Leading from the front

Youth: their time is now

Young people are playing a crucial role in advancing climate action and climate justice

Elizabeth Wathuti
Photo: Raphael Obonyo

Climate change continues to threaten human existence, economic growth and the livelihoods of vulnerable populations, and experts predict that Africa will be struck more severely than most by the impact. Across the continent, young people are enraged about the lack of action on climate change and are demanding action and taking action. As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres summed up in his speech at the G-7 Summit in August last year, 2015 to 2019 were the five hottest years on record. At the same time, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest in human history.

The recent Special Report on 1.5°C (the impacts of 1.5°C global warming above pre-industrial levels) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summarised the scientific evidence. The report is in its findings: limiting unequivocal warming to 1.5°C requires major and immediate transformation across all sectors of society. There is a need to reduce annual emissions by half of their current level by 2030 if we are to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. According to Doug Ragan, UN Habitat’s Child and Youth specialist, “Climate change also threatens human security because it undermines the environment, livelihoods, communities and the ability of states to provide the conditions necessary for sustainable peace.

Young people’s voice, agency, and leadership have played a crucial role in advancing climate action and climate justice.” Indeed, young people in Africa are leading the way in the fight against climate change and stepping up to help their communities because they know the future depends on their actions. Adjany Costa, a 29-year-old environmentalist agrees that youth innovation and energies are essential in the fight against climate change. She has been at the forefront in demanding conservation of precious water and biodiversity hotspots in Angola. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed; in 2019 she received the young Champion of the Earth award from the UN Environment Programme.

In Ghana, Kwabena Danso, young entrepreneur and founder of Boomers International Ltd, is working with other young people on a project that encourages bamboo farming. Currently they work with more than 200 rural farmers to get them into bamboo agroforestry, which will empower them economically, protect the environment (bamboo improves soil fertility and absorbs more carbon than any other plant) and at the same time, provide the company with a sustainable supply of raw materials for making bicycles. Bamboo can therefore support a healthy, non-polluting form of alternative transport, meeting growing mobility needs while addressing climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, and high unemployment among young people.

Adjany Costa Photo: Raphael Obonyo

As Danso says, all we have is one world and we have no option than to protect it – this is the mandate of the youth of our time. Young Africans are making change happen, through their activism and also through their jobs and livelihoods. Another example is Alhaji Siraj Bah, a 20-year-old activist from Sierra Leone, who has set up an enterprise making biodegradable paper bags from banana fibres. He started his company with just $20, with the aim of combating plastic pollution, deforestation, air pollution, improper waste management and youth unemployment. His company, Rugsal, also produces smokeless, long-lasting and affordable briquettes from coconut waste.

There is no doubt that young people in Africa are charting the future as they help their communities adapt to the climate changes already happening. In Kenya, young people like Elizabeth Wathuti are mobilising to create a positive environmental impact. Wathuti, 24, founded the Green Generation Initiative in 2016 to address global environmental challenges such as deforestation, pollution and environmental injustices. She has organised a number of tree planting activities, including clean-ups and environmental education activities, all the while increasing awareness of the environmental challenges created by climate change.

Growing up in Nyeri county, a Kenyan region known for its beautiful forests, in a village where  planting  trees and drinking from clean streams was the norm, she connected with nature at a young age. Her first act as an environmental activist was planting her a tree when she was seven years old, inspired by the late Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai, who at that time was the Member of Parliament in her home region, Tetu. “Many people say that Africa will be the hardest hit by the impacts of the climate crisis, but the reality is that Africa has already had to go through a lot of challenges as the reality of the climate crisis has already hit home,” she says.

Kwabena Danso Photo: Raphael Obonyo

“It is not a future concern; it is about now, and things will only get worse for us if global action is not taken.” Through her organisation, Wathuti gives children and young people practical environmental education, greening and So far, she has trained and nurtured more than 20,000 children in different schools across Kenya, encouraging them to love nature and be conscious of the environment at a young age and their role in addressing the ongoing climate crisis. The adopt-a-tree campaign has helped inculcate a tree growing culture among people, especially children. Out of the more than 30,000 trees they have planted in schools, including fruit trees, thus far, 99% have survived.

