After its recent woes with the US, Huawei is not letting go of Africa; and Africa is not letting go of Huawei.
The Smart Zambia project
This week, the Zambian government has described its partnership with Huawei under Smart Zambia, a large project aiming to improve information and communications technology (ICT) in the country, as a “step in the right direction”.
Robster Mwanza, Chongwe District Commissioner (central Zambia), stated the government was optimistic that the partnership would create many jobs for young people. “Huawei is a reputable firm that has advanced technology and this partnership should be able to accord us access to technologies such as the 5G. I am particularly excited because our young population will greatly benefit through what will come out of the financing agreement which Zambia and China went into in 2015,”.
The tone is very different from what you may have heard about the Chinese tech giant in recent times…
A strong presence on the continent
Will the “tech trade war” motivate African nations to choose between China, the continent’s leading trade partner, and the US?
“For African countries this trade war may end up a binary choice. It will be very difficult for Africa to just ignore (it)”, says Aly-Khan Satchu, an independent economic analyst based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Huawei has looked to strengthen its ties in Africa, signing an agreement earlier this month to reinforce its cooperation with the African Union (AU). “This was a way to show that Huawei is still present in Africa and that they want to remain a major player by positioning themselves in this very important growth sector,” stated Ruben Nizard, an economist and Sub-Saharan Africa specialist at the French financial services firm Coface.
French news outlet Le Monde reported in 2018 that China had spied on the AU’s headquarters in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, citing sources within the organization. The report stated the spying began in 2012 after the completion of the AU’s new headquarters which was financed by China, and was only noticed when technicians uncovered data on the building’s servers was being sent to Shanghai. Both China and the AU rejected the allegations.
“For African countries this trade war may end up a binary choice. It will be very difficult for Africa to just ignore (it)” Aly-Khan Satchu, independent economic analyst based in Kenya.
Huawei has planted roots across Africa since launching in Kenya in 1998, and now operates in 40 countries, providing 4G networks to more than half of the continent. It also showcases 5G (the next-generation mobile phone network that will transmit data at far faster speeds) in Egypt for the Africa Cup of Nations, which are held from June 21 to July 19. Moreover, Huawei Marine, the company’s submarine cable arm, is helping to deploy a major 12,000-kilometer cable system connecting Africa to Asia. “Africa is a market Huawei had identified and which they conquered thanks to a very aggressive strategy based on cheap financing and speed of execution. The fact that Huawei has equipped the AU says it all,” Satchu told the AFP.
But Huawei’s presence in Africa goes beyond selling smartphones and building mobile networks. In South Africa, the company provides training at the country’s top universities, this year launching a specialized course on 5G. Kenya’s government signed a 17.5-billion-shilling ($172 million) deal with Huawei in April to build a data center and “smart city” services. It also offers a “safe city” surveillance programme. This initiative, according to the firm’s website, “can prevent crimes targeted towards the normal citizen, tourists, students, elderly persons etc before they occur”. It has been implemented in Kenya as well as Mauritius, with 4,000 “smart” surveillance video cameras at 2,000 sites across the Indian Ocean island nation.
Huawei’s presence in Africa goes beyond selling smartphones and building mobile networks.
A few media outlets in Mauritius have condemned the system as “digital dictatorship” from “Big Brother Beijing”. That being said, Ghanaian Security Ministry Albert Kan-Dapaah, thinks Huawei’s video surveillance technology helps catch criminals. “When a crime has been committed, thanks to the cameras, we work magic,” Kan-Dapaah stated in a Huawei promotional video.
And just like that, the tech trade war continues… 🧐🧱😡