Social media exploded on Sunday amidst claims that a military coup was occurring in the Congo Republic while President Denis Sassou-Nguesso was away in New York to attend the next UNGA opening session. Its Communications Minister condemned this as fake news on the same day, after which TASS quoted a source from the Russian Embassy in Brazzaville on Monday who confirmed that “Reports that appeared in foreign and Russian media outlets about a state coup in the Republic of the Congo are fake news.”
Fake news circulates all the time nowadays so rumors about another regime change in Africa shouldn’t have been surprising, but it might be unprecedented for a Russian diplomatic source to tell one of their country’s publicly financed international media flagships that Russian media outlets spread fake news. Not only did they contribute to this rumormongering, but the substance thereof targeted a close, reliable, and decades-long Russian partner, thus making this situation all the more unique.
Some of these same Russian media outlets and supportive social media accounts didn’t just fall for what that country’s diplomatic source condemned as fake news, but went even further by cheering on the coup and taking the chance to personally smear President Nguesso. It was likely this additional dimension to Sunday’s episode that angered TASS’ source and resulted in them specifically calling Russian media out for spreading fake news instead of simply clarifying that no regime change took place.
While no member of the public can say with full certainty exactly what may or may not have transpired on Sunday, the case can compellingly be made that it might have all just been a clever Western psy-op partially carried out to discredit Russian media and supportive social media accounts. Unlike their Western counterparts, few among them are credentialed experts, and even less have direct access to inside sources who can confirm or deny allegedly breaking news about closely partnered countries.
Accordingly, Russian media and supportive social media accounts are therefore much easier to manipulate since a lot of them lack the professional competences to judge for themselves whether something is credible and many also don’t have the authoritative contacts to check for sure. Rather, most tend to unquestionably circulate unconfirmed reports and spin them however they imagine to be in Russia’s benefit instead of waiting for the facts or only cautiously sharing rumors with their audience.
In the analyzed context, this saw them cheering on what they probably thought was another multipolar coup, to which end some even went as far as smearing President Nguesso. Anyone who earlier arrived at the abovementioned conclusions would have expected this reaction in response to reports about a military coup in the Congo Republic, which is why there’s reason to believe that this was a clever Western psy-op designed to exert “reflexive control” over their targets so that they discredit themselves.
To elaborate, whoever it was that set these events into motion correctly assessed that their target audience (i.e. Russian media and supportive social media accounts) likely knows close to nothing about this African country, thus making them susceptible to harming Russia’s interests by laundering fake news. After all, if any influential figures among their target audience knew anything about Russian-Congolese relations, then they wouldn’t have cheered on a coup against President Nguesso or smeared him.
This long-serving leader was in power from 1979-1992 and then again from 1997 into the present, during which time he ensured that the Congo Republic remained one of Russia’s closest partners on the continent. Ties began to comprehensively expand in recent years, with everything moving faster than ever after President Nguesso visited St. Petersburg this summer to participate in the Second Russia-Africa Summit. Interested readers can check out the report from his meeting with President Putin here.
The Congolese leader is so close to his Russian counterpart that the latter invited him to stay in his hometown after the event to attend the Main Naval Parade as one of his guests. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Interim Burkinabe President Ibrahim Traore, who are respectively Africa’s most consistent anti-imperialist voices and its newest most outspoken one, were also present. President Nguesso’s invitation therefore confirmed President Putin’s belief in his political reliability in the New Cold War.
None of the above is to suggest that the Congolese leader is perfect, and his gerontocracy has indeed generated legitimate grievances among some of his mostly youthful population, but the point is that any military coup against him would most likely be driven by pro-Western motives and not multipolar ones. For all his domestic policymaking faults, including those related to allegedly mismanaging the economy, he’s proven himself to be a true believer in multipolarity and one of Russia’s most sincere partners.
That’s why it was so disappointing to see some Russian media and supportive social media accounts cheering his falsely reported ouster, to say nothing of those who personally smeared him because they wrongly thought that it was in Russia’s interests to do so. This reflected very poorly on their professionalism, which discredited them in the eyes of objective observers as well as average Congolese, some of whom witnessed this shameful display in real time and might have become confused as a result.
There’s never any benefit to be gained from sharing fake news, especially when it’s about a friendly country and their leader, which is why TASS’ source from the Russian Embassy in Brazzaville unprecedentedly condemned his country’s media for this instead of just clarifying that no regime change occurred. They arguably realized that this was a clever Western psy-op that duped those two into discrediting themselves, hence why they specifically called Russian media out for sharing fake news.
This faux pas could have been avoided had Russian media and supportive social media accounts behaved more responsibly, such as by only cautiously sharing such rumors with their audience instead of cheering them on and even going as far in some cases as smearing President Nguesso. Whoever concocted this fake news story knew that their target audience would spread it like wildfire, which suggests that they successfully psychoanalyzed them and that more such provocations might be forthcoming.