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Chinese Technology Remains Crucial to African Development

July 20 (The Southern African Times) – Over the past year the United States government has aggressively accelerated its campaign against the Chinese technology firm Huawei. This has involved numerous dimensions, including legal, political and diplomatic.

Washington has thrown an increasing number of restrictions against the company in the bid to knocking it out of key semi-conductor and computer chip supply chains, application of politicized criminal sanctions against the company within the United States and the arrest of CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada and an increasingly aggressive campaign to lobby other countries around the world to ban it from participating in their 5G internet networks. 

Last week, the United Kingdom capitulated to American pressure to exclude the company, U-turning on a previous approval given by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, British telecommunications firms will be no longer able to buy new Huawei equipment by December 31st and will have a period of 7 years to phase out its usage. 

However, on the African continent, relations with the firm are a very different story. Huawei, as well as ZTE corp, have played an extensive role in the construction of 5G internet networks throughout numerous African continents, and American fears against the company have largely fallen on deaf ears. A year ago, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa denounced the Huawei campaign as “born out of jealousy”. 

Ultimately, his comments have a truth to them. America’s campaign against Huawei and Chinese technology as a whole are fuelled by the geopolitical premise of sustaining undisputed technological hegemony and primacy over these given supply chains, containing China’s emergence as a strategic competitor in this area.

As a result, its bid to discredit Chinese innovation in the framework of so-called “intellectual property theft” or a “national security threat” has been as rampant as it is unproven and opportunistic. Subsequently, there is a reason as to why African countries have not been receptive to this rhetoric, not because it is blatantly disingenuous but also because of the fundamental recognition that Chinese technology is crucial to national economic development.

In the past week alone, a new Huawei built data centre was opened in the Cameroon Town of Zamengoe for local telecommunications company CAMTEL, the $17 million facility has a 2000 terabyte storage capacity which will accelerate the strength of the country’s digital infrastructure.

Meanwhile, to the North, Morocco’s BCP banking Group signed an agreement with Huawei to provide various e-banking and mobile banking services to their clients in the African continent and touching upon Ramaphosa’s comments from last year, it was only this week that South Africa’s First 5G network powered by Huawei in partnership with Rain was launched. 

And the logic behind the enthusiasm is simple. For the west, technology is often a luxury and taken as a given, but for continents whereby development and prospects have been poor, the access to high quality and affordable innovation is an absolute necessity for moving forwards, creating jobs, making investment accessible and lifting people out of poverty.

In assuming that African countries ought to exclude a given vendor or company based purely on its country of origin, masking blatant geopolitical preferences to western goals, nations such as the United States making a very arrogant and condescending assumption that the continent has the luxury to choose and play such games, closing down markets and opportunities are very hard to come by. In the domestic interest, it is insanity.

As a result, Chinese technology is not a threat to Africa but it is an opportunity. China is providing scores of countries with the opportunity to obtain affordably and state of the art digital and technological infrastructure which can readily transform their national prospects.

The internet is a given in the west, but it is not so in Africa which has long lingered at the bottom of global development, value and supply chains. Such countries are not foolish enough to heed to American scaremongering, who makes demands but continues to offer absolutely nothing at all in terms of their digital development despite having a monopoly on global technology.

On the matter of excluding Huawei and other firms, the continent, therefore, has absolutely nothing to gain, but even more to lose. Chinese Technology remains crucial to African development, and that isn’t about to change.

Tom Fowdy is a Political Columnist for the Southern African Times. He is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S.

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