Many people in Africa are able to connect to the internet today because of the affordable Chinese smartphones. Only a Significant number can afford Samsung and Apple products. With Google’s decision to withhold its Android software from Huawei, it may have an effect on sales in Africa, thereby causing Africans to choose between US and Chinese technology.
The ensuing trade war could be an opportunity for Huawei to fast track the use of its own software and leverage on the African market. Apparently, it wouldn’t be easy or cheap to build this capacity. It would mean locking down WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Android OS, Skype, Google, YouTube, and requiring the customers to compulsorily choose Baidu over Google and Weibo over Twitter. Exporting the closed internet model from China is a hard nut to crack; an almost impossible journey.
Maybe the African market might not choose after all, it may always be an open choice for them- they might have the access to different products to choose from, and if this is so, Huawei may struggle for too long.
President Trump has been leading a campaign, urging the countries’ allies to end their ties with the Chinese owned tech firm, accusing the company of military espionage. Huawei has repeatedly denied claims of having ties with Beijing and will not leverage on its technology to spy on the countries it worked for.
About making a choice between both warring factions, Harriet Kariuki, a Sino-African relations specialist told the BBC that it’s not a call for the African consumers to begin taking sides. Instead, they should focus on whatever works and agree on EU- type data protection law that would protect the consumers.
“This is probably the time African considers developing its own technologies relevant to its market instead of being passive consumers. I want to see African countries come together and push back against this creeping digital colonisation.”
Huawei has a long-standing operation in Africa. It first launched its operations in 1998 in Kenya and currently operates in 40 African countries. Thanks to Chinese tech firms like Infinix and Tecno, internet is available all over Africa and more than half of the time, it was built by the tech giant, Huawei. The tech firm also has to its credit at least 50% of Africa’s 4G network and keeps providing technology for smart city projects.
Prior to the trade war escalation which was spurred by tariff hikes, the tech giant was saddled with the responsibility to upgrade the US’s current network to 5G which is touted as the internet that will power internet of things in smart cities such as self-drive automobiles, drones, airplanes, and more.
Huawei’s dominance in Africa and its relationship with the government in the different regions will come handy if the current trade war between China and the US threatens the consumer market in Africa. The only worry would be about locking down the Google ecosystem. Huawei CEO says the company is already working to build replacements.