Africa ‘losing fight’ against electronic crime

Posted on August 26, 2013 07:28 pm

Mikiki mikiki is a song by Tanzania’s hip-hop singer Juma Nature and Ugandan pop singer Jose Chameleon that loosely translates to everyday hassles in an African context. Being proficient in Swahili, when I first came across that song, it became a personal favorite. Despite the fact that Juma Nature is a talented singer, they forgot in present Africa electronic crime is part of people’s daily affairs.  Deficit of law enforcers with adequate and up to date knowledge about electronic criminals and often ineffective courts in Africa as well as their unpreparedness in dealing with perpetrators has made world’s least developed continent a safe haven and a fertile ground for cyber criminals. In countries like Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, police have detained some card fraudsters several times over the last few years with most of them being from Eastern European countries of Bulgaria and Romania. I vividly recall one case while in Tanzania around 2011 when media reports indicated Bulgarians arrested for card fraud could not be taken to court immediately because the Police were afraid the courts will require sufficient electronic evidence.

Although I have no legal background training, I know courts considered legal evidence and testimonies from victims, witnesses, experts and defendants, letters and material exhibits as what can be considered to be worthy. Unfortunately, most African countries courts do not accept electronic evidence alone. Although almost all African countries Police services have established cyber crime departments to curb the menace, it has so been clear that their efforts have largely been ineffectual because electronic crime laws are yet to passed with exception of a few countries. To make it worse, a recently released report indicated that judges and state prosecutors have not been trained in gathering and interpreting evidence against sophisticated cyber criminals. Across the continent, there are fewer lawyers who specialize in electronic crime let alone experts. Uganda recently passed a law on cyber crime and one on electronic information and transactions including financial and most have hailed it as one of the best in Africa and many are hoping that it would make digital evidence admissible in Ugandan courts. In some countries, there have been reports that police only press suspected cyber criminals to sign a pledge that they will stop committing such crimes. Interestingly, just in like western world, African countries police departments are recruiting some of the cyber crooks as their expert counsels to help curb ever evolving crime.

Cyber operatives in Africa mainly work with other departments with auditing firms being their preferred partners in combating the crime. There is urgent need for those in charge of securing cyberspace in Africa to track and bring to book the criminals behind pornographic content being distributed over the Internet. Police cannot be entirely blamed for the crime because very few cyber crime victims inform law enforcement agencies or report their ordeals. Studies conducted by various research companies indicate Electronic transactions are on the rise in Africa and that has led to purchasing through stolen mobile money accounts, debit cards, money laundering, stock market transactions, electronic tax transactions and banking transactions among many others. The most common computer engineered crimes involve hacking, cracking, operating system attacks, production and distribution of malware. Also there are Crimes committed using the Internet that varies depending on regions like east, west, north and southern Africa. Most of them involve terrorism, card fraud, sex crimes, gambling, narcotics transactions, human smuggling, electronic attacks on infrastructure, threats, blackmail, defamation, data and identity theft among other crimes. Communication and information technology related crimes that are gaining ground in Africa involve tapping of telephone calls, Short Messaging Services fraud that I have personally been a victim There is no doubt relevant authorities have their work cut out.

Contador Harrison