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Kenyan Governor claims State-Sponsored Cyber Espionage and Illegal Drone Surveillance

by Felix Omondi

Most activities that we do nowadays are increasingly being run online. Kenya, though not in the world economic block that calls itself the ‘1st World Countries,’ is, nonetheless, quite tech-savvy. All thanks to widespread mobile internet connectivity and the proliferation of affordable smartphones from Chinese OEMs. That includes brands such as Huawei, Infinix, OPPO, Tecno, and iTel.

By its own rights, Kenya can be said to be well on its way to becoming a digital savvy society. However, concerns are rising on whether the country adopted ICT infrastructure as quickly as possible but gave little concern on cybersecurity. It is not lost to us that the backbone of the network infrastructure for virtually all mobile service providers in Kenya is provided by Huawei. A network infrastructure brand that has been accused in the Western Countries for hiding backdoors to its hardware and software that could aid and abet cyber espionage.

Huawei itself has been banned from the US, and it is finding it hard to sell its wares across US allies across European countries. In the US, federal employees have been restricted from using Huawei devices in executing their duties. Not forgetting the bombshell move taken by the 45th POTUS of banning Huawei from Google’s Android ecosystem.

Huawei finding Good Market across Africa

While the West is busy fighting Huawei, believing that the ICT company could be a spy for the Chinese government. The company is finding a good market across Africa. Most of the ICT infrastructure, particularly in Kenya, are heavily skewed towards Huawei technology. That ranges from the network hardware infrastructure to the end consumer devices.

If indeed the claims by the West that Huawei network infrastructure has backdoors for spying. Then Kenyans have reasons to worry about their cybersecurity. Sometime in 2017, innov8tiv magazine ran a story about an alleged move by authorities in Kenya to implant a listening bug to the local ICT network. Those stories can be read here and here.

Makueni Governor claims someone has tapped his phone

Makueni Governor Prof Kivutha Kibwana during an interview with a local radio station claimed his phone calls were being tapped. He claims the reason behind it, is his stance on the proposed constitutional changes being spearheaded by the country’s president and leader of the opposition. The assumption being that should the proposed constitutional changes take place, the current president and leader of the opposition will get beefy government positions and influence in the next government following the 2022 elections.

During the interview, the Governor claimed: “Even when you called me, the phone call was going to somebody else, a lady was answering the phone which I had in my hands.”

Drones being used for Spying and Intimidation

Other than the claims of his phone calls being tapped, Governor Kibwana further claimed that drones have been hovering over his house. If these claims are true, it doesn’t take a cybersecurity expert to put one plus one equal two and give credence to the allegations featured in the two articles mentioned above. The allegations go something in the lines of:

The Huawei ICT infrastructure network has backdoors that can either be used to spy on people using the network.

That the Kenyan government has set up a shadowy organization that exploits the network vulnerabilities to spy on Kenyans using the ICT networks.

These are nothing but allegations. However, it is not lost to the general public how much the Kenyan government (and other African governments) have warmed up to Chinese companies in recent years. The same Chinese companies are being accused by the governments of the West of implanting bugs into their ICT infrastructure to illegally find intelligence that will skew trade deals agreement in favor of Chinese best interest.

Photo by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash

Beijing denies reports that China has been spying on the African Union headquarters for years


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