A company of that nature must definitely be guided by firm laid principles that can’t be bent easily for short-term political benefits
By Justin Ojangole
For the last six decades and a half, starting 1954, China has anchored its non-interventionist foreign policy on its “Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence”. These are mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.
So you can imagine the shock that officials in both the Chinese government and private sector must have felt when they read a report in the Wall Street Journal that employees of the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei Technologies, uses its equipment and expertise to help governments in Uganda and Zambia spy on their respective opposition politicians.
In the particular case of Uganda, the story claimed that the surveillance acts were focused on tapping the telephone conversations and WhatsApp communications of Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine, who has expressed interest in contesting for the presidency in the 2021 general elections.
However, because the Chinese are not the most vocal people in the world, beyond refuting the contents of the article, they are unlikely to go the extra length to explain their side of the story and challenge many of the unsubstantiated claims in that report. But since I have interacted a lot with Chinese nationals at a personal and official levels, as well as visited China a number of times (including Huawei’s global headquarters), I have taken it upon myself to share what I know to clear the air.
Now, let’s go past the claims in the Wall Street Journal article and shift our focus to the company that stands accused of aiding the spying activities of the two countries’ governments.
The respected global news agency, Reuters, describes Huawei as the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and second-largest maker of smartphones, with revenue of about $8 billion last year. Today, Huawei operates in more than 170 countries, employing over 180,000 people.
A company of that nature must definitely be guided by firm laid principles that can’t be bent easily for short-term political benefits. A company of that magnitude has its values, standards and code of conducts that cannot be compromised for cheap local politics.
Indeed, if some employees were to be found to have aided any form of spying in their individual capacities, then they would have gone against the company’s ethos and would be punished accordingly.
Personally, I had the opportunity to visit the Huawei headquarters in the south-eastern Chinese city of Shenzhen in 2016. What impressed me was to meet a considerable number of Ugandans students among several African students who were attending ICT training at the company technology nerve centre. It was later that I discovered that Huawei has a programme called
“Seeds for the future,” which is intended to develop and empower young talented African university students with ICT training and skills. This is done annually.
In Uganda, Huawei has also collaborated with Uganda universities by supporting students with ICT training (sometimes at their Uganda headquarters) and scholarships. This does not only create employment opportunities, but it also exposes several other Ugandan technology enthusiasts and experts to the technologies that the company uses in its global business.
If such a company was doing underhand work with African governments, I doubt they would be freely taking on and training Africans of all political hues to know their deep technological secrets. Don’t you think someone would have cried wolf by now, especially in a politically diverse continent such as Africa?
My own take is that the article targeting Huawei is part of an aggressive political smear campaign by the American government and its businesses, which have found that they are playing second fiddle to their Chinese counterparts in very many spheres of business around the world.
WSJ attack on Huawei can easily be explained by Huawei advert of 2016. The advert captures moments when a Congolese fisherman lunges forward with his massive net to snare fish in the raging waters of the Lualaba River. He chooses the right spot, stays focused amidst the turbulence water, and at the vital moment catches his prey but maintaining his foot to avoid being swept away by the water currency.
Gone are the days when western media organisations and technology companies would load it over the rest of the world and enjoy business monopoly in lucrative industries. These days, for every CNN or BBC from the west, there is Al Jazeera (Qatar), RT (Russia) and CGTN (China) which offer alternative viewpoints on global issues. For every Apple or Nokia (Sweden), there is Huawei (China) or Samsung (South Korea) and for every Twitter or WhatsApp platform there is a Weibo or WeChat from another corner of the world.
The emergence of these alternatives greatly disturbs the western companies and their government. Matters haven’t been helped by the revelation that Huawei is leading the race to roll out 5G mobile technologies around the world, which promises super-fast Internet access. This is something that greatly disturbs the United States as its own companies are lagging behind.
Because of China’s excellence in global business, the United States has sought all ways of applying pressure on Chinese companies and reducing their influence. Little wonder then that between June and August this year, China has endured negative international press. It started with the 30th anniversary of 1989 Tiananmen Square Protest, then the Hong Kong riots, negative social media stories and now the recent attack on Huawei.
However, Ugandans and other citizens of Africa now have access to enough information to not be able to fall for propaganda. They see who is working directly with them to help improve their lives and they see who works with their governments to develop policies that more often than not cripple their efforts to improve their lives. They know who enslaved them and took away their wealth, but is not comfortable to see them working closely with another group of formerly oppressed people who have found a way to come good on their own and could teach them a thing or two about self-sustainability.
Recently, when addressing a delegation from India and Myanmar, the President of China, Xi Jinping, said, “The destiny of the world must be determined by people of all countries, and world affairs should be managed through consultation by governments and peoples of all countries. The notion of dominating international affairs belongs to a different age, and such an attempt is doomed to failure. No one is superior or inferior to others.”
China has, through its non-interference, non-interventionist policy, treated Africans as equals and has sought win-win engagements at all levels. Why is the western world getting jittery now that Africa is receiving, from someone else, the kind of support it has needed to improve its skills levels and develop its infrastructure that the west has always been uncomfortable to offer?
The writer is a publisher of China–Uganda magazine and a member of China–Africa Friendship Association.