Cameron Hudson, a former US government official who is now a senior associate at the CSIS Africa think tank, said there is certainly a battle over control of information in Africa. “Washington believes that any country using Huawei or other Chinese telecoms technology makes those countries susceptible to Chinese state intelligence,” Hudson said.
He said the US will continue to try to dissuade countries from using Huawei technologies, “but at the same time Washington is offering African countries no credible alternatives and is not able to direct US telecoms companies to try to enter the Africa market”.
The US is putting US$300 million into financing, building and operating data centres across Africa, Blinken announced in Pretoria as he unveiled the US strategy for sub-Saharan Africa.
A senior policy analyst with the China team at the US Institute of Peace, Henry Tugendhat said this is all about the next frontier of technological competition in Africa: cloud computing.
“African markets need cloud computing services at ever increasing rates, and it’s already been a huge growth market on the continent in the past three years alone,” he said.
But even with this increased demand, a lot of the biggest cloud service providers have been slow to move in until those markets become more profitable for them, Tugendhat said.
“I see Blinken’s announcements as a nudge and support to US cloud service providers to dive in and ride this wave of African demand,” he said.
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On the business side, he said all of these newly built subsea cables will go through data centres at their landing points and hyperscale cloud service providers will seek to capitalise on the traffic flowing through those transit points.
“This competition is first and foremost played out between the businesses themselves; e.g., AWS, [Microsoft] Azure, Alibaba [the South China Morning Post’s parent company], Tencent, Huawei and Google,” Tugendhat said. “But there are certainly geo-political ramifications to those companies’ operations and infrastructure.”
Kenyan journalist Jevans Nyabiage is South China Morning Post’s first Africa correspondent. Based in Nairobi, Jevans keeps an eye on China-Africa relations and also Chinese investments, ranging from infrastructure to energy and metal, on the continent.