The man annoys the juntas in power in the Sahel and arouses the curiosity of their opponents. Gauthier Pasquet is however not a real person but an avatar. Since then, the fake account with 29,400 subscribers, acerbic detractor of the Sahelian military regimes and unconditional defender of a France that is nevertheless increasingly unloved in the region, continues to be talked about. To the point that his publications – a mixture of real, ultra-confidential information and fake news aimed at destabilizing the regimes in place – have already caused the governments and military staffs of these countries to react.

This “troll” is an illustration of an information war that continues to grow in the Sahel, while the ruling juntas, often supported by the Russian machine, have placed criticism of French politics at the heart of their propaganda in order to unite the people behind them. Thus, “Gauthier Pasquet”, felt invested with a mission: to restore the French image and criticize the soldiers in power in the Sahel.

The identity of the administrator(s) of this account remains a closely guarded secret. On his profile, “Gauthier Pasquet” presents himself as an independent journalist, quotes the music channel “RFM TV” and displays the photo of a Turkish reporter. Unsurprisingly, the media claimed not to know Gauthier Pasquet while the journalist – who turns out to be Can Dündar, an opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime – demanded that the avatar remove the spoofed photo. In vain.

“Out of passion”

The account has retained its credentials and continues to play lying poker, fueling fantasies in West Africa. For some, “Gauthier Pasquet” is attached to the French intelligence services, while others liken him to the presidency of Côte d’Ivoire, a weighty ally of Paris in the sub-region.

“That’s dead wrong! “, immediately retorts the administrator – or one of the managers – of this account. Because Le Monde was able to reach “Gauthier Pasquet” for a long time on May 25 by telephone: his male voice has an African accent and speaks in sustained French. He says he did not “wait for France or any support to defend countries deemed to be lackeys of French imperialism”, he said, referring to Ivory Coast and Niger.

The man on the phone said he was calling us “from Africa”, without wanting to specify his location further. What is his nationality, age, job, supporters? “I am a citizen in love with the free world. A cyberpatriot who acts alone, out of passion,” he boasts only with a laugh.

He barely concedes that he is not a journalist, but rather “a grassroots communication specialist”, whose good connections in West African political and security circles allow him to obtain confidential information on the Burkinabe juntas. and Mali, whose state management he considers “catastrophic”.

“Astronaut Tribute”

The “Gauthier Pasquet” avatar deployed on Twitter in early August 2022. In Mali, the case of the 46 Ivorian soldiers, detained since mid-July by the military in power who accuse them of wanting to destabilize the country, serves as his springboard. On the social network, the troll shouts “hostage taking” and begins to multiply posts against the junta.

It had only been online for a few days then, but the account had already had three lives before, as France 24 Observers revealed in a survey published in November 2022. When the account was created in August 2021, a twenty tweets are indeed posted by the same Twitter identifier but under the name “ONG_Sharing”, a structure created, according to our colleagues, by a close friend of the former Ivorian Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, former close friend of the current President Alassane Ouattara, who has since become one of his fierce rivals.

Between spring and summer 2022, the account is renamed “Petit Ladji” and again tweets mainly about Ivorian news. On July 31, still according to France 24, he renamed himself for a day “Norbert Navaro”, named after the RFI journalist who hosted the press review, before changing his name to “Gauthier Pasquet”, in tribute, according to the person concerned, to Thomas Pesquet, “the most famous French astronaut in the world”.

In Mali, the news is then marked by the departure of French soldiers from the “Barkhane” anti-terrorist operation, initially pushed by the junta (they leave the country in August 2022) after months of diplomatic quarrel. Mercenaries from the Russian private paramilitary group Wagner landed in the country at the end of 2021 and, in Bamako, accusations presenting Paris as an accomplice of jihadist groups are increasing.

“Lovers of the French model”

On Twitter, “Gauthier Pasquet” sees his number of subscribers soar thanks to his publications defending the action of France in the Sahel. “You have to be not very lucid not to be in love with leadership and the model of democracy, economic and educational French, which has brought a lot to Europe and Africa”, he believes, not without a certain sense exaggeration.

The speech has enough to seduce Paris, whose actions are systematically targeted by the propaganda of the Sahelian military regimes. The troll also claims to have “received proposals and advice” from “French diplomats” to guide its communications. “I declined and there was never a financial proposal,” he hastens to clarify.

His publications seem in any case to disturb the Malian and Burkinabe juntas. On February 23, the avatar released a fake screenshot of the website of the Ministry of Defense of Burkina Faso to announce the “appalling toll” of the jihadist attacks which had targeted, a few days earlier, the Burkinabe soldiers engaged in Déou , Oursi and Tin-Akoff, in the north of the country: “In total, 155 soldiers killed”, announces “Gauthier Pasquet” on Twitter.

Immediately, the ministry alerts Internet users on its Facebook page that this is a “rough editing”, a “fake news”. Officially, the government had drawn up a toll of 51 soldiers killed on February 17 during the ambush between Déou and Oursi… without communicating on the attack which had however well targeted the Burkinabé soldiers in Tin-Akoff, three days later.

“A lot of untruths”

In neighboring Mali, on August 17, 2022, the account relays remarks that it attributes to the former president of the junta Bah N’Daw, overthrown in May 2021. In a tweet, he affirms that the former strongman of Bamako “revolts” against the methods of “manipulation of Malians” put in place by the government. In the process, his intox will be the subject of a denial by the cabinet of Bah N’Daw, read live on the evening news of state television.

The administrator of the account assumes his methods and recognizes that there are “often a lot of untruths” in his publications. The goal: “To piss off those in front.” When you go to war with guns and get shot at, you either fight back or you die. It’s also like that in communication. »

At the end of May, the avatar moved up a gear by creating three WhatsApp groups on Burkinabe news. Within days, more than 1,500 people joined. And “Gauthier Pasquet” does not intend to stop there. “I will be wherever my idea of ​​democracy is threatened,” he announces, his voice laughing. The administrator claims to have just returned from Senegal, where political tensions continue to mount. “A personal stay, which has nothing to do with the current situation in the country,” he claims. “Well not yet. »