Wathuti believes that the impact the campaign will have is not the number of trees planted so much as the number that will reach maturity. “We have a critical role to play as young people – and we must do all we can to tackle climate change,” says Charlot Magayi, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kenyan-based Mukuru Clean Stoves, a social enterprise that recycles waste metal to produce improved, efficient cooking stoves. Magayi partners with local women business owners to distribute to the last mile. “The stove’s ventilation is improved to ensure toxic smoke emissions are reduced by 70%,” she says.

In Uganda, Leah Namugerwa, a 15-year-old climate activist and student has been striking every Friday for greater action on climate change, plastic pollution and more. Also, she’s started the Birthday Trees initiative, encouraging people to celebrate their birthdays by planting trees. At the UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi in February this year, Namugerwa led young people gathered at the Youth Assembly to demand urgent and substantive action on the climate crisis. “Adults are not willing to offer leadership,” Namugerwa told the gathering, “so I offer myself.”

As Ovais Sarmad, the Deputy Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, has remarked, young people have brought a breath of fresh air to the ongoing conversation about climate change: they continue to remind leaders of the need for urgency the world faces and of the imperative to work towards a cleaner and greener future.


Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He’s served as a consultant with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Conversations about the Youth in Kenya (2015). He is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.

Press Release

Good Governance Africa (GGA) takes great pleasure in announcing that natural resource economist and policy analyst Dr Ross Harvey will be joining the organisation from 1 May, 2020.

GGA is a research and advocacy non-profit organisation dedicated to improving governance across Africa with a focus on several core areas: natural resources, peace and security, democratic governance and political processes, improving the economic environment, and youth and marginalised/vulnerable groups.

With offices across Africa, GGA’s work is based on exploring and advancing the key governance principles of democracy, accountability and transparency, and combining these with upholding the rule of law and respecting human, civil and property rights.

Ross’s task at GGA is to establish a non-renewable natural resources project (extractive industries) to ensure that the industry becomes genuinely sustainable and contributes to Africa achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Mindful that the priority for most Africans is to find meaningful and sustainable employment, his key objective will be to concentrate on development-orientated governance improvements that connect the extractive industries to green industrialisation, land tenure, clean water, and renewable energy and transport systems.

Ross has been dealing with governance issues in various forms across this sector since 2007. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town, and his thesis research focused on the political economy of oil and institutional development in Angola and Nigeria.

While completing his PhD, Ross worked as a senior researcher on extractive industries and wildlife governance at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), and in May 2019 became an independent conservation consultant.

GGA looks forward to working with Ross and believes he represents a valuable addition to our team.

For more information and interviews, please contact Chris Maroleng on chrism@gga.org

Distress and deep uncertainty

South Africa: tough at the top

Much of the country’s private defence sector has enjoyed strong growth since 1994, but the state-owned flagship, Denel, is in serious trouble

A Russian air force Tupolev Tu-160 makes a brief stopover at Waterkloof air base near Pretoria in South Africa on October 23 last year. The aircraft’s brief visit to the country was timed to coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s Africa Summit in Sochi, where African leaders concluded several billion dollars worth of arms deals with his government. Photo: EMMANUEL CROSET / AFP

Since sanctions were lifted with the 1994 political settlement, South Africa’s defence exports have surged. In the five years to the end of 2018, South Africa was the world’s 20th largest weapons exporter, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI. That position is well above its GDP per capita ranking and shows SA punches well above its weight in this field. In the face of a border war, extensive internal unrest, and international arms sanctions, the apartheid government built a sizeable and technologically advanced defence industry to ensure the greatest possible self-sufficiency in its supply of weapons. Today, however, South Africa’s defence industry is a fraction of the size it was in the dying days of apartheid in the early 1990s. The industry faces tougher international competition, as technological capabilities are now far more widely spread.

