Featured Image: John Kufuor, then Ghana’s  President and chairman of the African Union, with Mwai Kibaki, then Kenya’s President, soon after the former arrived in Kenya to mediate on Kenya’s Post Election crisis in 2008. Reports by The Intercept and Le Monde show that both were targets of GCHQ, Britain’s spy agency.  Photo/Riccardo Gangale

There was a joke that did rounds in form of a tweet that alluded to how perverse the NSA surveillance programme is. It read something close to this: If you have an issue with the NSA, just look into your laptop’s camera and articulate it- an exaggerated play on the knowledge that the US surveillance arm was watching and listening to people even in places far away from the US, including Kenya.

The Intercept and other US media outlets like WAPO have reported on a programme called MYSTIC that, of 2013, was being used to gather cellphone metadata in Kenya, the Bahamas, Mexico, the Philippines and Afghanistan. Host countries, were, according to the documents, not aware of the NSA data scraping. The Kenyan operation was sponsored by the CIA.

However, it is not only the Americans who are interested in what the leaders  and citizens of other countries, especially in Africa, are talking about on their phones.

Reports being run by  The Intercept and Le Monde say that the British eavesdropped on Mwai  Kibaki’s phone, while he was president. U.K.’s electronic surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ intercepted communications from Kibaki and former aides.  They also eavesdropped on then Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Businessman Chris Kirubi, and a host of heads of state, both former and current, Prime Ministers, members of the African diplomatic corps and diplomatic facilities like embassies, business executives, rebel leaders and other shadowy but extremely wealthy and influential figures that come from 20 countries across the continent.

The reports that are  based on a 2009 list from the data that former NSA technician Snowden leaked reveal an extensive number of key figures across Africa who were targeted by the GCHQ . They can be loosely put into four categories;

Heads of State, aides to Heads of State, Ministers, then former Heads of State

Other than Kibaki, the GCHQ targeted the following;

The presidential Palace in Luanda, Angola. President José Eduardo dos Santos’s communications were being monitored. 

The Presidential Palace in Kinshasa,  DRC. The British listened to all communications of President Joseph Kabila, and those of his close political, military and diplomatic advisers.

Nigeria– They listened in on phone calls by then President Umaru Yar’Adua, his aide-de-camp, his principal private secretary, special advisers and other main advisers.

They also listed then VP Goodluck Jonathan’s phone line under planned intercepts as Yar’Adua was quite sick.

Nigeria’s then immediate former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s communications were also monitored, well past his time in office.

The database also includes contact details of Nigeria ministers of  oil and finance, and operators of major banks like the Zenith Bank.

Ghana– Then President John Kufuor’s phone lines, and those of his aides were tapped.

Sierra Leone– Calls to and from leader Ernest Koroma’s mobile number were intercepted. So were the communication of former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

Also wiretapped in Sierra Leone was Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia who then controlled mercenary camps in the North of Sierra Leone, along its border with Guinea. His lieutenants communications were also tapped.

Guinea-Conakry– GCHQ eavesdropped on electronic and mobile communications of Kabine Komara, then Prime Minister of President Moussa Dadis Camara’s government. Camara’s close advisers were also mentioned in the database.

Former Prime Ministers of the country, Dalein Diallo and Lansana Kouyate were also GCHQ’s targets.

Togo-Telecommunications of Faure Gnassingbe, who is Head of State were also intercepted.

Republic of Congo- former President Pascal Lissouba who lives in France. According to Le Monde, Lissouba is considered too close to British and US oil companies.

Intelligence Services

Libya’s domestic and foreign intelligence services were targeted. DRC’s heads of the Army and Intelligence Services were also put under surveillance.

Business People, mostly bankers, Heads of Pan African Entities,  and Executives of Telcos and Shipping Companies , People with Influence in Minerals and Oil.

Other than Chris Kirubi, Nigerian Billionaire Tony Elumelu, a close friend to former president, the late Umaru Yar’Adua and then head of the United Bank of Africa, was targeted in 2009. So was Solomon Asamoah, Vice President of Lagos headquartered Pan African institution Africa Finance Corporation who came, as Le Monde puts it,  “particularly under  heavy surveillance”.

Victor Ngezayo, head of a hotel group in Kinshasa, and a well known millionaire considered close to Joseph Kabila was also under surveillance.

For Telcos, GCHQ targeted MTN and Zain, specifically their Roaming Managers  working in at least 15 African countries. 


Djibril Bassole , former  Foreign Affairs minister of Burkina Faso, who was also Joint African Union-United Nations Chief Mediator during the Darfur Crisis was also on the GCHQ list. It is assumed that his then vast diplomatic engagements put him on the list.

Telecommunications of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Sudan and those of their close collaborators were eavesdropped on. So were the Embassies of a number of the African nations in various locations..

Questionable Characters of Significant Influence and Rebel Leaders.

Dahiru Mangal, a wealthy Nigerian from the North of the country whose name is associated with extensive smuggling networks  in Niger and whose networks extend to Chad as well was also surveilled. Augustin Katumba Mwanke, Deputy Minister for Mining in Kabila’s government, who had complete discrete control over mining contracts, and is said to have overseen the control of natural resources  for the ruling clan also came under surveillance.

While Bono was busy putting up satellites over the Sudan as a humanitarian exercise, GCHQ were monitoring  rebel movements in Darfur, where they tapped phone numbers used by rebel leaders like Jibril Ibrahim Mohammed, leader of Justice and Equality Movement who was killed in 2011. Also listened to Albissaty Saleh Allazam of of the Revolutionary Action Committee in Chad.

Several leaders and  members of MEND, an armed group in the Niger Delta in Nigeria were wiretapped.

Minerals Resources and Oil

Players in areas that had biggest financial implications for the UK, and its ally, the US appear to be the ones that attracted surveillance. Kenya was UK main trade partner.


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