Will Africa have to choose between US and Chinese tech?
7 June 2019
The United States and China have been spurring in a trade war over the past couple of years, and experts are beginning to worry about the impact it might have on the African continent.
Last month, the United States banned American telecom networks from sourcing equipment from foreign companies deemed to be at risk, a measure that specifically targeted Chinese tech company, Huawei.
The Trump administration is now urging its allies to cut ties with Huawei, arguing that the company’s technology allows the Chinese government to spy on citizens, in the process compromising national security.
Companies in France and Germany, and the governments of Australia and Taiwan have announced that they are reviewing decisions they had made to buy equipment for 5G networks from Huawei.
Analysts believe that it is only a matter of time before African countries are compelled to decide between US and Chinese technology.
Huawei, which launched on the continent in 1998, in Kenya, has grown to be the fourth largest smartphone seller on the continent, behind another Chinese company, Transsion, which makes the Tecno and Infinix brands.
The company operates in 40 African countries, has built at least 50% of Africa’s 4G network and provides technology for smart city projects, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The African Union last week demonstrated its commitment to sticking with Huawei, when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the company to strengthen their cooperation in broadband, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, 5G and artificial intelligence.
To help us understand the tech position of the African continent in the ongoing US-China trade war, we spoke to David Okwii, a Ugandan-based Tech blogger who’s been writing about the evolution of Tech in Africa since 2008.
How much should African consumers and governments worry about the ongoing US-China trade war?
If this thing sweeps across multiple companies, then this might be quite a big, big problem, that is on the smartphone end. But also, on the telecom end, most of the telecommunications industry in Africa is heavily managed by Huwaei, actually about 70%.
If Africa must choose between Chinese led technology and American led technology, who do you reckon best serves the needs and interests of the continent?
We are going to choose and afford the technology that we can pay for, and if it is Huawei, which is the case, actually we have most of our technology driven by China. Then its already happening, and its going to happen that way.
Does Africa have the capacity to wean itself from dependency and build its own tech?
I haven’t really heard of any African governments that has deliberate plans to move in that direction. We are just using whatever technology is available, and that’s it. Otherwise, if you talk about the talent, if you talk about the skills, yes, we can. But it will require a lot of political will and intention.