The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and China have signed a memorandum of understanding in which Beijing will fund and build a new ECOWAS headquarters building in Abuja, Nigeria.
The cost of the building is 31.6 million U.S. dollars. The new building will consolidate ECOWAS operations in one building from the three it now uses. China has also agreed to maintain the new building for three years following its completion.
China has agreed to build numerous public facilities in sub-Saharan Africa: parliament buildings in Zimbabwe, Congo, Malawi, Guinea-Bissau, and Lesotho. China is also rebuilding burnt parliament buildings in Gabon, and is renovating the parliament building in Sierra Leone. China also built and funded the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa in 2012 at a cost of 200 million U.S. dollars.
The Chinese represent these construction projects as acts of good will, but not everyone is convinced. In January 2018, Le Monde, citing anonymous African Union sources, reported that data from AU computers had been transferred nightly to Shanghai servers from 2012 to 2017. Le Monde also reported the discovery of numerous bugs.
Beijing strongly denies the allegations, and the African Union has chosen to disregard them, after initially simply maintaining that it has no secrets to spy on. Allegations of spying on the AU are not new or confined to China; there is an earlier Le Monde report that British intelligence had been targeting African Union officials.
Deliberations at ECOWAS are bound to be of great interest to Beijing. Given the growth of the Chinese economic and political presence in Africa, it is credible to assume that the new ECOWAS building will be bugged, as apparently was the AU headquarters. Chinese-built parliamentary facilities around the continent share a similar risk.
African passivity over the apparent Chinese compromise of AU data is discouraging, and their growing relationship likely will not help those promoting democracy and good governance. It is also unclear why the AU and ECOWAS headquarters could not be built and paid for by Africans themselves.