Militaries in Africa are scrambling for cyber skills

Posted on January 11, 2013 01:27 pm

Over the last three decades, I have witnessed hugely costly military wars in different parts of the world from Iran and Iraq battle that lasted for almost a decade.Others military conflicts include the Gulf war in 1990, the Bosnia Herzegovina, Chechnya war, war in Afghanistan, bloody Falklands war to mention but a few. Such wars are now branded as old school wars kind of stuff, messy and relatively low-tech ground wars. The new school military wars are fought on cyber space. As a result, there are growing worries about the threat of cyber warfare and militaries globally are on sprint race to recruit the computer expats they strongly believe could be central to the conflicts of the 21st century. Most government in Africa are said to be investing heavily for new forces of cyber soldiers but there has been concerns that most specialists are foreigners and to an extent hiring hackers into military hierarchies is another matter especially if someone is non citizen. A few countries am aware of are finding it hard to get the right people to command the cyber soldiers and to make it worse almost 90% of them are foreigners. One of the senior military officer I spoke to while discussing the threats of cyber security his country faces, he revealed to me that they are busy trying to halt attacks that occurs on a daily basis. In his own words, cyberspace requires a world-class cyber soldiers and military departments must develop, recruit and retain in a different way to today unlike the case during pre-cyber warfare era.

In African countries, the study has shown that funding for cyber security is ratcheting up fast and 2012 was a record breaking. Most countries allocated between $US1million $3million to improve cyber capabilities. In September last year, a well-known military heavyweight in Africa announced its first cyber brigade was operational. That marked the beginning of a new era in African military history. The cyber soldiers are tasked with protecting key military systems and networks.Apart from that, they also to build offensive skills that military commanders hope will give them an edge in military cyber conflicts. Those recruited as cyber soldiers are mandated to develop the ability to hack and destroy industrial and military systems especially traffic and electricity controls systems. Militaries in Africa had not considered the Internet as an important in future battles and although we all want to see a peaceful world, it is hard to ignore the new developments. Most countries are building new facilities and training uniformed personnel with help of their more advanced partners in the west who provide them with computer security expats. Despite the latest developments in Africa, I feel there are defense agencies that have little clue of what cyber warfare is. Also, prioritizing it at the expense of millions of hungry poor is not ideal. Significantly, militaries in Africa are easing entry requirements for cyber specialists and surprisingly one of the generals speaking to me on anonymity told me his country has removed arduous elements from basic training.

To ensure there is stability, militaries in African should have the ability to find and retain computer expats. There is common principle in business that higher end capability isn’t principally about spending large amounts of money and having large numbers of people.It’s about having a small and sustainable number of very good people with will and technical know how and that is what is lacking in Africa’s militaries.It is clear in my mind that offensive cyber warfare capabilities and especially the ability to paralyze essential networks should be kept in the hands of the directly accountable military and not shadowy spy units as has been the case in most African countries. What militaries in general and top commanders in Africa particular need to focus on most, is learning to integrate the new tools and threats into their broader conflict related understanding and training. Last year, there were report of systems malfunction, supply chains were attacked, and information corrupted or deleted. Cyber fits into the wider picture of warfare now, and Militaries in Africa have to understand that as well.

Contador Harrison