Ethiopia Hosts the First African Forum on Cybercrime
Dr Neha Sinha, Associate Fellow, VIF

The African nations are facing the fastest growth rate in Internet penetration worldwide. The African Union has revealed that the digital connectivity in the continent has tripled in the last five years, and it is also expected that by 2020, nearly a third of the global Gross Domestic Product is expected to be generated by the digital economy. Due to this, it is unfortunate to see that the government along with the private sector is undergoing an increase in cyber-attacks. An activity which encompasses criminal activity related to computers and networks is termed as cybercrime. The first ever African Forum on Cyber-crime was organised by the pan-African bloc in Addis Ababa from 16-18 October, 2018. During the meet, concerns were raised about the rising activities related to cybercrime in the midst of the growing technologies in the region.

The Forum was organised by the African Union Commission with the support of several other partnering organisations, viz., the Council of Europe, European Union, the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United States Department of Justice/State Department, UK Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat. The aim of INTERPOL is to extend the activities of Africa and make its voice heard to the other regions as well. On the other hand, the UNODC’s global programme on cybercrime, aims at raising the efficiency in issues related online child abuse and sexual exploitation, by investigation and prosecution of cybercrime. Moreover, the capacity-building initiative of the Regional Programme for Eastern Africa, (2016-2021) inspects the UNODC in line with ‘strategic, regional and national primacy’, that is accepted by the member states (African Union Commission 2018). In order to develop an apt response and adaptability to handle cybercrime threats, the Commonwealth Secretariat is functioning alongside the member countries of Africa. It was this year in the month of April, that the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration was adopted by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, to create a cyberspace entirely secure, free, open, inclusive and where human rights and freedom of expression is respected.

Apart from the regional organisations, more than 250 delegates comprising of the policy makers, legislative bodies and the criminal justice authorities of fifty African countries were present. Various international institutions, national governments and private sectors attended the Forum too. The main focus was on: a) Cybercrime policies and legislation, international standards and good practices; b) International cooperation against cybercrime; and, c) Capacity building to empower criminal justice authorities to deal with cybercrime cases (African Union, 2018). The African continent, has also witnessed the growing theft of personal data on a very large scale. Issues related to human right abuse, sexual violence and abuse against children are some of the horrifying concern leading to computer interruptions, intimidation, oppression, and other forms of cyber violence. Hate speeches are also on the rise, further aggravating sense of racism, discrimination and xenophobia in Africa. These are primarily the factors contributing to radicalisation and violent extremism in the continent (The Herald, 2018).

The African Union states that the forum will contribute significantly in enhancing and interchanging the efficacy of knowledge and information related to challenges posed across the continent. The Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, H.E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid stated that, “the ongoing digital transformation of our continent is a unique opportunity for us to strengthen social cohesion, improve lives of people and develop strategic sectors like Education, Health, Entrepreneurship, Employment, Peace and Security as well as Good governance by facilitating the delivery of public services and creating more interactions between governments and citizens. Therefore, it is our task and collective responsibility to build a Safe, Secure, Trustworthy and Inclusive Cyberspace for the benefit of all African people and States” (African Union Commission, 2018). Furthermore, the Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to the African Union, Mrs. Anna Burylo, mentioned that “everywhere in the world today societies are increasingly dependent on electronic networks and information systems. While digitalisation offers tremendous development opportunities, it also comes with serious potential vulnerabilities. The evolution of Information Communication Technology has seen in parallel the development of criminal activity that threatens citizens, businesses, governments and critical infrastructures alike: cybercrime. It is a borderless problem… and it needs to be tackled jointly. The European Union therefore strongly believes that we need to work together at all levels to address it and we invest in international cyber cooperation in parallel with our internal efforts for cybersecurity” (African Union Commission, 2018).

We see that there exist various ways and methods to help the African Government develop cyber laws in order to bring cooperation within and with other countries around the globe. This first African Forum on cybercrime, was thus an attempt, to bring together the regional, international organisations and national governments under a common platform. It laid the foundation for examining and discussing the national policies to have international cooperation and to study the mechanism to strengthen capacities of criminal justice authorities.

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