The impact of Chinese tech provision on civil liberties in Africa

A worker cleans a surveillance camera on a street in Nairobi, on January 18, 2019. Image: Getty, Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP
A worker cleans a surveillance camera on a street in Nairobi, on January 18, 2019. Image: Getty, Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP

The increasing support provided by China to African states to expand their information infrastructure and the rise of Safe City (Huawei) and Smart City (ZTE) projects across Africa have raised concerns about a possible tightening of civil liberties on the continent.

Summary:

  • Chinese companies are key providers of internet communications technology (ICT) to Africa. This work goes beyond building networks, to also include so-called smart city and safe city projects.
  • These projects’ focus on surveillance has raised worries that China is exporting its own state-centric internet models to Africa.
  • Research shows, however, that Chinese companies are amenable to host countries’ approaches to internet governance.
  • Chinese companies are actively promoting surveillance-heavy systems to African governments, with optimistic estimates of their impact on crime.
  • Case studies show, however, that these claims might only be true over the short term.

15 Dec 2020