The Digital Silk Road is viewed by the Chinese Communist Party as a key sector to prevent global digital connections from being dominated by any Western country.
China is supporting digital projects in Africa that integrate artificial intelligence, the internet, and big data because their success creates a new 1.2 billion market for digital goods provided by the country. Chinese President Xi Jinping promised that Beijing would fund ten digital economy projects over the next three years.
In a speech titled “Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC),” Chinese President Xi Jinping promised that Beijing would fund ten digital economy projects over the next three years. President Xi featured in his speech the Digital Silk Road (DSR), a global connectivity model that was part of the Chinese global infrastructural plan under the Belt and Road Initiative of 2015.
DSR cuts across 5G, data centers, e-commerce, smart cities, smartphones, undersea fiber optic cables, IoT, artificial intelligence, and fintech.
FOCAC was held in Dakar, Senegal, where China is building and funding a data centre intended to host data and digital platforms for the government of Senegal. This project is intended to move the country’s data from servers in the United States and Europe.
The data centre is receiving supplies for construction and equipment from Huawei Technologies. The project is estimated to cost US$79 million and is funded by a loan from the Chinese government. Macky Sall, the President of Senegal, has said that the centre will improve the digital sovereignty of his country.
An associate analyst from the Observer Research Foundation in India, Abishek Mishra, said that the project was imperative as Senegal would be the first country to use a data governance model similar to the superpower, China. He, however, warned that the project had an absolute downside where the country’s digital framework entirely depended on Chinese technology.
Huawei puts China in a data superiority position in its involvement in countries’ sensitive information.
China is establishing dominance in digital models. In June, Nigeria banned and dumped Twitter in the country, and has drawn parallels with China in their censorship model development. According to Abishek, the data centre in Senegal is one of the many being built by Chinese firms to help Africa keep up with social and economic changes that are pressuring the infrastructure on the continent.
An estimate from The Africa Data Centres Association says 1000MW capacity and 700 new centres need to be constructed to achieve sustainability.
Huawei has pioneered the construction of multi-million dollar centres and cloud services in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Togo, Mali, Madagascar, and Mozambique. It has already laid a 5G network line in Kenya and South Africa, while trials are ongoing in other African countries. The current 4G network has been highly dependent on Huawei support.
In a move that could define China’s dominance in internet communications infrastructure, Chinese companies-China Mobile, Hengton Group, and HMN Tech-are involved in the instalment of two undersea fibre optic cables. The two cables are:
- The Peace cable: a 15,000-kilometre-long cable that connects Pakistan to Eastern Africa via Kenya and France. The owners, Peace Cable International Network, a subsidiary of Hengton Group, plan to extend it to South Africa in the second phase.
- 2Africa: The 37,000km cable is under construction and is expected to serve Africa, Europe, China, and the Middle East. The project is estimated to cost $1 billion and should go live in 2023 or the first half of 2024.
Mishra says that the Digital Silk Road is viewed by the Chinese Communist Party as a key sector to prevent global digital connectivity from being dominated by any Western country. He adds that China is supporting digital projects in Africa that integrate artificial intelligence, the internet, and big data because their success creates a new 1.2 billion market for digital goods provided by the country.
China’s widening tech investments in Africa can be attributed to political rivalries with the United States and other countries that banned the use of Huawei in their countries on account of security accusations, which stated that the company was allowing the Chinese government access to confidential information. Huawei has denied Washington’s allegations.
The concentration in Africa has also been accelerated by the turndown of 5G technology in Europe, India (which has banned 59 apps from China) and Southern Asia. This could put Africa in the middle of superpower rivalries.
Huawei has emerged as Africa’s biggest network provider. It has also been China’s vision bearer of the government’s objective to attain global dominance in 5G.