On Wednesday July 7, Kenya’s leading daily, Daily Nation, had two stories far away from each other, seemingly unrelated.
The first reported that a Rwandan court had convicted 12 people for hacking Kenyan banking giant Equity, handing them eight-year jail terms and fines of $52,000.
The 12-person gang was arrested in 2019 by the Rwandan Investigation Bureau. It was a very pan-African cast of criminals; eight Kenyans, three Rwandans, and a Ugandan.
The other story reported that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and visiting Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto on Tuesday called for “the formation of the East African Federation, a proposed political union of the East African Community (EAC)”.
Museveni said African countries need to realise that it is through integration that they can ensure the prosperity of their peoples.
There has been talk of an East African federation, a common currency, and all those next-generation regional goods for 15 years now, but little progress at the governmental level. In fact, compared to 10 years ago, with the sometimes rocky relations between governments in the region, East Africa might have taken some steps backward.
Those hackers who stole from Equity, the criminal networks that steal cars and move small arms, the alternative cross-border traders (smugglers) must have read the Museveni-Ruto communique and been delighted that they are 20 years behind.
East Africa has changed dramatically. With the growth of networked businesses like Equity Bank; increased connectivity and internet penetration; and the explosion of digital dependency driven in the latest phase by Covid-19 lockdowns, cybercriminals see the opportunity to steal fortunes electronically, and understand that to hide your trail you need to establish cross-national operations.
It is said that a currency can never become international until criminals fall in love with it, as they are with the US dollar.
It could be argued too that criminals like the Equity hackers are casting a vote of confidence in the East African project. They are crooks who see the great opportunities in regional markets and are scornful of borders and show the good people the gems can be mined from regional integration.
The story suggests that the security establishments in the region are waking up, reporting that, “Regional security teams had trailed the gang linked to bank hacking attempts in Kenya and Uganda and had notified Rwandan officials when they set up shop there.”
Today, people in the region are doing many things, including singing, and falling in and out of love in very East African ways.
Tanzanian musician Diamond Platinumz last year, deservedly, went about bare chest celebrating how he had become the first African (or was it sub-Saharan?) musician to get one billion views on his YouTube channel. Diamond has been in the news for years dating — and dumping — Ugandan and Kenyan beauties, and exploring the region’s heart. That might well be why he is so successful. When he looks at Tanzania, he sees a village. East Africa is the country, and he knows what its ears want.
On Tuesday, Museveni and Ruto smelt that East Africa. What they now need to do is touch it like Diamond, or hack it like that black hats who met their end in Kigali.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]