Cybercrime seems to be wreaking havoc across the African continent, amid a pulsating episode of digital explosion.

In September 2020, Kaspersky reported that Africa had registered a total of 28 million cyberattacks between January and August 2020.

In the face of such alarming figures, many observers believe in Africa the threat of cybercrime is not being taken seriously in spite of the damage it is already doing to their economies. 

An international summit on cybersecurity which was due to take place on 25-26 October in Lome, the capital of Togo (West Africa), was cancelled at the last-minute without explanations or any reasons given.

In a vulnerable continent such as Africa, which has a weak, outdated infrastructure and is struggling to develop, and at the same time spend less, little or nothing on ICTs, experts strongly believe that there could be serious consequences if cybercriminals were to deliver a huge blow to its computerised systems.

Poorva Karkare, Policy Officer at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), told BizTech Africa this week: “In a context where digital revolution is increasingly being leveraged to bring about development in different aspects of life, there could be serious repercussions.

“These include in generating confidence among the population (consumers and beneficiaries) to share their data with governments or private entities.” 

Many industry watchers have suggested that Africa is trailing many continents on cybersecurity, which they say is seriously lacking in many public and private organisations in Africa, including the SMEs.  

An African government source told BizTech Africa that cybersecurity was too expensive, and needed huge investments. That, the source added, could be the fundamental reason why many public and private organisations chose to simply ignore it, though they were doing it at their own risk.

Karkare echoed the source’s sentiments, saying: “Africa is lagging behind and much more is needed to be done, but issues around costs are indeed valid. 

“Rather than having the best legislation (but no implementation capacities), it may be better to identify specific problems which are most relevant in the African context and try to focus legislative, as well as implementation efforts on those resolving those. 

“This would require more diagnostic studies on what the situation on the continent looks like.” 

Asked why Africa seems to be downplaying the issue of cybersecurity unlike, for instance, in Europe where governments seem to be flexing their muscles, Karkare replied: “It remains unclear how big a threat it actually is – either because there is lack of information or because policymakers are not convinced.

“It is no doubt that protection of personal data is important. But perhaps what is regarded as criminal activity in Europe may not be immediately classified so in African countries because of lack of legislation, or simply because of different realities and political preferences and priorities. 

“For exemple, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is stringent compared to legislations in other parts of the world with different criminal penalties, and ideas around the free movement of information.

“So, a direct comparison with the EU, while desirable, may not be completely valid.” 

Nevertheless, she said in terms of cybersecurity there was a need to combine efforts by bringing in criminal intelligence, law enforcement (including promulgation of legislation), regional capacities and cross-border cooperation, as well as raising awareness among the population.

However, she said in a context where governments are firefighting and trying to resolve so many problems, maybe cybercrime hasn’t jumped up the list of priorities.

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