Chinese Firms Driving AI Surveillance in Africa

According to a recent study, AI is being increasingly used to monitor and track citizens. With at least 80 out of the 175 countries surveyed, actively using AI for surveillance purposes, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. These include a range of technologies from smart policing tools to facial recognition systems. The distribution of these systems is dominated by Chinese firms headed by Huawei which has supplied these technologies to over 52 states globally.

Graphical Respresentation of extent of Huawei’s initiatives in Africa, Source: Huawei web

Graphical Respresentation of extent of Huawei’s initiatives in Africa, Source: Huawei web


However, at the same time, African countries are severely lagging behind in adopting AI to monitor citizens with less than 20% investing in these systems. This is partly due to barriers of low internet connectivity. Yet these barriers are being radically overcome by Chinese firms as they offer soft loans for African governments to purchase their technologies. A recent example was when Huawei helped install video systems that deployed 1,900 HD cameras and 180 HD traffic surveillance systems across Nairobi. Another recent example was when the Chinese firm CloudWalk oversaw large-scale facial recognition program in collaboration with Zimbabwe.

However, there has been some concern over this surge in surveillance in African countries with critics questioning e.g. data privacy. With some even suggesting China is imposing its censorship ideals in many African states through this increased surveillance and monitoring. Furthermore, this increased surveillance powered by Chinese firms has provoked domestic issues such as suppression of China’s minority of ethnic Uyghur Muslims through technology.

Tools being used to accomplish a range of policy objectives—some lawful, others that violate human rights, and many of which fall into a murky middle ground.
— Steven Feldstein

To conclude, these collaborations between Chinese firms and African nations offer a fiscally possible strategy for African nations to reduce crime and implement technological infrastructure. However, there are also key moral concerns such as data privacy and African nations should be wary with many recent controversies such as when Huawei installed technology for the African Union intending to monitor the continental body.

Huawei, SecurityArun Singh Dhillon