It also now threatened by an own goal in the form of mismanagement of the government-owned defence giant, Denel, which is in distress. Denel is the core of the industry and it has historically been innovative. The company has immense expertise, employs highly-experienced engineers, and draws on many local suppliers. Now, thanks to mismanagement, it is most unlikely that it will survive in its current form or size, despite government’s bailout. Sell-offs and re-organisations are likely to be key to a turnaround, impacting its work force and suppliers. South Africa has a diversified and high technology defence sector, manufacturing various types of ammunition, assault and sniper rifles, fuses, armoured vehicles, radars, sophisticated optics, aircraft parts, unmanned aerial vehicles, sophisticated missiles, and much else.

The sector consists of the giant, Denel, but also a number of medium-sized companies such as Paramount, Tellumat, Reunert, and a large number of small companies, many of them entirely reliant on exports. Its companies are dependent on imports for parts and sub-systems, but it contributes significant added value and export revenue to the economy through design, integration and manufacturing. Much of the country’s private defence sector has enjoyed strong growth since 1994, despite the limited domestic market. The smaller technology firms have few overheads but need to export to survive. As they do no or little business with the South African government, they do not need to meet black economic empowerment requirements, allowing owners to retain greater control.

Paramount, with 3,000 employees, sells protected vehicles, aviation products, and security services across the world and manufactures in a number of countries. Milkor, formed in 1980, makes a 40 mm Multiple Grenade Launcher, which, it says, is used in 67 countries. It is also involved in armoured vehicle production, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development, naval systems, and cyber security. RapidM is a small Pretoria-based company that designs and manufactures high-end military radios. Among the bigger defence companies is Reutech, a stock exchange listed company, which develops and manufactures radars, remote control weapon systems, and electronic fuses. Tellumat is also a diversified defence and security company with a large variety of solutions, including unmanned aerial vehicles. South Africa’s defence industry came off its peak in the early 1990s, soon after the 1994 settlement.

According to a survey conducted two years ago by the South African Aerospace Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD), there were about 15,000 people employed in the industry, compared to 130,000 in the early 1990s. The purchase in the mid 90s of new naval corvettes and frigates, Saab Gripen fighters, BAE Hawk lead-in jet trainers, flight trainers and helicopters gave local industry a boost. But spending to re-equip the navy and air force was mainly offshore. Local offset agreements with German, British, Swedish and other suppliers – which would have seen some manufacturing and supply contracts going to local firms – were not as large or as long-lasting as promised. Since the post-1994 arms deals, there have been no acquisition projects on that scale, forcing companies to look offshore for business. Even full delivery on a Denel project for new Patria Infantry Fighting Vehicles, for which there was a budget, has been delayed by many years.

At little above 1% of GDP, which is low by international standards, and low economic growth, the defence budget is constrained. In real 2017 US dollar terms, the defence budget grew only 7.5% from 1994 to 2018, according to SIPRI. This has left little in the budget for much beyond limited operations and salaries. Without new domestic acquisition projects, there is little chance of a return to the sector’s heyday. However, the industry still has the capabilities to generate new technologies. Having developed its own version of a military-industrial complex, South Africa’s defence industry became a world technology leader in some areas. This was based on tight cooperation between the military; its procurement agency, Armscor (which did research and development, production, and procurement); the government’s technology think tank, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); various parastatals; private industry and university engineering departments.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the apartheid government’s war with insurgency movements based in Angola made necessity the mother of invention. In the fight against the South West African People’s Liberation Organisation (SWAPO) and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), military personnel carriers with V-shaped hulls capable of dispersing mine explosions were developed, for example. South Africa became an early leader in the design and production of protected military vehicles. The G5 and G6 long-range 155 mm artillery systems were developed in response to the South African Air Force’s loss of air superiority over Angola. Its inability to fly missions deep into Angola due to the presence of sophisticated Soviet and Cuban anti-aircraft systems generated a requirement for long-range artillery. Local industry also developed an early expertise in UAVs, electronic warfare and military radios with frequency hopping to avoid interception.

