By the Africa Center for Strategic Studies

ADDIS ABABA - China media expert Bob Wekesa reflects on the Chinese Communist Party’s model of total state control of information and its export to Africa.

Chinese disinformation practices in Africa are not new and until recently have been explicitly described by the Chinese government as propaganda campaigns, according to leading media scholar Dr. Bob Wekesa with the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Speaking from his experiences working in Kenyan media houses and researching Chinese media, Dr. Wekesa defines China’s approach to the media sector as the “total state control of information.”

This conceptualization views information as capital to be exploited by the state rather than a public good grounded in journalistic standards.

Dr. Wekesa explains that in contrast to other external actors who have sponsored disinformation campaigns in Africa, China has pursued a more institutionalized approach in exporting its media practices to Africa. One route is by training African journalists and editors in Chinese programs that coach the avoidance of criticizing African presidents and ministries as well as Chinese officials.

Another route is by purchasing ownership shares in African media houses and nudging their editorial practices toward the Chinese model. A third is through the sale of Chinese technology to Africa that allows governments to more closely control digital information, including by blocking sites and shutting down internet access.

Dr. Wekesa relates how many African media professionals seek to preserve their independence and journalistic standards as watchdogs of state officials, leading them to push back on Chinese influence in African media. He recommends that African media professionals continue to seek out educational opportunities to understand changing digital media ecosystems and form partnerships with journalistic enterprises of similar standards.