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Is global assistance a threat to African Union's ICT integrity?

Is global assistance a threat to African Union's ICT integrity?

The African Union (AU) needs to reinforce its ICT security capability to protect against spying at its Chinese-sponsored headquarters. This is in response to allegations of espionage at the organisation over the past five years and involving the Far East country, as reported by Le Monde Afrique.

Africa analyst and senior lecturer at Wits University Koffi Kouakou said the AU has taken some steps this week, including removing the server believed to linking up with Shanghai as well as hiring technical specialist and IT security experts.

However, much more needs to done he says and the organisation is at risk of diminishing self-sufficiency.

"They (the AU) have put aside around US$4 million... but again, that same money comes from the Europeans. There is no independence and sovereignty. They need to have systems built within Africa and they can get all kinds of smart Africans to do that. They are now working on a forward-looking or long-term strategy to be able to protect the integrity of the systems at the AU and still assembling the teams now and there is a very long way to go,

"The AU should invest more resources because we are in the fourth industrial revolution and if the AU understands that the big game going forward is around technology, artificial intelligence et cetera and that you need to protect privacy and sovereignty, then it must make investments into information technologies for the future."

Kouakou adds that the election of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who is a known advocate for innovation in ICT, as the AU's rotating chairperson starting this week bodes well for efforts to strengthen the organisation's ICT capacity.

"The new chairman has a lot on his plate. In general I don't like President Kagame's human rights practices, but I think there is a chance that he will bring new energy into the AU and I'm really excited about this. I anticipate that he will take a serious look at the AU's ICT strategy and make important changes."

Kagame, who also serves as co-chair of the United Nations' Broadband Commission, played down the allegations against the Chinese this week and said any information that could have been taken is of little concern as "(there is) nothing done here (at the AU) that we don't want people to know."

Kouakou disagrees and is concerned about the information that the AU does not make public and to which the Chinese and others may have access.

"This may be personal conversations on the phone and that kind of private information is what the spies are looking for as it is more valuable. Strategically Kagame is finding a way to deflect and diminish the seriousness of the issue, but it is still important."

In his acceptance speech of the position of chairperson for 2018 President Kagame told the 30th Ordinary Session at the AU Headquarters that technology has evolved so rapidly in recent years that Africa's window to follow that strategy is narrowing more rapidly than previously understood.

"We are running out of time, and we must act now to save Africa from permanent deprivation."

Kagame emphasised that Africa must create a single continental market, integrate its infrastructure, and infuse its economies with technology.

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