With external help, the government also produced nuclear weapons, which it gave up on the eve of the handover to the ANC government. The Rooivalk attack helicopter showed considerable expertise in both project management and technology development, but was never a commercial success due to the limited local market for the product and the market advantages of the Boeing-made Apache within NATO. Since 1994, the country has continued to build on these developments. Notable has been the international success of the RG- 31 Nyala and other South African-designed and built protected troop carriers. In the 25 years since 1994, the US has been South Africa’s largest defence product export market, with its purchase of the RG-31 and other protected troop carriers for use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Denel Dynamics has developed a fifth-generation wing-tip mounted air-to-air missile, the A-Darter, which locks onto a target after launch, and which has been bought by the South African and Brazilian air forces.

In a major coup, Denel sold its Umkhonto vertical launch surface-to-air missile to the Finnish navy. Another product shows that the South African industry remains highly capable in product development: three years ago a new locally developed and manufactured widearea surveillance system was launched in the Kruger National Park. Known as Meerkat, the device uses a radar system developed by Reunert, and an electro-optical system to detect, classify and monitor humans in the park with the aim of fighting poaching. But Denel’s current problems are similar in nature to those of other South African public enterprises. As with other state owned enterprises (SOEs), its failings are due to bad management, poor procurement controls and alleged fraud linked to the activities of the Gupta family – a family of immigrants from India who are said to have enjoyed unparalleled influence over the Zuma administration.

The Auditor General, a government office with credibility, has given a “disclaimer of opinion” for two successive years on Denel’s annual financial statements, saying they do not include enough information to conduct a proper audit. Corruption involving the Guptas may have played a large role in Denel’s demise. City Press newspaper has reported that Denel could have lost about R30 billion in business, including deals with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Kuwait, after an executive allegedly insisted that kickback contracts be signed with a Gupta associate. Denel has also lost contracts, such as one with Chad to supply 250 protected troop carriers, and has had to give up others, including one linked to the Airbus A400M military transporter. Liquidity problems have meant delays in paying suppliers and an inability to fully meet its payroll on time. This has damaged morale and meant the loss of engineering skills.

Meanwhile, technology capabilities have proliferated, and today there are more manufacturers of protected vehicles and long-range artillery systems around the world. Government has provided a R1.8 billion bailout, which is slightly in excess of Denel’s loss in the company’s last financial year, and is committed to providing an additional R1 billion. But the government is bailing out other failing SOEs, such as Eskom, the national power utility, and national carrier South African Airways. Large cash injections to SOEs are unsustainable in the face of a growing fiscal deficit. The most likely course will be to downsize Denel and find a “strategic equity partner” for either the whole or parts of the business. Finding a partner will be tricky, as political acceptability will be paramount. A Saudi offer was rejected.

Given the rhetoric of the ruling ANC, meanwhile, companies from western countries would be an unlikely choice. At the recent Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, a defence official said his country signalled a keenness to enter into a weapons production deal with South Africa. Closer ties between the two countries were also demonstrated by a brief visit in October of two Russian Air Force TU-160 long-range bombers, which landed at Waterkloof air force base. But a Russian or Chinese partner could compromise South Africa’s position as a weapons supplier that is independent of the major powers and alliances. South Africa lacks the muscle to put together deals that are part of larger political and aid packages that could greatly open the African market. Such financial packages have long been a big part of global weapon sales. Another hurdle is that the country is not part of any military alliance, which could help open markets.

Unlike major powers, South Africa rarely restricts the use of its equipment, but there is still tough competition. As the sector seeks to export more, there will be mounting pressure to relocate manufacturing and other activities to client countries, which could in time shrink South Africa’s domestic defence manufacturing base. Other international defence contractors, including some in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have employed some of SA’s experienced engineering talent in this area. In recent months, South African defence exports have suffered a heavy blow in a dispute over the country’s right to inspect foreign military facilities as part of an enduser certification process to ensure weapons are not transferred to third parties.

