On Monday, August 14, 2023, GhanaFact spotted a post on X /Twitter that reported the arrest of some protestors by the Ghana Police Service for wearing shirts with Wagner inscriptions.
Further online investigations by the team led to the discovery of some protest videos (here, here and here) that happened on August 13, 2023, at Diabene Park in Takoradi, the capital of the Western Region of Ghana.
In attendance at the rally were young people with some holding placards with various inscriptions, including – “Biden is a warmonger” and “Long live Russia,” and flags of Ghana, Russia, Niger, Mali and Algeria.
GhanaFact monitored multiple posts with different captions, including “Ghana today” and “The young people in Ghana know precisely what is going on. Their African elders could continue to drink the Kool-Aid, but they will not obey. #Ghana” among others.
🇬🇭Ghana: 08/13/2023: At a rally in support of Russia against NATO, locals sang the Russian anthem . pic.twitter.com/Rh1GV4Z6JA
— MARIA (@its_maria012) August 13, 2023
Furthermore, the team uncovered videos shared by some X users (here) that were watermarked with the names of two telegram channels and reposted by a prominent Ghanaian journalist with the caption “They better stay far far away from Ghana! And are the @NPP_GH and @OfficialNDCGh aware of this? Who are these NPP & NDC “people” on the flyer?”
Shadowy online network
Using the telegram links provided on the flyer, our investigators found a network of individuals operating from different parts of the world disseminating and promoting pro-Russian and pro-Wagner ideologies in a number of countries including Ghana.
Some of the activities undertaken by the network included but were not limited to driving pro-Russian political narratives, funding and organising pro-Russian events, and then subsequently amplifying these activities on social media, using a network of handles.
The network spans different media, including Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and at least six websites, including RiaNovosti, which is known to be a state-owned news agency of the Russian Federation.
In the last three years, the West African region has experienced four successful coup d’états with growing concerns about a coup contagion across the region.
On September 6, 2021, another successful coup was staged in Guinea and led to the ousting of President Alpha Conde as well as the dissolution of his Government.
In Burkina Faso, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, ousted Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, in a coup in late January 2022.
The West Africa region again witnessed yet another coup d’état in Niger, led by the Presidential guard of President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, 2023.
However, leaders of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) have rejected the coup in Niger, demanding the military Junta hands over power to the democratically elected President, Mohamed Bazoum. At a point, ECOWAS gave an ultimatum and threatened to forcefully reinstate the President if the military leaders failed to stand down.
Wagner in West Africa
There has been a mapping of trends of the activities of the Wagner group in some countries that have witnessed coup d’état in West Africa in the last three years.
In Mali and Burkina Faso, the activities of the Wagner mercenary group have been well documented. Their deployment was justified for many reasons, including training, advising, personal security and anti-insurgency operations.
The growing influence of Wagner and operations in Africa on behalf of the Russian state has come at a time when there are rising anti-French sentiments, especially in French-speaking countries.
Also, leaders of the Niger junta have reportedly sought assistance from the Wagner group as pressure from ECOWAS intensified.
A recent report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a crisis mapping project by the University of Sussex, highlighted the involvement of the Wagner PMC in multiple conflict theatres in Africa, including Libya, Mali, Mozambique and Central African Republic.
In this report, GhanaFact will uncover the faces behind the pro-Russian / pro-Wagner network in Ghana and its activities through the various phases of its operation.
Operational tactics in Ghana
On the Telegram pages, GhanaFact discovered details of the operational procedures of the network. The pages are used as the source of disseminating information, which implies that any information posted on the pages is subsequently replicated on other media, including Twitter and Facebook.
Also, on August 7, a flyer for a protest dubbed the West African Freedom Rally was posted on the DDGeopolitics telegram channel, and within 24 hours it was amplified across other online media platforms (here, here, here and here). The poster had details such as date, venue, time and guests from the two major political parties in Ghana:
Mr. Kwame, Sir Obed Amponsang, Mr. Ernest Asomani, Madam Akita, Madam Ernestina Amoafoa from the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and Madam Akosua Yeboah from the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
GhanaFact also found links to podcasts and Twitter space conversations where plans ahead of the pro-Russian/ pro-Wagner protests in Ghana were discussed together with issues relating to logistics for their operations in Ghana.
