Uganda on Friday denied a report that employees of Chinese telecom giant Huawei had aided a domestic spying operation targeting pop star turned opposition icon Bobi Wine.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Huawei technicians helped Ugandan authorities use spyware to intercept Wine’s Skype and WhatsApp communications.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, became a lawmaker in 2017 and is preparing to challenge President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda’s 2021 presidential election.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Huawei’s assistance enabled Ugandan authorities to disrupt Wine’s plans for concerts they feared would turn into political rallies.
“It is totally false to claim Huawei helped African governments among them Uganda spy on its political opponents,” Ugandan presidential spokesman Don Wanyama told AFP. “Why spy on Bobi Wine?”
Huawei is the world’s number two smartphone producer and is considered the global leader in fifth-generation or 5G equipment.
But it is facing pushback in some Western markets over suspicions that it provides a backdoor for Chinese intelligence services.
There are also concerns that Huawei’s involvement in the development of foreign 5G networks could enable Beijing to gain access to critical infrastructure.
It has been blacklisted by US President Donald Trump purportedly because of espionage concerns.
Speaking to AFP Friday, Wanyama said claims that Uganda had received spying help from Huawei represented “a continuation of the trade war between China and US”.
The Wall Street Journal said its reporting “didn’t turn up evidence of spying by or on behalf of Beijing in Africa”.
But it described how an official with the Chinese Embassy in Kampala accompanied Ugandan officials to China where they visited Huawei’s headquarters and received “details on the surveillance systems it has built around the world”.
In a Twitter post Thursday, the embassy said the report was “PURE FAKE NEWS and TOTALLY GROUNDLESS!”
Wine, who has been detained multiple times since entering politics, told AFP Friday that the spying claims were “not surprising” but warned Museveni that underhanded efforts to stop his political rise would fail.
“Let him be reminded that Ugandans hold the key to their problems and no foreign interventions can stop the wind of change in the country,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Huawei employees helped Zambia spy on opposition bloggers.