The Ugandan government has described as “false” allegations that it connived with Chinese technology company Huawei to hack into the encrypted communications of musician-turned-MP and opposition leader Bobi Wine.
“In Uganda we run a transparent democratic system. The opposition politicians speak their mind openly… there is no need to use underhand methods to find out what they are saying,” Ugandan government spokesman Ofowno Opondo told BBC Focus on Africa TV.
The BBC said when challenged that Uganda had been accused of spying on opponents in the past, Mr Opondo said “there will always be bad apples in the system”.
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An investigation by The Wall Street Journal found that Ugandan officials worked with technicians from telecoms company Huawei to infiltrate the politician’s WhatsApp chat group named Firebase crew after his band.
The investigation found that authorities then “scuppered his plans to organize street rallies” and arrested Bobi Wine and his supporters.
Huawei described the allegations as “unfounded and inaccurate”.
It also dismissed allegations that its representatives were involved in similar intelligence-gathering operations in Zambia and Algeria.
The Chinese tech giant has been under scrutiny for its alleged links to the Chinese government.
The U.S. government has been warning in recent times that Huawei’s technology could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.
But the Wall Street Journal’s investigation did not conclude that Chinese authorities were involved in the latest espionage saga in Uganda and Zambia and probably in several other African companies such as Cameroon where China is deeply involved.
It was not also able to establish that Huawei executives in China backed the dangerous spying.
Still, the report shows the extent to which Chinese employees are ready to use technology to spy on African opponents and governments, and also how African dictatorial regimes are ready to seek and accept help from China to crush opposition and destroy democracy on the continent.
Huawei Technologies is a Chinese multinational technology company headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, that provides telecommunications equipment and sells consumer electronics, including smartphones.
Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, Huawei initially focused on manufacturing phone switches before expanding its business to include building telecommunications networks, providing operational and consulting services and equipment to enterprises inside and outside of China, and manufacturing communications devices for the consumer market.Advertisements
Huawei, which is present in more than 170 countries and serves at least 45 of the 50 largest telecom operators, has almost 200, 000 employees around the world with around 76,000 of them engaged in Research & Development (R&D).
The investigation found out that Huawei employees used cell data to track the location and intercept encrypted communications and social media of opposition figures in the two countries. They then provided the information to the governments to monitor and track them.
The Wall Street Journal report said Huawei technicians working in Uganda’s police headquarters office used Pegasus spyware made by Israeli company NSO Group to crack into the encrypted messages of a rapper-turned-activist named Bobi Wine.
The Wall Street Journal later corrected its original report to reflect that Uganda was using software that resembles the Pegasus software from NSO, not the actual Pegasus software itself.
Security sources told WSJ that a cyber team based at the Ugandan police headquarters asked the Huawei technicians for help after failing to access the encrypted messages using the spyware.
The NSO Group disputed the idea its Pegasus software is being used in this way in a statement to CNBC: “The WSJ article is wrong. And we told them that very clearly when they asked us. We don’t work with Huawei at all. We don’t do business with Uganda, at all. And only NSO sells Pegasus — no one else does.”
In a statement, a Huawei spokesperson told CNBC the company has “never been engaged in ‘hacking’ activities.”
“After a thorough and detailed internal investigation on the points raised by the WSJ’s reporting team, Huawei rejects completely these unfounded and inaccurate allegations against our business operations in Algeria, Uganda and Zambia,” according to the statement