In today’s interconnected world, the rapid digitization of economies has brought immense opportunities for growth and development, and Africa is no exception.
With the continent experiencing a surge in internet access and mobile penetration, Africa’s digital economy holds significant promise.
To unlock its full potential, the African digital market, characterised by digital payments, e-commerce, some of the best options trading platforms, and more, needs robust cybersecurity measures.
However, with this growth comes an alarming rise in cyber threats, necessitating urgent action to fortify Africa’s cybersecurity landscape and protect its digital future.
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To address this problem, global management consultancy Kearney has developed a white paper titled “Cybersecurity in Africa: A Call to Action.” It sheds light on the pressing need for Africa to enhance its cybersecurity resilience. Before we discuss strengthening Africa’s cybersecurity, it would be best to have an overview of this paper.
The potential of Africa’s internet economy to significantly contribute to its overall economic growth is undeniable. However, to unlock this potential, the continent must address the pressing issue of cybersecurity.
The impact of cybercrime on Africa’s GDP has already been substantial, causing a reduction of over 10% in 2021 and incurring a staggering cost of $4.12 billion.
Recent reports from Statista.com shed light on the severity of the situation. In 2022, about 31% of surveyed companies in East Africa experienced cyber-attacks, surpassing the rate in the Southern Africa region, where approximately 23% of businesses reported similar attacks. These numbers highlight the urgent need for robust cybersecurity measures across the continent.
Globally, the seriousness of cybercrime is evident. Nearly 1 billion emails are exposed yearly, affecting 1 in 5 internet users. The financial consequences are substantial, with data breaches costing businesses an average of $4.35 million in 2022.
The alarming 236.1 million ransomware attacks occurring worldwide in the first half of 2022 further emphasises the scale of the challenge. Phishing remains the most common cyber threat facing businesses and individuals worldwide.
Within Africa, specific countries have faced significant cybercrime challenges. South Africa has reported many cybercrime victims, while Nigeria struggles with malware-infected applications on mobile phones.
Additionally, the alarming allegations of cyber espionage at the African Union’s headquarters underscore the critical need for strengthened cybersecurity measures.
The uniqueness of Africa’s situation lies in its potential for economic growth through the internet economy, juxtaposed against the growing threat of cybercrime that poses severe risks to this potential.
Addressing cybersecurity issues is crucial for Africa to safeguard its economic interests, protect its citizens and businesses, and pave the way for a prosperous digital future.
African leaders and stakeholders must prioritise cybersecurity efforts and work together to fortify the continent’s digital landscape for a secure and prosperous future.
Despite the challenges, some African countries have committed to strengthening their cybersecurity landscape. Ghana, for example, has invested in a robust cybersecurity structure, becoming a potential model for other African countries.
Additionally, several African states have adopted national strategies for cybersecurity, and regional collaborations have been established to develop frameworks and build capacity.
The 2014 African Union’s adoption of the Malabo Convention report on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection was a significant step toward a unified approach to cybersecurity.
Although the progress has been slow, with only 8 out of 54 African countries adopting a national strategy on cybersecurity by 2018, it remains a crucial foundation for future efforts.
In 2019, the AU hosted the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE) in Ethiopia, a platform to strengthen cyber capacity and expertise globally. Additionally, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a regional strategy for cybersecurity in 2021, showing a commitment to tackle cyber threats collectively.
While the African Union (AU) has tried to enhance cybersecurity collaboration through the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection, broader participation and a more robust coordination mechanism are still needed.
Harmonising cybersecurity policies and strategies across the continent will ensure a unified and effective defence against cyber threats.
Some African countries have already developed national cybersecurity strategies, but the white paper stresses the importance of accelerating these efforts and achieving regional coherence.
By doing so, Africa can present a united front against cyber threats and position itself as a formidable force in the digital economy.
While commendable progress has been made, more must be done to fortify Africa’s digital economy. African leaders must increase their efforts and allocate more resources to cybersecurity initiatives. Prioritising improved infrastructure, raising awareness, and engaging in strategic collaborations at the global level are essential steps.
African regional bodies such as the African Union and ECOWAS must focus on cybersecurity capacity building, encompassing technical expertise and policy development.
Collaboration between African countries and external stakeholders for peer learning and sharing best practices is critical to bolster the continent’s cybersecurity defences. Countries like Tanzania and Mauritius, which have excelled in the ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Index, can serve as role models.
One of Africa’s most significant challenges in combating cyber threats is the lack of cybersecurity talent and resources.
There is a critical shortage of just 7,000 certified security professionals for a population of approximately 1.24 billion people. The continent urgently needs to bridge the 100,000-person gap in certified cybersecurity professionals to counter cyber threats effectively.
Furthermore, Africa’s commitment to cybersecurity and its capacity to respond to threats remain lower than other continents, as indicated by the International Telecommunication Union’s ranking.
The paper by Kearney emphasises the importance of a comprehensive agenda that addresses the core challenges faced by Africa’s cybersecurity ecosystem.
It talks about elevating cybersecurity on the regional policy agenda, which entails recognizing cybersecurity as a top priority and ensuring it is an agenda at the highest levels within regional economic dialogues.
By placing cybersecurity at the forefront of these discussions, African countries can work together to develop harmonised policies that are robust and effective in countering cyber threats.
Secondly, it calls for sustained commitment to cybersecurity. Cyber threats constantly evolve, and Africa must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to staying ahead.
It calls for consistent investment in cybersecurity infrastructure, research, and training to ensure that the continent remains proactive in the face of emerging challenges.
The third point on the agenda is fortifying the cybersecurity ecosystem. In its argument, the firm says traditional fragmented approaches to cybersecurity can leave vulnerabilities unaddressed.
It, therefore, calls for a collaborative effort among stakeholders to defend against sophisticated attacks that can simultaneously target multiple entities. Public-private partnerships, information sharing, and cross-border collaboration are vital components of this fortified ecosystem.
Lastly, it calls on Africa to build next-generation cybersecurity capabilities for Africa’s long-term cybersecurity resilience. Such a move would involve investing in education and skill development to nurture a pool of cybersecurity experts within the continent.
Developing local expertise will strengthen Africa’s defences and open up new opportunities for innovation and technology-driven growth.
The white paper also highlights the increasing attractiveness of Africa as a target for cyber threats. Cybercriminals view Africa as a lucrative playground as the region’s internet access and mobile penetration continue to expand.
Coupled with the fact that cyberattacks and reputational damage cost the continent over $3.5 billion annually, it underscores the urgency for action.
Africa stands at a critical juncture in its digital transformation journey. As the continent continues to embrace the digital economy, bolstering cybersecurity is imperative to secure its potential for economic growth and innovation.
The white paper by Kearney serves as a wake-up call, urging African nations to take decisive action, elevate cybersecurity on their policy agendas, foster collaboration, and invest in the next generation of cybersecurity capabilities. Through concerted efforts, Africa can fortify its digital economy and ensure a prosperous and secure future.