On foreign-directed PR by African leaders

By | November 24, 2011

By Julie Owono in a very nice piece for Al Jazeera:

On November 11, 2011 the French newspaper Le Monde published two pages advertising what it described as the “free and fair” Cameroonian presidential election of October 9, 2011, which resulted in the election, for the sixth time, of Paul Biya, who has ruled the country since 1982. Frederic Meixner, International Advertising Director at Le Monde Publicite, confirmed by telephone that these two pages were paid at the rate publicly available. This would have cost 468,832 euros ($628,000) including taxes, and this price doesn’t include the possible cost of negotiations to make this publication possible.

Some French journalists, such as Pierre Haski, found the advertisement disconcerting: On October 9, 2011, Le Monde published an article denouncing the “cacophony” reigning on the day of the presidential ballot, in total contradiction with the advertisement run on November 11. Meixner explained that this was an advertisement, and thus had not been written by Le Monde‘s editorial staff. Meixner refused to reveal the name of the possible author of the advertisement, but research found the name of Stratline Communication, an agency owned by Yasmine Bahri Domon. The PR campaign of President Paul Biya during the latest election cost 5m euros and was the work of PB Com International, another French agency well known by Gulf of Guinea heads of state, and owned by Patricia Balme.

Few know that the architect of Paul Biya’s web campaign is François de La Brosse, the director of the French company ZNZ Group, and who is also Nicolas Sarkozy’s communication advisor in charge of French President’s Internet strategy. This is what Patricia Balme herself confirms in this video.

This leads us to question the relations between those whom French journalist Vincent Hugueux names the “White Sorcerers”, and the syndicate of presidents of France’s former colonial empire. Those men and women mix politics, communication agencies and journalists in the frame of the well-known “Francafrique” network (France’s sphere of influence in Africa): Justifying themselves with their deep interest in the development of Africa, they organise campaigns to ensure the international legitimacy of the continent’s presidents. This is done at the expense of real investigative journalism, and leaves small place in the political and media landscape to local activists and bloggers, who try with significantly less financial means to show the reality of the Gulf of Guinea.

The article is here.

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