The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was a gift from China in 2012. However, the African Union was ignorant that China had built a secret backdoor in the computers, to allow it spy on the activities of the 55 countries under AU. It was reported by French newspaper Le Monde that the Asian giant was making use of the computers in a new building’s IT division to spy on Africa.
This backdoor into the computer systems at the headquarters was discovered in January 2017, when it was discovered that there was an unusual activities that happened late into the evening when the place was vacated by the staff members.
“[The building] has been fully equipped by the Chinese. The computer systems were delivered turnkey. And Chinese engineers have deliberately left two flaws: backdoors, which give discrete access to all internal exchanges and productions of the organization,” writes Le Monde. “According to several sources within the institution, all sensitive content could be spied on by China. A spectacular leak of data, which would have spread from January 2012 to January 2017. Contacted, the Chinese mission to the AU did not follow our requests.”
But China is denying it, its ambassador to the African Union, Kuang Weilin, called the claims “absurd” in response, and denied China used the infrastructure for spying. “I really question its [the report’s] intention,” Weilin told a group reporters on Monday, as reported by the BBC. “I think it will undermine and send a very negative message to people. I think it is not good for the image of the newspaper itself. Certainly, it will create problems for China-Africa relations.”
To save itself from further damage, the AU quickly replaced the computer servers and ensured that its communications and data were encrypted. This news has complicated the cordial relationship that majority of Chinese companies have with other countries. There has been a level of spying from some Chinese companies like the Huawei, phone maker that lost a huge business deal with the AT&T.
The AU and China has denied that the headquarters of AU was bugged. Though, Le Monde quoted anonymous (AU) sources that revealed that this spying has been on for five years. It was discovered that mysterious microphones were found hidden in walls and desks after a sweep for bugs was carried out on the building.
The new chairman of AU, Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president said he was not aware of such event. “But, in any case, I don’t think there is anything done here that we would not like people to know,” he said after a meeting of African heads of state.
“I don’t think spying is the speciality of the Chinese. We have spies all over the place in this world,” Kagame said. “But I will not have been worried about being spied on in this building… I would only have wished that in Africa we had got our act together earlier on. We should have been able to build our own building.”