Africa needs a dig­i­tal army – ur­gently

Sunday Express - - HAVE YOUR SAY -

ZiM­BaB­WEan President Robert Mu­gabe this past 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 lan- guages. 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.

Diphoko is head of the In­de­pen­dent Me­dia Lab and the founder of the Kaya Labs.

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.

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