The Digital Silk Roads in Africa: How the Chinese Huawei Group is Rewriting the Future of Technologies in Senegal

We are delighted to anounce that Dr. Ibrahima Niang (Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar/ZMO, Berlin) will give the next Silk Road Talk on 25 October from 4.15 to 5.45 p.m. The lecture will take place in the Department of Asian and African Studies at Invalidenstraße 118, Room 410.

The New Silk Roads celebrate their tenth anniversary this year. In ten years, China has spent nearly a trillion euros to finance projects in transport, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure, among others. It has created a complex network of land corridors and maritime routes. Chinese firms like Huawei, ZTE and China Telecom are behind the core systems of new ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure across Africa.

Chinese investment in Africa’s tech infrastructure continues to gain momentum on the continent. The “Made in China” technology serves now as the backbone of network infrastructure in several African countries. And they are providing the next generation of technology. Nowhere is Huawei’s presence and strategy more evident than in Africa, a continent it entered for the first time in 1998, where it successfully dispelled the “Made in China“ image of low cost and low quality. In Senegal, Huawei won the first major project funded by China since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Dakar in October 2005. The aim of this program was to participate in the modernization of public administration in Senegal; the establishment of a broadband network using new technologies and for making the extension of the administrative government intranet management of all services to reach all parts of the country. Currently, the company achieves on the development of the State’s digital infrastructure (Datacenter, Senegal Services Centers, Optical Fibre, Smart City, Safe City, etc.). The various phases of this turnkey project are financed by an Eximbank loan from China to the Senegalese government.

The market for mobile telephony is growing with no less than sixteen million holders of a terminal, Senegal is a very lucrative market. Huawei has become one of the leaders for equipment for fixed and mobile telephony and digital equipment in this market, even beating the German and French firms in Senegal as Ericsson, Siemens and Alcatel. In more than a decade, Huawei has penetrated almost every market around the world, investing heavily in its business and technology product lines, which includes fixed networks, mobile networks, data communications, optical networks, software and services, and terminals. Most of the smart city projects that involve Chinese financing and companies in African countries are aimed at making cities safer — with surveillance systems. The last big projects executed by Huawei is the Datacenter of Diamniadio in 2021. to date is the commissioning of the new State resource center (Diamniadio National Datacenter). During its inauguration on 22 June 2021, the President of Senegal emphasized its essential character in the national digital system stating: “This infrastructure is the repository of all these resources and of the billions of data generated in our country, which circulate and are exchanged within our administration, with our partners and users of public services. This is our documentary and audiovisual heritage in a world where the stakes and threats are enormous. This state-of-the-art datacenter allows Senegal to better control its destiny and to definitively resolve the issue of its digital sovereignty”.

At the heart of these digitals Silk Roads which draw so much sympathy and criticism, the Huawei Group is rewriting the future of technology in Africa. Despite the fact that US has been warning countries across the world that technology developed by Chinese firms like Huawei and ZTE could present a security risk, African countries have by and large ignored it. It is important to draw a provisional assessment of the “win-win” partnership touted by China to see if it has benefited partner countries. Were the digitals silks roads a debt trap? Is it a threatens on African digital sovereignty? Could African countries they say no to China when it brings them technology? Has the Western reluctance to support the ICT sector left an open window for China?

Date: 25 October 2023
Time: 4.15–5.45 p.m. (CET)
Location: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Department of Asian and African Studies (IAAW), Invalidenstr. 118, Room 410.

Organized in cooperation with the IAAW’s Africa colloquium for the winter semester 2023/24

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