Large sales by Denel and Rheinmetall Denel Munition to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been blocked by the South African government’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee, the agency which approves defence exports, because these countries were not prepared to sign end-user certificates, which allow for inspection. But it is Denel’s problems – the absence of large domestic military acquisition projects, the current low confidence levels in the local business environment, and the loss of engineering talent – that are hurting the sector the most. All in all, longer-term growth for the sector could now be difficult.

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen is a freelance journalist specialising in defence issues. He has written extensively for DefenceWeb, a South African defence news site and was International Affairs Editor and Economics Editor at Business Day. He holds an MA in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Jonathan has also worked as a management consultant and for the World Bank.

How governments are ‘weaponising’ surveillance

Surveillance technology: used and abused

African states have been deploying surveillance capabilities to spy on and intimidate youth movements and activists

Egyptian army officers monitor local and
international TV stations and websites at the
military press office department in Cairo in
June 2012. Egyptians were voting in a run-off
presidential election, pitting an Islamist against
Hosni Mubarak, amid political chaos, highlighted
by uncertainty over the future role of the army.

On 20 August, 2016, a group of mostly young social media activists gathered at a property in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, to discuss national political affairs. The political climate was tense in the central African country following brief, intense protests against the continued rule of long-time strongman Pierre Nkurunziza, politically motivated killings, repression of the media and an attempted coup the year before, in May 2015. As the gathering got under way, police swooped in and 46 of the activists, who had organised the meeting via the messaging app WhatsApp, were arrested. Eight of them were kept in jail for a while. “Police accused them of tarnishing the image of Burundi by spreading defamatory information against public authorities,” said a civil society activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Before the arrest of those WhatsApp group members, the minister in charge of public security had issued a threatening statement against social media activists,” the activist told Africa in Fact.

“On 17 May, 2016, he said that those using social media tools to spread rumours should not feel safe; that security services have now acquired the capacity to monitor them, to locate them and arrest them.” The Burundian activist said that in the wake of the incident suspicions grew that the regime had acquired sophisticated digital surveillance capabilities to monitor and intercept the communications of citizens. As a result, with the traditional media sector, especially broadcasting, effectively captured or destroyed by the Nkurunziza regime, and with many journalists having fled the country and now operating from exile, a heavy culture of self-censorship enveloped the country, even on social media platforms. Since the youth-led uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring of 2011 that toppled authoritarian regimes across North Africa, indications are that many African governments have sharpened their communications and digital surveillance capabilities, especially seeking to clamp down on political expression on popular social media platforms that are primarily used by the youth.

In September 2019, the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) Institute released its ‘State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2019’ report, which found: “The continued surveillance of the public, with limited oversight, in addition to the increased surveillance capacity of governments, and the interception of communication, including that of critics and human rights activists, threatens internet freedom. These measures have been coupled with regulatory control of the internet, including now widespread and restrictive measures such as censorship, filtering, blocking, throttling and internet shutdowns evident in several countries.” The report mentions that while most of the repressive surveillance practices uncovered were primarily perpetrated by authoritarian regimes – of which there are apparently 23 among the 55 African governments – even those countries classified as “flawed democracies”, such as South Africa, engaged in highly questionable surveillance activities.

Since 2011, countries such as Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the list goes on, have “weaponised” the internet and social media platforms through surveillance and repressive computer misuse, social media tax, and cyber security and terrorism laws. This has been especially noticeable following similar youthful outspokenness online like that which preceded and fuelled the Arab Spring. And some states have even gone as far as deploying troll armies and state sponsored disinformation campaigns – what the Oxford Internet Institute calls “organised social media manipulation campaigns” – to counter narratives on social media platforms that are perceived to be anti-government. In its September 2019 report, ‘The Global Disinformation Order’, the institute identified 10 African governments involved in or running “organised social media manipulation campaigns” – specifically, Angola, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.

