“Do not trust a person who claims to be honest, and never trust exaggerated friendliness.”
When China built, furnished and donated a new shiny headquarters in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to the African Union in 2012 as a gesture to their “Africa friends”, the beneficiaries should have employed the Chinese proverb above in evaluating the potential of this act of magnanimity.
It now appears that gift may have come at a huge intelligence cost to Africa with the revelation from an investigation by Le Monde that China had been spying on computers in the AU headquarters between 2012 and July 2017. Data leaks were said to occur after midnight, with packets of sensitive information sent to servers in Shanghai, according to the report.
There were no details on the nature of the information the Chinese were spying on but the cause for alarm is obvious given China’s ambitious moves in Africa within the past decade in terms of providing financial assistance for infrastructure and development. China has been moving in leaps and bounds to establish a most beneficial and exclusive relationship with as many African countries as possible. China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trade partner in 2009, they are the destination for 15 to 16 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s exports and the source of 14 to 21 percent of the region’s imports, per Thomson Reuters and World Bank estimates.
Assuming there is a desire to have a means of monitoring and protecting these interests, the region’s organisation headquarters would be the best target. Having built and delivered it with next to no contribution from the AU, it would not have seemed out of place for the facility architects and managers to place certain controls, if bugs, to ensure they would be “in sync” with the activities going on in the building, perhaps under the guise of M&E maintenance services.
In the movie “2012”, the destruction of the world only left one country unaffected – China – and those who wished to survive could only do so by its assistance, and they built arks that would come to save Africa.
The Chinese Mission to the AU have branded Le Monde’s revelations as “sensational”, “preposterous”, “totally untrue”, and that China’s relationship with Africa is “the tide of the times that one newspaper, one sensational story can’t stop”. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, supported this view saying “there’s nothing to be spied (on) because (the) China-Africa relationship is very strategic, comprehensive”. This is despite the report stating that Ethiopia cybersecurity experts and others from Algeria had to be brought in to sweep and comb through the building to disconnect any connections with the Chinese servers in Shangai.
Since the explosion of Sino-African relations, analysts and commentators have been watching carefully to evaluate the balance of benefits for both sides. With a population of 1.379 billion compared to Africa’s 1.216 billion, China has about 163 million more mouths to feed and should not really be expected to roll over in their investments in Africa without receiving enough returns to cater for its people.
China is no more one of the poorest countries in the world, even if very many persons still live in abject poverty in the country. The situation in Africa remains dire, without the kind of significant transformation that has taken place in China with an annual growth rate of 10 percent for three decades until 2010. They are the world’s highest consumer of energy and are looking to vastly expand their sources, looking primarily to Africa.
Djibouti hosts China’s first overseas military base and a standard gauge railway runs from Nairobi to Mombasa. Big infrastructure projects are springing up in parts of the continent bankrolled by Chinese money. But if the supposed bugging of the AU building is anything to go by, Africa and its leaders cannot afford to sit on their arms while receiving the candies and cookies straight into their mouths.
They could be losing their teeth while excess sugar goes to a part of the body causing many inconveniences.