Kenya is set to benefit from a new programme launched to support Commonwealth countries in Africa to build online resilience and defence against cyber-attacks, with Africa losing an estimated Sh413.2 billion annually to cybercrime.
Dubbed the Commonwealth Africa Cyber Fellowship, the programme aims to improve Africa’s response to cybercrime by supporting the member countries to strengthen their cybersecurity interventions, including infrastructure and anti-cybercrime laws, policies and institutions.
Spearheaded by the Commonwealth Secretariat in partnership with Protection Group International (PGI), the plan will see the 12 countries benefit from access, exposure, and training by cybersecurity and cybercrime experts from developed Commonwealth countries.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will provide financial backing during the 18 months of the programme.
Speaking during the launch of the programme in Nairobi yesterday, the head of the Rule of Law Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Tawanda Hondora, said cybercrime is one of the most pressing challenges plaguing economic activities in Africa.
In Kenya, for example, people lose money via mobile banking apps through phishing emails, companies have their systems breached or intellectual property rights hacked by competitors.
He argued that these threats are estimated to cost the continent an estimated $3.5 billion annually and the amount could potentially be an understatement because many companies or individuals do not report, or under-report.
“Africa has the capacity to respond to these threats but it also comes from behaviours, and norms of people protecting themselves. And that is what we are doing to have policies so that those in key decision making positions are able to have effective systems so that people can no longer be sent phishing emails and respond without verification,” said Dr Hondora on the side-lines of the two-day Commonwealth African Cyber Fellows Conference.
The programme, therefore, could not have come at a better time when the growth in the size and sophistication of cybercrime in Africa has been unprecedented.
“This flagship programme will create a robust community of excellence in Africa that leads the design and implementation of digital technologies and effective cybersecurity and anti-cybercrime frameworks,” he said.
Dr Hondora explained that the fellowship aims to create a community of experts across the four Commonwealth regions that will exchange views, build networks, facilitate access and fully leverage the benefits of the digital age.
“Fellowship targets people, experts working in government, academic as well as private companies and those potentially fresh from universities but with keen expertise. It is really broad. To become a cyber-security expert, you require many skills, not just focusing on one digital skillset,” he said.
Sharing best practices
FCDO First Secretary Andy Chadwick added that the programme is about the community sharing best practices in cybersecurity by influencing and sharing knowledge and expertise on the way the whole process works to come up with a free, open and secure cyber space now and in the future.
“Having this community of experts who can cross-pollinate their experiences and skills and as a community improve the cyber security resilience across the whole of Africa is essential,” said Mr Chadwick.
For her part, PGI head of Capacity Building Practice Lara Pace said the focus on cybersecurity should not only be on incidents but building networks of people across Africa who have responsibility for building cyber security.
Focus on people element
“It is really important to focus on the people element and that is the greatest value of this programme. Any part of cybersecurity infrastructure needs to be ongoing, sustainable, and interventions always being fine-tuned,” said Ms Pace.
The fellowship was established in 2017 by PGI with financial support from FCDO as a network of cyber security policy experts.
Following a one-year transition, the fellowship will now be housed and managed by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
This came after the adoption of the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration during the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London.
Consequently, the two-day conference will see fellows explore solutions required to address the increasingly complex types, scale, and impact of cybercrime in Africa.
They will also consider options for African countries’ involvement in different anti-cybercrime treaty frameworks, including efforts initiated by the United Nations General Assembly to create a global cybercrime treaty.