Fake election observation as Russia's tool of election interference: The Case of AFRIC
In November 2018, the European Platform for Democratic Elections published a report titled “The Globalisation of Pro-Kremlin Networks of Politically Biased Election Observation” that analysed two cases of politically biased international observation at elections in Cambodia and Zimbabwe. In the case of Zimbabwe, the report focused on the Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC), which sent around 40 observers to monitor the Zimbabwean elections. Some of the members of AFRIC’s mission to Zimbabwe had a history of involvement in various pro-Kremlin efforts, including previous participation in politically biased and/or illegitimate electoral monitoring missions organised by Russian actors, cooperation with the Russian state-controlled instruments of disinformation and propaganda, and dissemination of pro-Kremlin narratives on social media.
At the time of publication of the above-mentioned report, there was no evidence that Russian officials or experts had been involved in coordinating AFRIC’s mission in Zimbabwe. Later, however, investigative journalists would reveal that AFRIC was organised by the people and structures linked to a Russian businessman, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. Dubbed “Putin’s chef” for providing restaurant services to the Kremlin and various Russian government agencies, Prigozhin was most recently involved in two international scandals. First, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Prigozhin for his attempts to subvert American democratic processes with the help of the Internet Research Agency (better known as the “troll factory”) that he created. Second, Prigozhin funded the so-called “Wagner Group”, a private military company that first participated in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, then fought on the side of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, and later became involved in different campaigns across Africa.
The employment of the “Wagner Group” in Africa is determined by the need to protect Prigozhin’s business interests either literally (safeguarding operations) or indirectly (providing military support for loyal politicians). The latter activity overlaps with non-military support for particular African politicians and political forces that are seen by Prigozhin and his team of political consultants as useful for his endeavours.
AFRIC is part of these endeavours, and this report aims to provide insights into the creation, development, and workings of AFRIC. The author of the report is grateful to the Dossier Centre for the data support and cooperation, and to African journalists (unnamed here for safety reasons) for the valuable information they provided.
 See, for example, Dionne Searcey, “Gems, Warlords and Mercenaries: Russia's Playbook in Central African Republic”, The New York Times, 30 September (2019); Tim Lister, Sebastian Shukla, “Russian Mercenaries Fight Shadowy Battle in Gas-Rich Mozambique”, CNN, 29 November (2019).
Read the full report here