A recent report on the Wall Street Journal claims that employees of Chinese tech giant, Huawei stationed in Uganda and Zambia, helped the government of the countries spy on their political opponents. These hacks were reportedly done together with senior security officials of both countries and led to the eventual arrest of opponents in both countries.
According to the report, Huawei technicians in Uganda helped Uganda’s cyber-surveillance unit to break into a WhatsApp group belonging to Bobi Wine, musician and current political opponent of Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. This hack facilitated by an Isreali company’s spyware led to Wine’s arrest as well as the arrest of his various supporters.
Something similar happened in Southern Africa country, Zambia, where Huawei’s employees stationed in Zambia helped government authorities gain access to the phones and Facebook pages of opposition bloggers. And in the same vein, the bloggers were arrested after their locations were discovered as a result of the hack.
The two African countries have however come out to deny the reports. And Huawei itself has opposed the report saying that the article “is neither a fair nor a responsible representation of Huawei’s legitimate business activities”.
Is this a Chinese Invasion?
Chinese tech firms are seen as spearheading the spread of ICT infrastructure across Africa. Huawei is reportedly a key player driving digital transformation on the continent. The tech firm has been behind the sale of surveillance systems to over 700 cities including about two dozen developing countries.
On its part, the US has made clear its reservations concerning technologies developed by these firms. The American government believes these developments could pose a security risk. It went as far as banning Chinese tech firms leading to a breakdown of transactions between Huawei and US firms. Reports of hacks like this might just be the justification they need.
Although the company has denied the claim, the US says these devices running on Chinese-made systems could be providing a backdoor for the Chinese government, who have reportedly played a key role in facilitating most of Huawei’s ‘spy’ deals.
In January 2018, reports had it that data from the computer systems, Huawei had installed at the African Union headquarters were being transferred to Beijing, for over 5 years. Although both parties involved, refuted the claims.
And while all these do not disprove the innovations these companies have brought about, it underscores the risks African nations take in allowing Chinese technology companies such prominent roles in developing their technology backbones.
Going forward, this might put a strain on the blossoming relationship that exist between both sides. It also raises serious concerns about the role of the Chinese government. Are they helping these tech companies put backdoors in their hardware?
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