Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of co-authoring a so-titled paper with Dr. Iginio Gagliardone, for the The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). It was a useful exercise in analysing the efforts to enhance cybersecurity in the region, with an initial focus on Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Below is the paper’s executive summary, and the paper can be read or downloaded here.
This study analyses continuities and discontinuities of collective efforts toward enhanced cyber security in Eastern Africa, with a particular focus on Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Focusing on the challenges that have followed the contours of East Africa’s distinctive digital cultures, it challenges the view that cyber-security and cyber-resilience are simply technical problems that can be solved by reducing the gap with more technically advanced nations. On the contrary it shows how cyber-security is a inherently political challenge and that, in the absence of adequate checks and balances, the increasing securitization of domestic and international politics may require costly trade-offs with individual and collective freedoms.
Three concepts are suggested – emulation, extraversion, and enculturation – that can serve to better capture how Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia have respectively answered emerging cyber-threats. These concepts, rather than adding to the already abundant jargon in this area, are simply meant to encourage analysts to pay greater attention to how in each national context the technical, social and political interact in unique ways and produce distinctive outcomes. In Kenya public and private actors have sought to live up to international standards, keeping up with the country’s reputation as a regional ICT powerhouse, but it is unclear how such an ambitious agenda will find concrete applications. Ethiopia displays higher risks that the need to guarantee better cyber-security can further legitimize repressive measures in the new media sector. Finally in Somalia, in the absence of a functioning state, hybrid solutions have been found that connect traditional practices and new technologies to offer some level of certainty to individuals using services that are vital for the life in the region, such as local and international payments over mobile phones.