The $200m headquarters of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa was celebrated as a gift to the continent from China when it opened in 2012, but now China has been forced to deny that it bugged the building and organised nightly data harvests.
China’s ambassador to the AU, Kuang Weilin, called the claims made by France’s Le Monde newspaper last week "ridiculous and preposterous" and said the report was inspired by jealousy in the West over China’s close ties to Africa.
Quoting anonymous AU sources, the article published Friday (26 January) reported that data from computers in the Chinese-built building had been transferred every night to Chinese servers for five years.
When the espionage was uncovered a year ago, the building’s IT system including servers was changed, according to Le Monde.
Afterward, during a sweep for bugs, microphones hidden in desks supplied by China and the walls were also detected and removed, the newspaper reported.
On Monday when officials were gathered in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, for the AU’s annual summit, China and the African Union chairman dismissed the report.
Ambassador Kuang Weilin called the article "ridiculous and preposterous".
"China-Africa relations have brought about benefits and a lot of opportunities. Africans are happy with it. Others are not," Reuters reported.
Asked to clarify, Kuang Weilin said: "People in the West. They are not used to it and they are simply not comfortable with this."
Chairman of the AU, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, said he knew nothing about the claims.
"But, in any case, I don’t think there is anything done here that we would not like people to know," he told reporters, said Reuters.
"I don’t think spying is the speciality of the Chinese. We have spies all over the place in this world," Kagame said. "But I will not have been worried about being spied on in this building."
He did, however, say the AU should have built its own headquarters.
"I would only have wished that in Africa we had got our act together earlier on," Reuters quotes him as saying. "We should have been able to build our own building."
Image: Funded and built by China as a gift to the continent, the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia opened in 2012 (Derejeb/Dreamstime)