China has been spying on Africa for the last 5 years
The Asian country built a backdoor into the African Union's computer network, and used it to steal the organisation's secrets.
The headquarters was built and paid for by China, as a gift to its African friends. What African leaders did not know was that the gift was a Trojan horse.
China left an open gateway that allowed it to monitor the communications and get access to the organisation’s secrets when it wished.
According to an investigation by French newspaper, Le Monde, the information technology department in Addis Ababa discovered something strange in January 2017.
Between midnight and 2 am every night, the amount of data used would increase sharply, even though there was usually no-one in the building.
The technicians investigated further, and they noticed something even stranger.
All of that web traffic was because data was being sent out, and all of it, including tons of confidential information, was going to Shanghai.
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This spectacular data leak, or espionage, depending on how you want to look at it, happened from 2012 when the African Union’s headquarters opened, until January 2017, when it was discovered.
“According to several sources within the institution, all sensitive content could be spied on by China,” wrote Le Monde.
African Union officials quickly got around to fixing the problem, by getting its own servers and concealing its communications and information in a code.
Among African countries, Algeria enjoys a strong reputation for its efficient intelligence network. So it made sense that in July 2017, six months after the breach was noticed, a team of experts from the North African country was brought in.
They were joined by cybersecurity experts from Ethiopia to examine the entire system, look for hidden devices and any other back doors the Chinese may have left behind.
China has since dismissed reports the claims as "preposterous".
Kuang Weilin, the Chinese ambassador to the AU, told reporters in Ethiopia that the "absurd" claim in France's Le Monde was "very difficult to understand".
What exactly does China want?
This development calls China’s intentions towards African countries, including Nigeria, into question. Since the West and Europe have turned their sides to Africa, China has swooped in like the ever-present superhero.
It has built schools and other infrastructure in countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe, giving a lot and leaving us to wonder what it wants in return.
Since President Buhari came into power, Nigeria has literally put its hands in China’s pockets like a hopeful younger sibling.
As Nigeria plans to launch two satellites, China is providing $550 million to fund the project. Power, Works and Housing minister Babatunde Fashola has announced plans to build a dam worth 5.8 billion dollars with loans from China.
China has also pledged to invest $267 million to build the Lekki Free Trade Zone near Lagos. Even states have started making their own deals.
Oyo State recently made way for a railway system worth 30 million dollars with a Chinese firm.
This new spy leak implies that China is taking advantage of our need for help and expanding its power.
There are other negative sides to our relationship with China.
Many have suggested that it is building infrastructure in countries like Nigeria to help actualise its dreams of a new Silk Road, an international route for trade that will pass through 3 continents and will be under its control.
There's also the case of substandard Chinese products.
In 2016, an Internet café, belonging to Emeka Ezelugha, an entrepreneur was razed after a fire broke put in a corner of the main room. 30 computers were destroyed; Chinese-made power strips were named as the culprits.
“The guy tried to convince me it was from the U.K. — I was surprised when it happened,” Mr Ezelugha told the New York Times.
It is so bad that “Chinko”, the derogatory term used to refer to China is also used to refer to substandard products.
There is also the chance that this is not an isolated incident. Countries like France and Japan are masters of economic espionage, something that African countries are painfully oblivious to.
So as we tackle all these gits and welcome foreign companies into our countries, we may actually be opening ourselves up like a book.
African leaders must learn to see the other side of the conversation and reduce their eagerness to take every bit of help that is given. In a bid to meet certain needs, they are selling away our continent.
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