New Report: Russia and China Undermine Democracy in Africa

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The bizarre and short-lived mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group in June 2023 put a spotlight on Russian influence through the shadowy mercenary group. However, the Wagner Group is a symptom of a much larger problem that goes far beyond Russia and Ukraine. In Africa, both Russia and China provide military, commercial, and information manipulation support to governments across the continent. In the newest report from the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, Kleptocratic Cooperation in Africa: How Russia and China Undermine Democracy, two experts detail authoritarian strategies for expanding kleptocratic allies.  

“The Kremlin and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are hard at work expanding their kleptocratic networks in Africa, supporting leaders who seek to enrich themselves at their population’s expense,” said Christopher Walker, Vice President for Studies and Analysis at NED. “This malign networked influence undermines African governments and provides surge capacity to kleptocratic activity that is a top contributor to conflict and human rights violations on the African continent.” 

In the first essay of the report, “Criminal States, Militarized Criminals, and Profiteers: Russia, Africa, and the Evolving Ecosystem of Transnational Kleptocracy,” author J.R. Mailey dissects the Wagner Group’s presence in Africa. The author concludes that the military support offered to African kleptocrats has little to do with providing security and stability for African people. Instead, it is focused on extracting resources, advancing geopolitical goals, and expanding the authoritarian support network. 

 The CCP and its proxies are also entrenched in corrupt networks in Africa, as Andrea Ngombet Malewa, a former Reagan-Fascell Fellow at NED, reveals in “How China Fuels African Kleptocratic Networks: The Case of Congo-Brazzaville.”  Focusing on the case study of Republic of Congo, Ngombet discusses China’s role in establishing a Sino-Congolese Bank for Africa that could allow kleptocrats to bypass the transparency requirements of Western-linked banks, allowing them to launder money with impunity. 

Both authors identify critical steps civil society can take to expose and combat kleptocracy, including increased education, challenging authoritarian narratives, and collaborating with activists and journalists across regions. They stress that until these steps are taken, kleptocratic mutual support networks will continue to adapt and elude the measures taken against them.  

Learn more about the International Forum’s research on kleptocratic networks here. 


The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is an independent, nonprofit, grant-making foundation dedicated to the development and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world.  With an annual appropriation from Congress, NED funds more than 2,000 grants in 100 countries. NED’s grants program is augmented by the International Forum for Democratic Studies; the World Movement for Democracy; and the Center for International Media Assistance. 


Christine Bednarz,; +1-703-870-0534

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