The growing spectre of harm and alarm represented by such tactics, and the increasingly pervasive nature of state surveillance practices, along with the very real threat of surveillance overreach and abuse – as well as the ease with which surveillance and hacking technologies can be acquired internationally – have given rise to a global climate of widespread repression before expression. This was flagged as a burgeoning global human rights concern by United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye in June 2019. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, in a report submitted before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), stated: “We live in an age of readily available, easy to abuse and difficult to detect tools of digital surveillance. In his groundbreaking surveillance report in 2013, the previous mandate holder, Frank La Rue, noted that weak regulatory environments had provided fertile ground for arbitrary and unlawful infringements of the rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Many of the examples of abuse and infringements that Kaye was referring to undoubtedly emanated from the African continent, where some of the more repressive and authoritarian, as well as some seemingly democratic, states have been active over the past decade or so in global digital surveillance technology markets and have been caught out engaging in murky and unlawful surveillance activities. One such country is South Africa. “There’s plenty of evidence that South Africa’s security agencies have put resources into monitoring and interfering with democratic formations, particularly during the Zuma administration,” says Murray Hunter, a surveillance researcher who formerly headed the influential Right2Know (R2K) campaign’s state surveillance monitoring project. “This includes civil society groups, student protest movements, dissident unions, and media organisations. “A few years ago, there was also reporting on a leaked SSA [State Security Agency] document that revealed the agency’s official national security estimates, i.e. what it perceives to be the biggest genuine threats to state security,” Hunter explains.

“As this report shows, the state was frankly and seriously anticipating an Arab-spring style uprising in the lead up to the 2014 elections. In other words, the state had reframed what many would consider to be legitimate and unrelated social protest as a potential existential threat.” South African civil society and the media have exposed such practices over the years and even taken the state to court. In September 2019, the investigative journalism initiative, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by R2K and others, won a high court judgment that effectively scrapped the primary law enabling communications surveillance and interception, the notorious Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA) of 2002. With SSA expected to appeal the high court decision, and the South African Police Service (SAPS) already having lodged an appeal, it’s unclear how the case will eventually end. But the decision reverberated around the world and has emboldened international calls for reform of state surveillance practices globally.

One country in particular need of reform is Zimbabwe, just north of South Africa, which has a long history of repression of legitimate dissent and political expression. While invasive state surveillance was already an uncomfortable fact of life for political activists and journalists up until then, since 2016 the situation has become much worse, according to political activist Henry Munangatire. He was one of the core organisers and strategists of the July 2016 #thisflag pro-democracy protest movement – run primarily via various social media platforms on mobile phones – spearheaded by young Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire, who attracted a large youth following and international attention, as well as state harassment, intimidation and repression. Munangatire said that at the height of the #thisflag movement, which called on people to stay home in protest at the state of the country, state security operatives used the state’s communications surveillance capabilities to hunt down and imprison youth movement leaders, many of whom managed to evade capture and had to be smuggled out of the country.

“All of a sudden you had young people using this hashtag to talk about their economic and social situations, which at that point were a result of 36 years of corruption and mismanagement of the country by Zanu-PF,” he says. “The success of this movement culminated in building social media activism and on-the- ground activism, which, of course, led to the creation of other hashtags, such as #Mugabemustgo, which were created online and led to civil disobedience and people expressing discontent at the system. “So it was at that point that the Zanu-PF government realised it didn’t know what to do with the internet and they started crafting a cyber security Bill. And that Bill basically sought to criminalise the use of social media in politics and social activism, even if it is peaceful activism,” Munangatire says. He added that while the cyber security Bill had moved onto the back-burner since the 2017 military coup that removed long-time Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe from office, it has since been revived by the Mnangagwa regime, which has pushed for its urgent enactment into law.

The Zimbabwe Cyber Crime, Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill was approved by the Mnangagwa cabinet at the beginning of October 2019 and has been sent to parliament for enactment into law. The Bill has already attracted criticism for its provisions that enable a clampdown on social media. The 34-year-old Munangatire said he lives under constant and invasive state surveillance and has been arrested twice for his political activities over the years. His experiences are unfortunately not isolated ones on the African continent. The warning signs for Africa are clear and everywhere, as articulated in the CIPESA ‘State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2019’ report: “While digital authoritarianism has been in existence for decades, it is clear that its use by authoritarian regimes to surveil, repress, and manipulate domestic and foreign populations is a tool of state control over their rights. If left unchecked, democracy and internet freedom will continue to regress.”