Through our investigations, the team identified the local point man of the Ghana project, Michael Asiedu, the administrator of Mikado News, a Facebook blog with 1.5K followers that publishes pro-Russian content.
The August 5 meeting was held on TNT radio, a radio podcast program detailing the initial planning stages. Among the issues discussed were the proposed venue [Independence Square], expected turnout , funding [crowdfunding] and local political backing.
The show host, Aussie Cossack revealed that the Russian Embassy had been informed about the planned protest but did not want to be involved in it’s organisation. (4:44-5:50)
The August 10 discussion was held on X (Twitter) space and was hosted by DDGeopolitics. During the event, Aussie Cossack stated (13:19-15:00, 36:40-36:53) that the organisers of the rally had the backing of the Russian Government, the Soviet Peace Fund and the Wagner PMC with a strong warning to all anti-Russian elements, including the Ghana Police Service not to harass the participants.
Further research by GhanaFact revealed the actual name of Aussie Cossack, the administrator of the Telegram page, to be Simeon Boikov, a pro-Russian Australian citizen currently seeking asylum at the Russian Embassy in Sydney, Australia.
During one of their online discussions, concerns about local authorities in Ghana refusing to grant permission for the rally were raised while citing the government’s position on the Wagner group.
At the last engagement on August 12, 2023, the host, Aussie Cossack, confirmed that he had sent crowdsourced funds and Russian flags to Michael Asiedu through global money transfer and payment service – Western Union and the Russian Embassy in Ghana respectively.
Protest funding in Ghana
An appeal for funds was made (1,2) on August 6, calling on people to support the pro-Russain/ pro-Wagner protests in Ghana and GhanaFact investigations found about $ 6,000 was used in organising the protest.
The investigations found AUD 2471.5 (1,2,3,4) was directly sent to the organisers of the protest in Ghana, with AUD 691.5 being used for purchasing and shipping 200 Russian flags to the Russian embassy in Ghana.
Before the purchase of the 200 flags on August 8, publications by two online Russian newspapers, RiaNovosty and EADaily, on August 5 revealed an earlier shipment of 100 flags to Ghana by Aussie Cossack.
GhanaFact also found a receipt written in the name of the Wagner PMC, dated August 7, that ordered 1000 T-shirts for the protestors at a cost of GHS 50,000 or $4,300.
Online dissemination of the event
The two telegram pages have a combined following of more than 140K (84K for DDGeopolitics and 57K for AussieCossack). Sticking to their modus operandi, various details of the Ghana event were posted on Twitter, Facebook, VK, Reddit and other Russian websites.
Also, a variety of hashtag operations were identified to be used. Users of the microblogging platform X used combinations of hashtags such as #Ghana #Niger #France #Russia against #NATO #multipolarity interchangeably. Duplicated tweets with modified hashtags were noticed (as seen here and here), while GhanaFact found no evidence to suggest that automated systems were used to disseminate information.
Arrests in Ghana
Publications on the Telegram platform confirmed that five organisers of the pro-Russian/ pro-Wagner protests in Ghana had been arrested.
On August 18, 2023, Michael Asiedu and the four others were granted bail and scheduled to appear in court on October 3, 2023. They have been charged with “planning to overthrow the government and destabilizing the peace.”
GhanaFact has also seen publications of a statement supposedly from the leader of Wagner, now-deceased Yevgeny Prigozhin about the arrests of the protestors in Ghana shared in the Telegram platforms and published by multiple websites(here, here, here and here).
Other websites that have published stories about the pro-Russian protest in Ghana are at least six (1,2,3,4,5,6). A search to find out who owns the domain via the digital tool- WhoIs, showed the websites were registered in Russia (1,2 ) and Kryghistan (1). The details of others (1,2) were redacted for privacy. One could not be geographically pinpointed, but it had the Russian high-level domain -.ru.
A Ghanaian Lawyer with Bridgefield Law partners who was named in the AussieCossack telegram channel to have been engaged to provide legal services for the arrested protestors has denied accepting to represent the pro-Wagner activists.
“We told him that because we are working mostly in Accra now, he should get a different lawyer to pursue the matter for him,” he told GhanaFact when contacted.