Accusations and counter-accusations have been rife in the diplomatic departments after French magazine Le Monde published a report that the Republic of China had been spying on the African Union by bugging the AU headquarters building. The building was a gift to the AU and consequently used for espionage. China was in charge of the construction and everything related to the building.
Several factions have come out to defend the accusations against China, claiming that they have no motive to spy on the African Union. The African Union has also made it clear that the allegations are baseless and cannot be substantiated. They also claimed that they have no secrets or dossiers to be spied on, as they carry out most of their business in public.
The truth is, that spying is not a new idea in the diplomatic spheres, with several leaks in the past revealing how different countries spy on other countries and organizations. Countries like the US are known to be (forcibly) open about spying on both allies and enemies. There are claims they even successfully bugged the conversations in San Francisco where the United Nations charter was drawn in 1945.
Individuals have not been left out of the spying scandal back then. Notable persons like German Chancellor’s personal phone calls were recorded by The US for over 10 years. Public and official email domains of different country’s officials were also hacked before.
Apart from China, the AU has been a victim of spying approaches by different countries before. The French and British, most notably, are among the countries that have successfully spied on the organization before. But why would they be interested or motivated in spying on the African Continent?
Spying on Economic Prospects
The fight for the control of the African wealth has always been the main reason for espionage in Africa, as the countries seek to find ways on how to control the massive resources. Most countries want a stake in the growing economy. China’s influence on the continental development projects has been on the rise in the recent past.
A Report by Deloitte on development trends in Africa indicates that China is the lead financier of African projects, as it finances 15.5% of projects on the continent. Therefore it’s logical they would attempt to spy on the AU in order to keep the hold on Africa even tighter.
Some countries may also try to control or reduce the increased influence of the Chinese, therefore coming up with strategies involving espionage.
Espionage: Taking Advantage of Vulnerability
It should be noted that several African countries have weak security systems that are easy to infiltrate. Foreign diplomats of the African countries are mostly allowed easy access to information, there is no rigorous vetting of senior government officials. This has continued to put the security systems at a higher risk of spying.
The fact that it took over 5 years to realize that the Chinese were spying on the African Union with microphones and speakers placed on the desks, should be a cause of worry for the African internal security systems.
China was able to easily spy on the African Union simply because they had gifted the building to the AU. They participated in the whole construction process, even importing some of the construction materials from China. This gave them an easy way to build backdoors and installing their microphones. This, therefore, reinforces the fact that, as long as Africa will be looking up to aid from the outside world, they will remain vulnerable to espionage.
Surveillance and Terror
The rise of militant groups on the continent, like the Al-Shaabab in Somalia, has increased the urgency to spy on the continent for some nations. This means that foreign powers feel the need to have surveillance on the countries they cooperate with, in the fight against terrorism, such as in Kenya which is involved in fighting the Alshaabab. Foreign countries have also been involved in trying to quell the fights in some African countries like South Sudan. This has given them easy access to the information in those countries and even their neighbors.
Spying is a Tradition
It can as well be believed that spying on the African countries is in line with keeping traditions. Now that western powers are known to spy on the countries they have engagements with, it only implies that Africa cannot be an exception.
In rebutting the spying claims, China has vowed to be Africa’s “most reliable” partner. That does not mean that it should be lost on the African continent, that the espionage prospects are always high. Spying will be alive as long as there is incentive.