21 May 2019

Africa: What Huawei Restriction Means for Kenya and Africa

Photo: Brücke-Osteuropa/Wikipedia
Huawei Technology headquarters in Shenzhen, China.
opinion

Kenyans may be forced to make do with more expensive but 'safer' mobile products in the wake of restrictions on Huawei.

This could be one outcome of the United States' bid to isolate Chinese tech firms over spying claims, but which could seriously rise to the denial of intelligence sharing by the US for any security agency using Huawei products.

SH1.1 TRILLION

On Monday, American tech giants Google and Intel separately announced a gradual termination of business with Huawei, China's biggest telecom firm.

The announcement was to follow directives by the US government earlier in the year, restricting business deals with Huawei and ZTE, which are suspected of having close ties with Beijing.

Washington suspects they may be installing spyware in networks they serve.

The decision may be part of President Donald Trump's project to protect American businesses, but which has publicly been marketed as protection against cyber invasion by foreign entities.

"It shows we are still a small boy in the big league. So many people use Huawei in our country. But it shows you the international community controls what technology we use," said Dr Elias Mokua, the director of Jesuit Hakimani Centre, the Catholic Church's policy research arm in Nairobi.

"Alternative technologies may emerge in the wake of this. But it is America doing business. They are not here for fun. In business, one way to beat your competitor is to kick them out of the market."

In the new development, Google products like Google Play, Gmail and Google Maps will not be available on new Huawei products, while older phones will not access new versions of Android. Huawei has also been accused of stealing trade secrets from US firms, a charge it denies.

Huawei buys about Sh1.1 trillion worth of tech goods and services from US firms annually. Now this may be curtailed as US authorities bar American companies from doing business with the Chinese tech giant.

CLOUD CENTRE

The ban came as Huawei was launching its new device, the Huawei P30 Pro, an extended version of the P30, which retails at the initial price of Sh100,000.

On Monday, the company issued a statement saying it is committed to safe devices for its global customers.

But its problems were compounded by the fact that it also makes laptops that run on chips supplied by Intel.

If Intel withdraws the supplies, it could either force Huawei into Plan B or stop the laptop business altogether.

So how does it affect Kenya and Africa? Though its market in the US is minimal, Huawei has grown its reach in Africa, Europe and parts of Asia where it pitches cheaper products compared to Apple.

It is currently trialling the new generation Internet connectivity known as 5G, which could run future tech products such as self-driven cars and traffic control solutions.

But the US recently warned allies that it could stop sharing intelligence with those who run security and communication systems on Huawei.

Last month, the government signed a deal with Huawei to build a data centre at Konza Smart Cities project. Worth Sh17.5 billion, Huawei is to build a national cloud centre, a smart use network and a traffic management system.

The government said at the time that the project could create some 17,000 jobs and inject about Sh90 billion into the economy.

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