was the launch of a CMG Media Cooperation Forum.

This Nairobi cooperation forum brought media people together from 40 African countries and produced signed deals with 36 media organizations across the continent. These included collaboration agreements; content sharing agreements; co-creation agreements; and agreements for China to provide its partners with technical training.

This CMG forum served to draw attention to how much money Beijing is throwing at soft power in Africa.

Nairobi became a hive of Beijing soft power activity over the past decade, beginning when China Global Television Network (CGTN) built its African HQ in Nairobi. This was opened in 2012 as an English language news service designed to compete with the likes of BBC and CNN.

CGTN allowed Beijing to speak directly to Africans instead of having to rely on mediation through Western global media.

CGTN Africa also set up bureaus in Johannesburg, Lagos, and Cairo. Significantly, the network overwhelmingly uses African journalists, which gives its news programming more appeal and credibility with local audiences.

China Daily also has offices in Nairobi and Johannesburg, while Xinhua News Agency runs the largest foreign correspondent network in Africa, with major offices in Nairobi and Cairo. There’s even a Beijing-run radio station in Nairobi RCI 91.9FM. 

Epoch Times Photo
Pang Xinhua (L), the managing editor of China Central Television Africa, talks to local journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, as he shows them how the organization has expanded in different parts of Africa, on June 12, 2012. (Simon Maina/AFP/GettyImages)

Nairobi also hosts the HQ of Chinese digital satellite television service StarTimes, which offers multiple channels (including popular sports channels). StarTimes moved into Africa in 2007 and now has 33 million users across 30 African countries. By offering cheap packages, StarTimes has become especially popular in rural areas.

An important feature of Beijing’s soft power is its employment of hundreds of African journalists. And many Africans are now routed through journalism training and exchange programs that take them to China for periods ranging from 2 weeks to 10 months. Beijing selects left-wing Africans for these programs. The result is a growing cadre of China-trained journalists (and not all of them work for Beijing-run media).

By running a large network of Beijing-employed journalists based in Africa, the regime has been able to supply free news content to African media. This has provided Beijing with a powerful propaganda tool.

The latest CMG Cooperation Forum is a major step forward in growing this capacity for influence. Already one sees how content sharing agreements have resulted in Beijing-produced news being run unedited in African partner media organizations.

Similarly, co-creation agreements create huge soft power potential. One example is a Beijing-built television studio for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Studios, which facilitates joint productions.

The global switch from analogue to digital media was also creatively used by Beijing to spread its influence. It moved quickly to ensure African countries used Chinese digital technology to build new infrastructures.

Epoch Times Photo
Manuel Olle, a lawyer of the leader of Western Sahara’s independence movement and president of the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic, Brahim Ghali, speaks to journalists outside Spain’s National Court in Madrid on June 1, 2021. (Pierre-Phillipe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images)

The provision of Chinese technicians and training courses encouraged Africa’s adoption of its digital technology. The fact there is now a reliance on Chinese-built digital platforms is a real success story for the Chinese communist regime on the continent.

But its soft power moves have gone beyond media. It has also rolled out programs of school-level Chinese-language teaching. And as the number of Chinese-speaking Africans grow across the continent, their soft power machinery identifies the smartest who are then offered scholarships to go and study further in China.

Beijing has every reason to be well-pleased with how successful its soft power initiatives have been in Africa’s approval. Importantly, with every soft power success, the narrative of shared Afro-Asian victimhood at the hands of Western capitalist-imperialism is strengthened. And because this helps strengthen a Marxist interpretation of European imperialism, decolonization, and Western capitalism it is a true win-win situation for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

But alongside this success for the CCP is the great irony that every Belt and Road and soft power advancement makes Beijing look like a new imperialist power coming to exploit Africans and their resources. 

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Eric Louw is a retired professor in political communication with a career spanning South African and Australian universities. Prior to that, he was a former activist, journalist, and media trainer under the African National Congress, where he worked on South Africa's transition into the post-Apartheid era. Louw is an expert on affirmative action, and Black Economic Empowerment policies. His Ph.D. was in the study of Marxism and its postmodern developments. He has authored nine books including "The Rise, Fall and Legacy of Apartheid" and "The Media and Political Process."