Accused multiple times of espionage since 2018, Huawei has continued to sign agreements with several African countries and even with the AU.
During the first edition of the Cyber Africa Forum (CAF), which took place on June 7 in Abidjan, Huawei Northern Africa Executive Vice President Philippe Wang intervened to unveil the strategy of the Chinese infrastructure provider. information and communication technologies. "Huawei supports African states in their digital transformation, because the digital economy is the future of the continent," said the leader of the Chinese group, who claims to provide "software and hardware solutions to African states to ensure their sovereignty digital ”.
But can we ensure digital sovereignty when leaving so much room for a foreign operator? Huawei currently generates 20% of its revenue in Africa and covers more than 60% of 3G and 4G installations. Huawei is the fourth largest smartphone seller in Africa. Banned from the United States under the Trump administration, the Chinese giant has logically turned to the African continent to overcome the crisis. "Despite the American propaganda, Huawei enjoys a healthy relationship with governments and large companies in Africa," assures Philippe Wang, for whom "Huawei's vision in Africa is to make digital technology accessible in every home, for a smart world and fully connected ”. But at what cost ?
In August 2019, Huawei was talking about him. The Wall Street Journal had indeed published an investigation showing how Huawei had sold surveillance equipment and facial recognition software to 24 African countries, from Tunisia to Rwanda, via Ghana, Nigeria or the Côte d ' Ivory. In Zambia and Uganda, Huawei experts have even reportedly trained local authorities to spy on their political opponents, teaching them to access their phones remotely and being able to access their Facebook accounts, or even by intercepting phone calls. Quickly, Huawei reacted to this investigation by rejecting "completely the unfounded and inaccurate allegations of the Wall Street Journal against its business activities in Uganda and Zambia".
More political than technological agreements
A year earlier, Le Monde accused Huawei of spying. But this time, the French newspaper claimed that it is the headquarters of the African Union (AU) - a gift from China - which had been listened to by the Chinese for several years. But "the AU has carried out a complete audit of its computer system within the entire organization", and "the conclusions contradict the comments made in the media last year," said Wang at the time of signing. a new collaboration agreement for five years with the AU in June 2019. And this despite rumors of storage of African Union data on a server located in… Shanghai.
Huawei has woven its web all over the continent, notably participating in the deployment of 5G, as in Kenya. “As a government, we are aware of supplier and technology issues, but some of them are more political than technology,” admitted Joe Mucheru, Kenyan Minister of Information Technology and Communication. Communication. For Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, the accusations against Huawei come from the United States. Again, this is a political response, with Pretoria and Beijing having a special relationship, as South Africa and China are both members of the BRICS, an organization created in 2006.
Despite attempts by African leaders to reassure Huawei's reliability, doubt remains. Beyond spying on opponents, the Chinese group is also accused of spying on the rulers of the countries with which it trades. In Tunisia, at the end of the legislative elections of 2019, each deputy elected to the House of People's Representatives had been offered a tablet by Huawei, without this unduly moving the highest authorities of the State. Worse, the Chinese brand would also provide smartphones to police officers by offering them attractive discounts. By throwing themselves into the arms of Huawei, African countries, through negligence, thus leave the possibility for the Chinese giant to get hold of their digital sovereignty.