Cyber diplomacy in Africa and digital transformation

8 Dec 2021 10:15h - 11:45h

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Africa is the least digitised region in the world and must develop its critical infrastructure: that is the reason why more cybersecurity is needed. Cyber diplomacy is considered to be a bridge to Africa’s Digital Transformation, a program launched in February 2020 and expected to last until 2040. 

The Malabo Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data protection, adopted in 2014, provides fundamental principles and guidelines to ensure a safe digital environment. As Ms Margaret Nyambura Ndung’u (Senior ICT Regulatory and Internet Governance Expert, African Union Commission – PRIDA TA) pointed out, to date only 15 countries have ratified the Malabo Convention. 

Could cyber diplomacy unlock the ratification of the Malabo Convention, in the digital space through international law and cooperation?

Ms Nnenna Ifeanyi-Ajufo (Senior Lecturer, Swansea University, United Kingdom) agreed that cyber diplomacy is a necessary strategy to push more states towards the ratification of the Malabo Convention. Cyber attacks go beyond a state’s borders, and Africa must ensure cooperation and proper development of compatible and harmonised cybersecurity laws. It is vital that African leaders are aware of the significance of international agreements, conventions, and treaties and, as in other countries, they become relevant to the extent in which the agreements are domesticated. 

Ms Nnenna Ifeanyi-Ajufo explained that ‘international standards collide with the realities of developing states, particularly for states in the African region where we are the end of the digital divide and lack the capacity skills to ensure cyber governance. We need mechanisms such as cyber diplomacy to implement international norms and rules of cyberspace in the continent’.

Why is cyber diplomacy important for the African continent? 

Mr Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola (Chair, African Union Cyber Security Expert Group (AUCSEG) and Commissioner, Global Commission for the Security of Cyberspace) stressed that African leaders lack understanding of the opportunities and challenges of cybersecurity and, in more concrete terms, cyber diplomacy. The international community is building norms and these will have consequences for Africa. Therefore, it is crucial for Africa to be at the table, engaging with its partners as an empowered peer. He pointed out thatcyber, like other global environments, is only as strong as the weakest link, so it is imperative that Africa will not be that weak link’, meaning that if one wants to protect digital development in Africa, it is only achievable by positively empowering all people around the world. Young people would be the primary beneficiaries of employment prospects that a cybersecurity domain can create; it could allow them to work from home and generate foreign revenues that a significant number of African countries are desperately seeking. 

How can African States prepare for processes?

Mr Vladimir Radunovic (Director, E-diplomacy and Cybersecurity, DiploFoundation) spoke about preparing the African region and protecting the interest from decision makers, because, generally, they do not know much about cyber diplomacy. Radunovic offered the example of elections to explain the reality. In the USA, cybersecurity is a hot topic and can win elections, while in Africa, cyber issues are not a topic on the agenda. For cybersecurity to have a prominence, we need to reframe the discussion; we need to connect cybersecurity to finance because these topics affect people’s lives and concern politicians. Hence, the first step is to find the connections of cybersecurity with other problems. The second issue is that African states are underrepresented in global forums related to cyber discussions. The key is to appoint someone, whether on the level of Ambassador or lower, to dig into these topics. 

According to Radunovic, ‘cyber diplomacy is not just for diplomats.  It could be shocking because diplomacy used to be a certain area of privilege with learning and participation.  It is not any more. There is a great potential with the people that are not officials, but they are underscored. So instead of focusing just on officials, we should enlist people and get them on board’.

What are the ongoing initiatives by the European Union (EU) to promote cyber diplomacy in Africa?

Mr Pearse O’Donohue (Director for Future Networks, European Commission, DG CONNECT) mentioned Cyber Direct, a cyber diplomacy effort, which has the potential to connect to a secure and human rights based international cyberspace. Policy and Regulation Initiative for Digital Africa (PRIDA), a joint initiative of the EU and International Telecommunications Union, enables the EU to provide practical and financial support to experts. The EU has a Program of Action with regard to advancing responsibility and responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. In 2022, the EU will launch an initiative to promote the open and free internet in Africa, working with African partners. 

By Kristina Hojstricova

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