Editor’s Note: American industry should take particular note of the following statement from the article below, “this year’s ITU report found that young people on the continent are about 2.3 times as likely to use the Internet as the overall population, a ratio higher in Africa than in any other region on earth.”
By Jacey Fortin
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The African Union is gearing up to discuss a brand new security initiative for the continent, one that has the potential to improve safety for hundreds of millions. But this decision has nothing to do with the violence and turmoil currently upending countries like South Sudan, the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of the Congo — instead, its focus is on Internet crime.
This is an issue that barely registers for most on the continent, where only about 16 percent of people – and just 6.7 percent of households – have Internet access, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU. A 2013 report from the organization ranked countries around the world in Internet accessibility and affordability, and all 22 of the worst-ranking countries were African. For a continent plagued by food insecurity, conflict and poverty, telecommunications issues are often a low priority – which could be why the latest draft of the “African Union Convention on the Confidence and Security in Cyberspace” has been in the works for four years.
The new regulatory framework is scheduled for a vote at the next AU summit here in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa in late January. Its supporters argue that cybercrime is a growing scourge across the continent, due in part to rising Internet usage, a lack of regulation and limited opportunities to make money, which spurs some to turn to criminal activities – like advance-fee scams and phishing schemes – in order to get ahead. “Cyberspace has become the center of gravity as far as national security is concerned,” Tim Akano, CEO of the IT company New Horizon Nigeria, told SciDev.Net. “A country without cyber warriors, without a national cybersecurity center, is like a nation in the 1940s in Europe without national soldiers. The funding has not been felt.”
The continent’s largest economy, South Africa, has already seen 70 percent of its Internet users affected by cybercrime, according to a report this year from Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC). The second-largest economy, Nigeria, is infamous for its so-called 411 scams wherein criminals pose as wealthy account-holders who need help transferring funds. Internet usage may be low overall, but setting up a framework early could be a smart move considering Africa’s youth bulge, especially since this year’s ITU report found that young people on the continent are about 2.3 times as likely to use the Internet as the overall population, a ratio higher in Africa than in any other region on earth.