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State endorses Safaric*m, Huawei 5G roll-out deal

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020 07:01 | By
Safaricom acting chief executive Michael Joseph during a past event. PD/File
Safaricom acting chief executive Michael Joseph during a past event. The telco will partner with Huawei to roll out 5G network in Kenya. PD/File

 By John Otini

The government has backed Safaricom’s plan to partner with Huawei to launch 5G infrastructure amid concerns the move would expose Kenya to a geopolitical fault line.

Safaricom announced it will this year launch 5G network to grow its data business despite concerns that the move could affect ongoing trade talks between Kenya and US, particularly the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna defended Safaricom saying Kenya has nothing to do with trade wars between US and China, adding that the US is acting in its best interest and Kenya will also act in the best interest of her people. The Kenyan government owns 35 per cent of Safaricom.

“As long as what we are doing does not endanger internal and global security, then we have no problem doing business with anyone,” said Oguna.

Artificial intelligence

Kenya is listed as one of African countries alongside South Africa and Egypt who use Chinese infrastructure for artificial intelligence (AI) surveillance, according to a report titled Global Expansion of AI Surveillance published by the Carnegie University last October.

“This is a very sensitive matter. Huawei is very much a geopolitical fault line. I do not believe this is a black and white issue,” said analyst Aly Khan Satchu.

Experts claim that Chinese companies are working directly with the Asian state’s authorities to export “authoritarian technology” to like-minded governments to spread influence.

“Any investment that the Chinese do abroad is geared towards their military intelligence,” said Mwenda Mbijiwe, a security analysts and former Kenya Airforce’s air defence control unit commander.

“The Chinese can use our data to tell our economic strength and gross domestic product projections. They can even carry out a fiscal coup,” added Mbijiwe.

Safaricom has over time sought to grow its grip on Kenya’s telecoms market with aggressive investment in new technology to fend off rivals and 5G is the biggest thing on the horizon.

“We will use Huawei in 5G ... What will we do in terms of the US statements about not using Huawei? We do not have that situation in Africa,” Safaricom acting chief executive Michael Joseph told Reuters.

Africa’s reliance

“I would have thought that the US is actively pursuing solutions in this regard. This is beyond Safaricom’s procurement department’s pay grade,” said Aly.

African Union (AU) officials accused a Chinese contractor, who was given a tender to construct AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of bugging the structure with intelligent gadgets.

AU officials have accused China of hacking its headquarters computer systems every night for five years and downloading confidential information.

The US government is alarmed by the rapid progress of Huawei and launched a concerted campaign both domestically and internationally to block Huawei from building 5G wireless networks.

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