Eswatini has vowed to ban Chinese companies from its cellphone networks


The Kingdom of Eswatini has promised to keep its cellphone networks “clean”, without the involvement of Chinese equipment manufacturers the United States considers a threat to its information security.

In a joint statement first reported by the Eswatini Observer and ITWeb, the two countries said they had committed to “safeguarding each country’s national security by excluding high-risk digital equipment suppliers.”

That will see Eswatini join the Clean Network group of the US State Department, which has participants from a handful of mostly European countries, but to date included none from Africa.

Although sometimes couched in general terms, the Clean Network initiative’s sole practical focus is to lock equipment from Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE out of 5G networks in particular.

The United States says these companies “are required to comply with directives of the Chinese Communist Party”, and so present a threat to its security, an allegation the companies roundly deny.

The country is now requiring all communication flowing into its embassies and missions to be untouched by “untrusted IT vendors”, and ultimately hopes to have no connection to any US networks from other networks considered compromised because it features equipment of Chinese origin.

The Clean Network plan was initiated by the administration of Donald Trump as part of a broad fight with China, and in his parting address as President, Trump highlighted what he characterised as standing up to China among his major achievements.

In their joint statement, the US and Eswatini spoke of information security, but also cited “the critical importance” of a partnership “based on transparency, reciprocity, respect for sovereignty and the rule of law.”

A previous US State Department assessment of what was then Swaziland, predating Trump and the search for partners to rally against Chinese technology, focussed heavily on the absolute monarchy’s poor track record when it comes to human rights and basic freedoms.

MTN is by far the dominant market operator in Eswatini. It did not substantively respond to questions from Business Insider South Africa.


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