Senegal will move all government data and digital platforms from foreign servers to a new national data centre in an effort to strengthen its digital sovereignty. The move risks making the African country’s digital infrastructure fully dependent on Chinese technology.
“I’m instructing the government from henceforth to migrate all state data and platforms to the data centre. We have to rapidly repatriate all national data hosted out of the country,” Senegal’s President Macky Sall said at the launch of the centre on 22 June.
The 46 billion CFA francs (70 million euro) data center was financed with a Chinese loan and built with Huawei providing equipment and technical support. The first phase of the new facility will be open in around six months’ time and will offer hosting services to enterprises and other public bodies. The data centre will tap into global networks through an undersea cable as well as the country’s own 6,000-km fibre optic network.
According to Eric Olander, of the China Africa Project, a portal that researches the reach of Beijing’s ventures into the continent, the opening of the center “marks an important milestone in Africa. This is the first time that a country is fully replicating the Chinese data governance model that requires all servers to be located within a country’s borders, providing the state with full access to the information.”
Digital industry watchdog Datacenter Dynamics reported that the new data center, located at the Digital Technology Park in the city of Diamniadio, will be managed by Senegal’s state IT firm State Informatics Agency (ADIE). The facility has a hosting capacity of 500 m².
This week’s opening of a new Huawei-built data center in Senegal marks an important milestone in the ongoing digital sovereignty debate in Africa and a huge setback for both the U.S. and France. https://t.co/8fJePcbpAM— The China Africa Project (@eolander) June 24, 2021
According to Senegal’s president, state-owned businesses such as Senelec, the national electricity company, will also move their data to the centre in tandem with government agencies.
The centre will serve both the public and private sectors, and offer a cheaper infrastructure to Senegal’s growing community of tech startups than entrepreneurs will find abroad, he added
“With this data center, the Senegalese state will be sovereign in terms of data storage. It is a tool that will preserve our informational heritage and benefit the public administration and private companies. Until now, the majority of our data has been stored outside, in the United States and in Asia in particular,” added Cheikh Bakhoum, director of the State IT Agency, quoted by Datacenter Dynamics.
Once the data center is in place, Chinese technology will have virtually taken over Senegal’s entire cyber-infrastructure. According to a press release from China’s Foreign Ministry, the Chinese government is present on several levels.
It is financing Senegal’s e-government, establishing a national broadband network, funding the “Smart Senegal” e-infrastructure project, and helping Senegal to “grow into an information and communication hub in West Africa”.
China also nurtures Senegalese talent by organising a training program called ‘Seeds of the Future’.
Huawei under attack
The opening of the Huawei-equipped data center in Senegal comes at a time that the Chinese company is under attack by the US and its allies. Washington has imposed sanctions on Huawei, banning it from purchasing US equipment, while in Europe, it faces hurdles in the UK which banned it from the 5G mobile network.
The French government, which introduced a law “preserving the national security interests in the context of mobile phone operators” required network providers Bouyges Telecom and SFR to replace thousands of Huawei relay antennas before 2028.
The crackdown by western countries against Huawei is based on fears that the telecommunications giant could be exploited by the Chinese government for espionage, presenting a potentially grave national security risk.