A man uses his smartphone as he stands near a billboard for Chinese technology firm Huawei in Beijing. File picture: Mark Schiefelbein/AP
A man uses his smartphone as he stands near a billboard for Chinese technology firm Huawei in Beijing. File picture: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Huawei sows its technology seeds in African market

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 11, 2020

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By Paul Tembe

The US opposition to Huawei 5G technologies coupled with recent ban by the UK go beyond the so-called security threats to their national securities.

The opposition to Huawei including TikTok social media platform has become part of the latest China-US diplomatic spat. The crisis has escalated into a tit-for-tat between the two nations. The US has taken to accusing China of engaging in the so-called “wolf-warrior diplomacy”.

However, a closer reading of the crisis points at attempts to cover up inabilities in dealing with the spread of Covid-19 in the US. An even closer look reveals tendencies towards a geopolitical tussle reminiscent of the Cold-War era. Short term, it is a tussle aimed at preventing Huawei from having a larger footprint among Western nations. Long term it aims to prevent Huawei from having a dominant position in future potential markets, especially among the youth of the developing nations.

The US rhetoric against Huawei has tended to include an even wider anti-China message meant to go beyond the Western world. The rhetoric is delivered as a warning against China's presence in Africa. The move is meant to dissuade African nations from engaging with China and block advances of Huawei in Africa.

South Africa as China's largest trading partner on the continent has a crucial role to play on how the US-China crisis pans out on the African continent. South Africa needs to abandon tendencies towards lukewarm straddle-diplomacy rationale and focus on partnerships that stand to offer maximum benefits to its long-term developmental goals.

The track record of network infrastructure roll out by Huawei on the African continent speaks for itself.

Huawei is probably the most enthusiastic advocate and practitioner in introducing the latest 5G technologies to African markets.

Despite opposition, criticism and being a newcomer to African telecoms industry, Huawei has managed to establish its brand and services on the African continent.

How did Huawei succeed such a feat within a short space of time? Huawei has made sure that it has in place business models and engagements that make emphasis on knowledge transfer and corporate social investment (CSI), instead of the usual corporate social responsibility (CSR).

There is evidence that Huawei engages in forward-looking inclusive business model. It is a type that one may refer to as Empowerment Corporate Social Investment. Huawei has tended to distance itself from the customary "corporate social responsibility" aimed at short-term tax rebate and public relations stunt.

Huawei has made sure to engage in activities that benefit and add value for communities where it operates. It has ensured digital up-skilling of ICT professionals. In co-operation with local telecoms operators in South Africa it has trained more than 80000 engineers upgrade their ICT skills.

Up to present more than 15000 students that have received Huawei ICT training. These students have gone on to join the Huawei Seeds for the Future programme Through these unprecedented initiatives Huawei is planting a seed for creating a technical savvy workforce for the future.

The CSI model implemented by Huawei has an inclusive and greater quantifier effect sought by developmental needs of all nations on the continent. It is a model that if replicated and emulated into other areas of economic and social development may help with harvesting young brains and help retain African youth on the continent.

Given such a background, it is clear that Huawei stands to play a crucial role in advances towards heightened China-Africa relationships and co-operation. Current Covid-19 crisis and the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution present further opportunities for Huawei to play an even greater role on the development of the African continent.

* Tembe is associate professor at the Institute of African Studies Zhejiang Normal University. Jinhua, China. He is also based at the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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