A year ago in June, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa got a letter that painted an alarming picture of his country’s economic prospects. The leaders of the country’s four largest telecommunications companies wrote that South Africa risked “unintended and harmful consequences” from President Trump’s plans to bar Chinese network equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co. from doing business with U.S. companies. The leaders implored Ramaphosa to undertake an “urgent intervention” to avoid damaging fallout to South Africa and the rest of continent.
Ramaphosa soon threw his weight behind the request and defended Huawei, calling it a victim of the U.S. trade war with China. “We support a company that is going to take our country, and indeed the world, to better technologies, and that is 5G,” he said at an economics summit. “We cannot afford to have our economy to be held back because of this fight.”
South Africa’s data-only mobile network, Rain, introduced its first commercial stand-alone 5G network, which teamed with the Chinese company. Huawei has also joined with local telecoms firm MTN Group to launch 5G in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.
Kenya is expected to follow suit this year after the country’s largest telco, Safaricom, conducted pilot tests for Huawei’s new mobile internet technology.
Several other countries – including Lesotho, Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal, Morocco, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon – have conducted tests and are at various stages of roll-out of 5G, which promises much faster download and upload times.
But as the West shuns Huawei, analysts say it will continue to be a primary telecoms provider in Africa.
Last month, the British government reversed its decision to allow Huawei’s equipment and technology to be used in the UK’s 5G networks. This was seen as a response to a US-led campaign to shut the vendor out of global networks amid a wider clash between Washington and Beijing.
The United States has blacklisted Huawei’s products, and Washington has asked its partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom – to ditch Huawei. The US sees Huawei as a national security threat because of its suspected close ties to the Chinese government. The company has vehemently denied the claims.
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