Columnists

Benevolent dictator? Be careful with social media campaigns

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. PHOTO | AFP

We should be careful what we wish for, as talk mounts — spurred on by Chinese-owned TikTok and Russian-embedded social media campaigning — of how we would be better off with a benevolent dictator.

Because the dictators that this pincer movement delivers are far from benevolent.

The game plan is simple. Take a country like Kenya, where the current administration didn’t even deliver the President of Russia’s African Conference earlier this year: we may get a ‘denial of service’ hack that takes down our internet, claimed by a Sudanese opposition group that just happens to be based in Russia.

But don’t think it stops there. As Russia’s aims expand for control of Africa, it doesn’t just say - oh well, Kenya has a democracy and isn’t ‘in our camp’, so let’s leave it alone.

The social media posts from deep fake accounts are built and running. Eventually, we may find we have Kenyan freedom fighters, and they, too, will be based in Russia, that being either how Africa runs its politics these days, or how Russia runs African politics these days.

When there appears to be enough public opinion — stimulated by (social media again) calls to protest, among frequent playing up of the whole benevolent dictator idea and how splendid the Russians are at protecting the interests of the African citizenry— then military leaders are approached.

Would they be willing to stage a coup and take over the government with Russian backing and support?

Once they have, they get supported by mercenary Russian forces, most often in the rash of African countries that have fallen to the game plan, the Wagner Group.

Now, this is where any idea of ‘benevolent’ flies out the window. These forces are brutal, with stories too disgusting to recount here of the cruelty they have inflicted on African communities in recent months and years.

And Russia ends up with one more country where the leader is only in power with its support, and completely beholden to it.

In this, a partial protection for Kenya is the underdevelopment of its natural resources, because the price of all that Russian support has been, almost invariably, the handover of huge proportions of natural resource revenues.

Yet it’s not as if Kenya has nothing. It does have oil now, so it could ‘donate’ all that. It also has vast natural resources: if Russia might be so kind as to develop them, and take most of the revenues.

Our government inherited a very tough brief, over-indebted to China, and in the midst of a global slowdown. But before you believe that the newest TikTok suggesting a dictator would be better: please think hard, and for yourself.

The writer is a development communication specialist.