Chinese, Russian embassies in Kenya launch online attacks on the West

Residents near a burning building after shelling in Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region

Residents near a burning building after shelling in Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region, on Wednesday as the Russia-Ukraine war intensifies. Embassies of Russia and China in Nairobi have in the recent past been posting anti-US posts on Twitter.

Photo credit: AFP

If things were in the literal sense, we would be seeing salvos being fired from two embassies in Nairobi towards the Western world.

But this is a social media war. Text missiles are being hurled by Russia and China through the Twitter handles of their Kenyan embassies. Their target is the US and the West in general. And their messaging is bold.

Take the instance of a post by the Chinese embassy in Kenya on February 22, through its Twitter handle @ChineseEmbKenya, that had images and text detailing “ten reasons China won’t become the US”.

“China never engages in slaughter, predation or racial genocide of its ethnic minorities and never allows ‘I can’t breathe’ to happen,” one message says, obviously referring to the killing of George Floyd – a Black man – by White police officers in the US.

Says another post: “China never meddles in other countries’ domestic affairs or looks for and props up proxies in foreign countries.”

The tweets were posted when the shooting down of suspicious balloons over the US was a hot topic.

The embassy had posted two days earlier: “The US has been using democracy to deceive the world and cover up its nature as a fake democracy but real hegemon.”

The Russian embassy has been on the offensive too, sometimes retweeting what the Chinese embassy posts. On March 4, for instance, the Russian embassy, through the handle @russembkenya, retweeted the post on “fake” democracy.

The Russian embassy has been on a warpath on the issue of gays being allowed to form associations in Kenya, mocking the West for giving blessings to “perversion”.

“Never trust the West. Never deal with the West. Never accept Western ‘values’ and ‘rules’,” it tweeted on March 16 as it retweeted remarks from Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma on how the West is imposing homosexuality on the rest of the world.

On March 16, the Russian embassy posted the cover of the book Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire with the caption: “It reveals the brutal truth about Britain’s real attitude to 37 former colonies. The truth is disgusting.”

The two powers have also been using their embassies in other African countries to attack the West. However, handles of the embassies in Kenya appear to be the most active and preferred. On February 18, the Chinese embassy in Nigeria tweeted a scathing post on Washington.

“Living up to the epithet of ‘surveillance empire’, the US has, for decades, conducted indiscriminate mass surveillance of foreign governments, companies and individuals as well as its citizens,” it posted through its handle @china_emb_ng.

And on March 11, the Russian embassy in South Africa, through the handle @EmbassyofRussia, retweeted a post by the Russian embassy in Kenya on how Africans face racism in Ukraine.

Ignored offensive

The US, the UK and other Western powers have largely ignored the Twitter offensive.

Some Kenyans are already demanding to know why this country is being pulled into the rivalry.

“Stop spreading hate,” Brian tweeted to the Russian embassy on Thursday.

Bernard posted on the same day: “I don’t understand. Why does (the Russian embassy) post issues related to their war with ‘the West’ on this Twitter handle? Surely, Kenyans care less about your issues with Britain but what you contribute to the Kenyan economy. Will this account be a real Kenya-Russia diplomatic messenger?”

The embassy replied, mentioning Russia’s contribution to Kenya’s health sector through building a hospital in Kisumu – which it added is being modernised – and donating medical kits to help fight Covid-19.

A Kenyan called Kazuri saw humour in China’s attack on the US in late February: “I suggest a boxing match between the Chinese ambassador and the American ambassador at the KICC to decide this matter.”

So, what does the online warfare portend? The Saturday Nation shared some of the tweets with Ms Irina Tsukerman, a US-based national security lawyer who is the president of Scarab Rising Inc, a media and security advisory organisation.

"Not new"

Ms Tsukerman, a member of the New York-based Foreign Policy Association, said such initiatives are not new.

“Russia’s biggest weapon, going back to its roots in the Soviet Union, has been disinformation. The reason for that is that Russia’s military capabilities are limited and it has shown it cannot win quickly in a direct combat confrontation,” she said.

“Russia’s continued information warfare around the world is not a sign of strong will, dedication to victory, or determination. It is a sign of weakness and necessity to compensate for conventional combat losses with hybrid warfare blows, at least in part to show to its own population that it is actively engaged elsewhere.”

She added that Russia and China have been allies even before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

“They have different goals and strategies throughout Africa as well, but those goals complement one another rather than run in conflict,” the analyst added. 

Kenya is a small player in the larger scheme of superpower fights. Why are its embassies being used for the war? 

Ms Tsukerman thinks there is a growing importance of Africa worldwide.

“The strategic importance of Africa is becoming increasingly obvious to Western and anti-Western blocs. The reasons are many, ranging from strategic geographic locations important to trade, migration, and tourism to resources that are desired for the global transition to renewable energy,” she said.

Ms Tsukerman thinks the targeted countries in the online war should not hit back.

“It is not the best way to handle the information sphere. Fights on Twitter do not win the hearts and minds of populations and certainly don’t win wars,” she said.

The analyst says Kenya should not feel proud that foreign embassies are using it in online warfare, adding that there is an element of being used.

“They are targeting Kenya because they look down on it, not because they admire the country as an ally,” Ms Tsukerman said. 

“Part of the reason Russia is getting away with it is that neither Ukraine nor NATO is going to attack Kenya over its embassies being used as a hostage.”

But China has, in posts through its Kenyan embassy handle, said it will always be a contributor to international development.

Russia, on the other hand, has cut the figure of a caring ally, going as far as congratulating Kenya following a downpour in Nairobi on Thursday after a long dry spell.