Thursday 8 September 2016

SumVoices: Africa Rising - West Africa's Cybersecurity Challenge

Our last installment of SumVoices featured Pakistani lawyer and activist Yassir Latif Hamdani. This month we bring you insight from Ghanaian blogger Ibrahim.

Ghanaian flag and map
[Source: BOLDG/]
Cybersecurity remains a challenge within the West Africa sub-region. Cybersecurity is the protection of information systems from theft or damage to hardware, software, and to the information on them, as well as from disruption or misdirection of the services they provide. The upsurge in cybercrime among West African nations is no longer a mystery but a reality that has come to stay. The growing phenomenon of cyber crime is having a negative impact on socio-economic activities in a way that raises a lot of concerns for stakeholders involved in cybersecurity. As the internet, networked systems, and the use of mobile phones expand throughout sub-Saharan Africa, nations are grappling with multiplying cybercrime threats. Most cyber laws over the period sought to address issues such as mobile security, computer forensics, strengthening national laws, building emergency response teams and ensuring that comprehensive national cybersecurity plans promote internet freedom and respect for civil rights.

The Economist
, the International Business Times and organizations such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) have asserted that Africa is home to some of the world’s most rapidly growing economies. This new Africa, captured by the aphorism “Africa rising”, is reflected in the continent’s expanding middle class and rapid adoption of mobile technology. According to recent estimates by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the number of mobile subscribers reached 63 percent in 2013, and more than 16 percent of the African population are now using the internet. Furthermore, it is estimated that the global value of web-based retail sales for 2013 amounted to $963 billion, while business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales for the same period totaled $1.3 trillion. Although the e-commerce market is dominated by developed economies, the global share of e-commerce for the Middle East and Africa is expected to rise from 1.6 percent in 2011 to 2.3 percent by 2016.

A recent study by the International Data Group Connect investigating the state of cyber threats in various regions of Africa, with particular emphasis on Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, shows that there is a strong correlation between cybersecurity and economic growth. Traditionally, West Africa has a high rate of software piracy. According to a 2011 study, the average rate of software piracy in the region is about 73 percent, with little change in recent years. In addition to the financial loss — $1.785 billion —, the high level of use of unauthorized software is likely to aggravate the region’s virus and malware woes.

The study by the International Data Group Connect estimates that annually, cybercrimes cost the South African economy $573 million, the Nigerian economy $200 million, and the Kenyan economy $36 million. It is important to understand that no one person or institution can have the requisite capacity to deal with cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is not an event but rather a process. As a result, it is not simply a matter of passing legislation, or something that belongs to lawyers only. Members of Parliament, lawyers, the judiciary, intelligence/military, civil society, media, young people and members of the public as key stakeholders should all be involved in efforts to deal with cybersecurity at the earliest available opportunity. It is important to engage all stakeholders to ensure the necessary buying and that they understand the issues and processes involved. 

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