Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab (02 June 2017)
CAPE TOWN - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe this week highlighted something extremely important at the South Africa-Zimbabwe Bi-National Commission held in Pretoria.

He mentioned that Zimbabwe recently fell victim to cyber attacks. He said he believed that the attacks also affected Zimbabwe’s economy. Mugabe went on to request assistance, mentioning that the country did not have the skills to defend itself against such attacks.

The reality, however, is that Zimbabwe has the necessary capacity to defend itself. The skill is young Zimbabweans currently living in South Africa. Just walk into any successful tech company in South Africa and you will find that black Africans who work in those companies are from Zimbabwe. But Mugabe’s point highlights two challenges - tech skills and defence.

Had he looked at the data he would have been pleasantly surprised Zimbabwe probably ranks 3rd in tech skills behind Kenya and South Africa. The tech skills challenge is real and affects the continent’s readiness to defend itself in the cyber space.

Currently there’s no single country on the continent that has data about its digital skills. This is an area that needs serious attention if the continent is to effectively respond to security challenges brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolution. Defence is also not just a challenge for Zimbabwe. It is a challenge across the African continent. Africa is not ready to defend itself during the 4th Industrial Revolution economically and in terms of security, the continent is vulnerable.

Challenges

The Germans understand the seriousness of the challenges so much so that they have launched a cyber army, designed to have its own independent organisational structure to become the sixth branch of the military. About 14000 German soldiers and civilian contractors are currently engaged in dealing with cyber defence from a number of different locations. They have been brought together under a single entity.

The Bundeswehr (German army) has also been desperately seeking IT specialists in the labour market. It has conducted elaborate advertising campaigns in order to pitch the army as an attractive and modern IT employer. Africa needs a continental response to protect itself against any form of attack that may destroy the economy.

Recently, this column highlighted a different kind of threat that is confronting the continent. It predicted that if nothing is done to preserve African languages online they will just disappear. As such, there is a need to develop young people who will defend the continent online. The first step in this regard is working towards an understanding of digital skills that exists on the continent. Understanding this would inform the process and the type of skills that need to be harnessed with an interest of defending the continent online.

Lab process

The Independent Media Lab is beginning a process of creating such a force as part of its efforts to safeguard the African digital space. A team of young people has begun a process of defending the continent online by translating Wordpress into African languages. This process will be extended to other platforms online.

The next step in this regard will be to focus on the African reputation on platforms such as the Wikipedia. Currently Wikipedia has lots of inaccurate information about Africa, such as its people, organisations and historical records. The Lab will focus on ensuring that Africa is well represented online.

The Independent Media Lab is in search of organisations that are also interested in protecting the African digital space. Universities,organisations, technologists and entrepreneurs and governments are invited to work with us firstly in translating the internet into African languages, improving the African reputation online and by nurturing future African technology leaders.

As part of this process The Infonomist platform will develop an African Technology skills data which will inform decision makers about people that can be useful in developing the African digital space.

The elder statesman of Africa, President Mugabe, has issued an important challenge that should receive the attention of the African Union. Imminent cyber attacks should not be a concern of a single country.

All African countries should collaborate in setting up a continent-wide defence platform by nurturing young technology people. Once this process is in place, data about Africa’s digital skills should always be maintained to inform training needs as technology evolves.

Wesley Diphoko is head of the Independent Media Lab and the founder of the Kaya Labs. Follow him on Twitter: @WesleyDiphoko

- BUSINESS REPORT