It's No Coincidence China's Huawei Corp is Taking Over Africa's Telecommunications

Many are becoming increasingly threatened in light of Huawei's powerful international influence. Huawei, a massive Chinese telecom corporation, has slowly yet surely gained incredible influence over the African continent since the late 1990s through the popularity of its cheap cell phones and communication services. Certain U.S. government officials, outside experts, and others believe that Huawei is paving the way for Chinese exploitation by spying on its millions of African customers, despite the company's official humanitarian slogan of "Enriching [African] Lives Through Communication." These allegations, while raising some critical points about China's growing international presence through consumerism, showcase underlying American insecurities about China's emergence as a global powerhouse.

To be sure, Huawei's role in Africa is a mixed bag. The company has positively impacted Africa in many ways, such as exponentially-improving communication with the outside world for millions by offering affordable products and services, updating technological infrastructures, and affording governments the means for increased monitoring power over dangerous dissident groups and terrorist cells. Ironically, via this very same process, they've effectively engineered a significant portion of communication networks for many African governments, thus allowing them the knowledge and power to exploit these nations for their (or China's) gain via covert data collection or other espionage if they so desire. As Chris Demchak, co-director of the Center for Cyber Conflict Studies at the U.S. Naval War College, said, "Managing a nation's backbone telecommunications system, especially if it is seen to be the basis for future economic development, is an exceptionally powerful position economically, politically, and technologically for any firm in a country, let alone a foreign firm."

The dominance of Chinese corporations and technologies ensures power over the region (particularly in populous nations like Ethiopia and Nigeria), which in turns cements their mutual dependence. After all, China is becoming increasingly reliant upon the continent's farms, minerals, and oil to sustain its burgeoning population. On a more tangible level, China has been providing peace-keeping troops for Mali and military assistance in combating Somali pirates.

American concern over Huawei's true intentions in Africa is certainly hypocritical considering all the internal spying and record-keeping done by the NSA; Plummer, Huawei's spokesperson, said that skeptics are merely "looking into the mirror" of PRISM and other related spying programs.

Regardless, China's close monitoring of Africa undermines American involvement in the region because of their rivalry. Any future situation where collaboration between the U.S. and African nations would be required (especially Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, etc.,) might be slightly contentious since the U.S. would be skeptical of China's access to sensitive information and involvement overall. Furthermore, all diplomatic and financial aid to many sub-Saharan nations becomes supplementary to the overwhelming control Chinese corporations exert over key communications and technological infrastructures. Certainly, direct attempts by the government to become more involved for the sake of counter-acting Chinese influence would be overzealous. Rather, the U.S. can solidify its presence in Africa by providing alternatives to Chinese companies like Huawei via affordable cellphones and other technologies.

American anxieties over China's involvement in Africa is largely paranoia, however. With Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and other enormous corporate empires spreading American culture in virtually every nation in the world, the U.S.'s palpable influence in Africa and elsewhere is in no danger.

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Arthur Stern

I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy and a certificate in Women's Studies. I love language, culture, and the capacity people have for growth and progress.

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