A CfA investigation identified a coordinated Twitter anti-China campaign that leveraged on past incidents and controversies involving China to
build a tale of a continent under constant, unauthorised digital surveillance.
The perpetrators of this campaign leveraged on past controversies and published articles to build their narratives. One of the prominent narratives, that of the African Union’s headquarters having been bugged by China, was based on a 2018 report by French newspaper Le Monde, which alleged that China had financed the construction of this building to enable them to spy on the AU. Both China and the AU dismissed this report, with the AU renewing its partnership with Huawei, a Chinese technology firm that supplied the building’s computers, in 2019.
Another narrative, of China led cyber-security attacks, was based on a 2014 incident in which 77 Chinese nationals were arrested in Kenya on suspicion of running a cybercrime hub, allegedly capable of infiltrating the country’s communications systems.
The first hashtag, #JichoPevuChina, which in this context translates to, an investigative look into China, trended on 20 August 2020, spread a narrative of a China-led data harvesting exercise across Africa. Three weeks later, on 11 September 2020, a sudden surge in posts under a pre-existing hashtag #ChinaIsWatching, also spread a narrative of a China-led data harvesting exercise. Both trends claimed that China’s presence in Africa was a front for a large-scale spying operation.