East Africa’€™s darknet

July 11, 2016

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are awash with the high-quality copies of pistols mostly manufactured in backyard operations in the slums of the major cities in the three East African countries where criminal gangs with help of corrupt coppers and retired ex servicemen has seen the advent of a thriving trade of small arms in the region.A firearms expert told your blogger that he had seen four guns from China in Nairobi’s black market circles in recent months.They had been manufactured on old machinery. “I’ve seen a couple, unnumbered, good quality,” he added. “They were definitely made on Chinese machinery.” The source said the weapons would most likely have come by sea via the port of Mombasa that has gained international reputation for being the transit point of illegal wildlife products like elephant tusk, drug trafficking and illegal arms. “There’s only so many ­containers they Kenya Revenue Authority customs can X-ray,” he said.Criminal gangs have been known to use ­secretive darknet websites to help smuggle in weapons.It is estimated more than 20,000 illegal guns circulate in Kenya. A law enforcement figure said East African countries like Kenya were awash with cheap weapons, but strong border protection measures being put in place have stopped the guns from reaching Kenyan shores in any great number.“Guns are making their way to Kenya and Uganda, but not flowing through,” he said.The Kenyan Government is investing heavily in the effort to detect more weapons, and gun parts, being sent by post.

About 700 illegal firearms and gun parts are found in Kenya’s mail each year, mostly sent from overseas.The Kenyan government does not report the country of origin of the ­firearms it seizes due to its laws that regulates such seizures. Increased mail scanning for weapons will employ techniques used to discover drugs.Kenya has some of the world’s toughest firearms regulations and so far it hasn’t suffered mass shootings witnessed in countries like United States.More East African consumers are thinking of the Internet first and TV second where €œteenagers say TV is for old people. Most of them prefer to watch their favourite TV series from the Internet, because they can catch the latest episode almost on the same day of release.The growth in the number of smartphone users in the East African region means that more people are downloading videos.The industry researchers have predicted that the number of mobile data subscriptions in the region will jump to 70 million by 2017, up from the current 55 million.However, there are many piracy websites providing easy access to new film releases to download with no effective monitoring from the governments in the region.The film industry is the most affected by the crime. Once a film is available for free download, no one will go to the movie. It’€™s a slightly more grim situation compared to music piracy, because there is still a chance that people will buy the official source.Local streaming and file sharing websites also come with ads for gambling and pornography, according to a study published on the dark web in East Africa a couple of days ago.

Apart from selling guns, drugs and passwords, a team of East Africa’s dark web researchers gathered data from 200 piracy websites that specifically targeted viewers in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and said that 90 percent of the advertisements were for products such as computer malware, gambling and pornography. Policymakers, parents and educators need to be aware that the sex industry and online gambling sites specifically target torrent search and file locker sites for advertising their services.During a discussion with an East African cyber security expert on who is profiting from the growth of online piracy in the region, the expert told me the governments in the region should establish codes of practice to protect intellectual property rights and young users.He added that he was surprised by the finding because East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are socially conservative countries and few would expect to find such a preponderance of socially unacceptable services funding content piracy to use as a lure to attract viewers.In my view, it is very clear that €œmainstream advertisers were supporting piracy by placing ads on the websites.There were several corporate brands which I cannot mention that were placing adverts on the dark net in East Africa.Perusing through the research, it pointed to the dangers of pirate websites. These phenomena of piracy, pornography, gambling and scams€” are all linked. They are part of the dark side of the Internet in East African countries and stakeholders and experts should urged the regional governments, advertisers, consumer groups and the technology sector to adopt global best practices in dealing with the problem. There are practical and reasonable solutions that can benefit East African Internet users and help grow the region’s digital economy.

Contador Harrison