However, according to Hunter, the situation was not all doom and gloom. “While pervasive surveillance may be a fact, we should not assume that it’s an inevitable fact,” he says. “As societies, we need to raise the political and social cost of security-statist thinking. That means helping raise public awareness of the issues and the threats and the costs of surveillance. We can march for privacy, and vote for privacy, and debate and discuss for privacy, and pay for privacy and donate for privacy and design for privacy and litigate for privacy and legislate for privacy – and we should.”

Frederico Links is a Namibian journalist, editor, researcher, trainer and activist. Research associate of Namibia’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). He is primarily concerned with democracy and governance, particularly corruption and maladministration. He is chairperson of the Access to Information in Namibia (ACTION) Coalition of civil society, media and social activists.

A rapidly changing landscape of ever increasing threats

Cyber crime: It’s a war

Cyber crime knows no boundaries and the perpetrators are constantly improving their capabilities

According to Ivory Coast’s police department in charge of cyber crime (PLCC) nearly 100 internet criminals were arrested in the country in
2018. The country is known for its Web scammers. Photo: ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

Cyber crime cost Africa an estimated $3.5 billion in 2017 alone, according to pan-African IT business advisory company Serianu, but most countries don’t have the right legislation to defend themselves from – let alone prosecute – this new form of crime. The brutal war in Yemen provides a timely example of how what might appear to be a traditional regional conflict of the type far too common in Africa and the Middle East is also one being fought in a uniquely modern way using cyber warfare and drone attacks. The conflict between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition backed by the United States, United Kingdom and France is brutally old fashioned, fought with guns, mortars and tanks, killing about 91,600 people since 2015 and displacing more than two million others, according to recent reports by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and the United Nations. But in two ways it is a very modern war; two Houthi drone strikes in September 2019 on Saudi oil facilities threatened 10% of the world’s supply, while cyber warfare is also a key part of this conflict.

Rebels also took control of Yemen’s internet service provider (ISP), Yemen Net, when they took over the capital, Sana’a, in 2015 – opening up “another front”, Allan Liska, a threat intelligence analyst at internet technology company RecordedFuture, said in an interview with Cyberscoop, an online media outlet for technology decision makers. But cyber war is not just part of an active conflict like Yemen; it is growing in Africa, too. “Cyber crime today knows no borders, and its technical capabilities are improving fast,” says Riaan Badenhorst, general manager at IT security consultants Kaspersky Africa. Moreover, cybercrime in Africa is increasing at an “exponential rate”, says Nozipho Mngomezulu, a specialist telecoms and internet partner at Johannesburg law firm Webber Wentzel. Quoting Serianu’s 2017 cyber security report, Mngomezulu says that in Africa cyber attacks hit Nigeria the hardest, with losses of $649 million, followed by Kenya with $210 million and Tanzania with $99 million.

Meanwhile, during that time, more than 95% of public and private organisations across the continent spent less than $1,500 a year on cyber-security measures, with SMEs in particular failing to invest. Mngomezulu noted that the Institute for Security Studies had found that South Africa was the target of 13,842 cyber attacks every day. “Cyber criminals currently see Africa as a safe haven, where they can conduct their operations without the fear of being held accountable,” she told Africa in Fact. “Cyber criminals view Africans as easy targets that can be easily manipulated. And most African countries are yet to catch up with the rest of the world insofar as cyber security is concerned.” Several African countries have also effectively shut down their own internet during times of crisis – including Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Chad – making it possible for repressive regimes to keep citizens from protesting, literally by cutting off their means to communicate. Social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, which are key channels for spreading information, are the most frequent targets.

