Even though they had donated the building and the computer equipment, has Beijing been conducting cyber espionage work on the African Union headquarters during the last five years?
By Ringo Bones
The 200-million US dollar headquarters in Addis Ababa – including the computer system - was fully funded and built by China and opened to great fanfare back in 2012. Many in the West see it as a symbol of Beijing’s thrust for influence in Africa and access to the continent’s natural resources. Then an article published back in Friday, January 2, 2018 in the French publication Le Monde quoting anonymous African Union sources – which included IT technicians – reported that data from computers in the Chinese-built building had been transferred nightly to Mainland Chinese servers during the past five years. After the massive hack was discovered a year ago, the building’s IT system including the servers was changes, according to Le Monde. During the sweep for bugs after the discovery, microphones hidden in desks and the walls were also detected and removed, the newspaper reported.
Sadly, despite of the report’s credibility, Chinese and African Union officials that gathered in Addis Ababa for the bloc’s annual summit both denied Le Monde’s report. China’s ambassador to the African Union, Kuang Weilin, recently called the article “ridiculous and preposterous” and said its publication was intended to put pressure on relations between Beijing and the African continent.
When asked about the report, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who assumed the African Union chairmanship this year, said that he did not know anything about it. “But in any case, I don’t think there is anything done here that we would not like people to know,” he told reporters after a meeting of African heads-of-state. “I don’t think spying is the specialty of the Chinese, We have spies all over the place in this world,” Kagame said. “But I will not have worried about being spied on in this building.” Kagame’s only concern, he said, was that the African Union should have built its own headquarters, instead of China. “I would only have wished that in Africa we got our act together earlier on. We should have been able to build our own building.”