According to an investigation conducted by Reuters, it has been revealed that Chinese expert hackers launched a series of cyberattacks recently.
The attack targeted various Kenyan ministries and state institutions, including the State House, from 2019 to last year. The reason of launching these attacks was to gain access to information regarding the billions of dollars owed by Kenya to Beijing.
The cyberattacks commenced in 2019 when China began restricting its credit taps to Kenya due to the visible strains caused by the country’s rising debt.
The hackers were able to steal an equivalent amount of important documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Treasury, allegedly aiming to help China assess Kenya’s debt situation.
According to a Kenyan cybersecurity expert, “A lot of documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were stolen and from the finance department as well. The attacks appeared focused on the debt situation.”
This cyberattack was initiated through a guided attack, where a state employee unknowingly downloaded an infected document in 2019. The attacks continued until last year, as confirmed by three cybersecurity experts familiar with the issue.
The Chinese hackers specifically targeted key ministries such as foreign affairs and finance, as well as state departments crucial for the implementation of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative—a significant infrastructure project spanning multiple countries.
Moreover, the breach extended to the National Intelligence Service (NIS), where the attackers gained unauthorized access to the agency’s email servers. Reuters suggested that this breach may have aimed to extract information about Kenya’s plans for managing its debt payments.
While the Chinese foreign ministry has dismissed the allegations as “baseless,” Kenyan officials have stated that such attacks are not unique, as the country has experienced similar cyberattacks from European and American hackers.
Kenya’s debt to China stood at $6.31 billion in March last year, the lowest since March 2019 when it was $6.01 billion. The reduction aligns with China’s cautious approach to lending to Kenya and other African nations in the post-Covid era, as there are concerns about the continent’s economies facing multiple debt-related challenges due to the global economic turmoil.
This decline in Chinese investment in Africa’s infrastructure projects followed the struggles of countries like Angola and Ethiopia to meet their debt obligations, with Zambia eventually defaulting.
President William Ruto has expressed his administration’s intention to reduce expensive foreign borrowing, including loans from countries like China.
The majority of China’s loans to Kenya were channeled through Exim Bank, which secured a major deal in May 2014 to fund 90 percent of the $3.6 billion Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line, spanning 485 kilometers. This agreement propelled Beijing to become Kenya’s largest bilateral lender, surpassing Tokyo.
However, the terms of China’s loan agreements with developing countries, including Kenya, are often shrouded in secrecy, requiring borrowing nations to prioritize repayment to Chinese state-owned banks over other creditors, according to a dataset compiled by AidData, a US research lab.
Kenya’s bilateral debt repayments for China-funded infrastructure projects have surged to a new record of Sh107.42 billion (Kenyan Shilling) this financial year, marking a nearly 46.19 percent increase compared to Sh73.48 billion in the previous year.
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