Huawei Strengthens Its Hold on Africa Despite U.S.-Led Boycott

August 19, 2020

Even as Europeans and Asians join Trump’s ban, the Chinese company continues to prosper from the continent’s move toward 5G.

By Loni Prinsloo

A year ago in June, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa got a letter that painted an alarming picture of his country’s economic prospects. The leaders of the country’s four largest telecommunications companies wrote that South Africa risked “unintended and harmful consequences” from President Trump’s plans to bar Chinese network equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co. from doing business with U.S. companies. The leaders implored Ramaphosa to undertake an “urgent intervention” to avoid damaging fallout to South Africa and the rest of continent.

Ramaphosa soon threw his weight behind the request and defended Huawei, calling it a victim of the U.S. trade war with China. “We support a company that is going to take our country, and indeed the world, to better technologies, and that is 5G,” he said at an economics summit. “We cannot afford to have our economy to be held back because of this fight.”

Kenya, Ethiopia, and other countries across the region have followed Ramaphosa’s example, and Huawei hasn’t lost a single order in Africa, where the company has been operating for more than two decades and has become a central pillar of the continent’s growth ambitions.


As the 5G buildout begins, U.S. government officials warn that Huawei could use its growing share of the telecommunications equipment market to spy for China, though Huawei denies any spying or even talking with the Chinese government, let alone acting on its behalf. Executives insist it’s a private company, owned by employees, not the state. But in Africa, too, there have been allegations of improper behavior.

In Uganda, government officials worked with Huawei technicians to infiltrate the WhatsApp messages of a political opponent, according to the Wall Street Journal, a report the country’s government and Huawei deny. Similar allegations of intelligence gathering have surfaced in Zambia and Algeria. Huawei has denied that spying took place.

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