In the past year WhatsApp, the messaging service owned by Facebook with over a billion users, has been “turned off” in several countries. Social media are also the most important avenues for the spread of disinformation. In September 2019 Google’s security team revealed that Apple phones had been hacked, apparently by the Chinese, to spy on the oppressed Muslim Uyghur population in that country. Not long afterwards, WhatsApp sued Israeli security firm NSO Group for attacks on about 100 users, mostly human rights activists, lawyers and journalists. Yemen has also seen a spike in malicious software, known as malware, although it is unclear whether cyber criminals intend them for espionage or criminal purposes. But “the intent for criminals to take advantage of people in a war zone, as well as nation states to do espionage … is there,” said Winnona DeSombre, a threat intelligence researcher at RecordedFuture in an interview with Cyberscoop.

One fearsome form of cyber crime with clear criminal intent is ransomware, in which hackers take control of computer systems and demand a payment to return control to their owners. In August 2019, Johannesburg’s city power utility was hacked with ransomware, while the city of Johannesburg itself was hit in October. The 2017 WannaCry ransomware attacks, which targeted several African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Egypt, Mozambique, Tanzania, Niger, Morocco and Tunisia, are thought to have hit 200,000 computers in 150 countries, and the total damage was estimated at between hundreds of millions and billions of dollars. A 2016 African Union Commission and Symantec report analysing cyber-security trends and governments’ response to them, found 34 out of the continent’s 55 countries lacked specific legal provisions to combat cyber crime, says Mngomezulu, citing also “weak infrastructure security, a lack of skilled human capital and a lack of awareness of the sector’s dynamics”.

“There is little sense of a cohesive strategy to fend off cyber attacks, little knowledge sharing, and certainly no cyber-defence capacity as part of national defences,” says Arthur Goldstuck, the managing director of South African-based researchers World Wide Worx. Meanwhile, the threat of ransomware remains as powerful as ever, while it also evolves in sophistication, says Badenhorst. Attacks on urban infrastructure, such as the recent ones on Johannesburg, are often worryingly successful, he added. They have a far-reaching impact on essential systems and processes and affect local businesses and citizens as well as the municipal or government authority itself. Kaspersky’s detection data shows that larger organisations, such as city authorities and enterprises, are the fastest growing target. The company monitored 194,803 ransomware attacks in South Africa alone in 2018. That was a 64% increase over 2017, according to the company. Meanwhile, attacks on the employees of large organisations surged 17.9% in the 12 months to May 2019.

“Phishing and malware continue to be relentless threats, leveraged by cyber criminals,” warns IBM’s Sheldon Hand, business unit leader at IBM Security, told Africa in Fact. Organisations must understand the need to educate employees about attempts to trick log-in details and other information out of them. “Unpatched vulnerabilities will continue to be exploited by attackers,” Hand adds, pointing to the need to continually update business cyber-security measures. Most African countries are “one ransomware attack away” from waking up to the need for defensive capabilities against these attacks, says Goldstuck. “The most commonly used tactic is to pray that nothing happens. However, prayer does not have a great track record in cyber security.” Meanwhile, the threat landscape is changing rapidly, with new cyber threats emerging every year. “Many organisations across all industries face unmanageable levels of threat, the risk of exposure, and an ever-growing attack surface,” says IBM’s Hand.

Retailers, particularly those with a growing online presence, continue to be vulnerable, while the finance and insurance industries are the most targeted, he says. Transportation services – including airline, bus, rail, and water forms of transport – are an increasingly attractive target for malicious actors, Hands points out, because of the industry’s reliance on information technology to facilitate operations, its ubiquitous need for integration of third party vendors, and its vast supply chain. All around Africa, at a continental level, “the lack of political urgency in enacting adequate cyber-security legislation is particularly worrying,” says Mngomezulu. Given the increasing sophistication of cyber crime and cyber warfare, and the general lack of sophistication around these problems in government and business circles, as well as among individuals, we all should be worried.

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff and a contributor to Forbes. His TED talk on innovation in Africa has over 1.4 million views, and he has been featured in the New York Times.