Uganda invests $126M in CCTV with facial biometrics from Huawei

Uganda has agreed to purchase a CCTV system with biometric facial recognition from Huawei for $126 million to reduce violent crime, but opposition leaders are concerned that corrupt and overburdened law enforcement agencies will target demonstrators ahead of 2021 elections, the South China Morning Post reports.

Crime is surging in Uganda, according to SCMP, and the cameras are being sold by Huawei’s Safe City business, but critics allege they will be used to support the campaign of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been head of state since 1986, and is expected to run for another five-year term.

“The CCTV project is just a tool to track us, hunt us and persecute us,” said opposition party Forum for Democratic Change leader Ingrid Turinawe.

The SCMP also notes that The Wall Street Journal has reported intelligence officials in Uganda at one or more other African countries have been helped spy on their political opponents by Huawei. The company helped unencrypt the communications of popular Ugandan former entertainer and politician Bobi Wine, while in Zambia Huawei helped the government track critics through their Facebook accounts and phones.

Huawei called the allegations in the Journal “unfounded and inaccurate.”

A spokesperson for the Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department said authorities must rely on witness interviews due to low numbers of law enforcement personnel and lack of forensics experts.

The project includes a planned 3,200 cameras in the metropolitan area of the capital Kampala, of which about 2,500 have been installed. The system will eventually be expanded to all of Uganda’s major towns.

Former Ugandan police officer Herbert Karugaba told SCMP that the new source of information will be of little use to police who are poorly paid and trained.

“It’s money down the drain,” Karugaba said. “It is the quality of the man and woman in uniform … that matters.”

Advocacy group Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum provided video to police from its own CCTV network in 2016, to no effect.

“After months of investigations they eventually told us our case file is lost. There’s no record anywhere of our case,” a representative of the group told SCMP. “If there’s no political will to investigate or prosecute crime, nothing will change. It’s all nonsense, CCTV or no CCTV.”

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