The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa is a shiny spaceship-like structure that glistens in the afternoon sun.
With its accompanying skyscraper, it stands out in the Ethiopian capital.
Greetings in Mandarin welcome visitors as they enter the lifts, and the plastic palm trees bear the logos of the China Development Bank.
Everywhere, there are small indications that the building was made possible through Chinese financial aid.
In 2006, Beijing pledged $200m to build the headquarters. Completed in 2012, everything was custom-built by the Chinese – including a state-of-the-art computer system.
For several years, the building stood as a proud testament to ever-closer ties between China and Africa. Trade has rocketed over the past two decades, growing by about 20% a year, according to international consultancy McKinsey. China is Africa’s largest economic partner.
But in January 2018, French newspaper Le Monde Afrique dropped a bombshell.
It reported that the AU’s computer system had been compromised.
The newspaper, citing multiple sources, said that for five years, between the hours of midnight and 0200, data from the AU’s servers was transferred more than 8,000km away – to servers in Shanghai.
This had allegedly continued for 1,825 days in a row.
Le Monde Afrique reported that it had come to light in 2017, when a conscientious scientist working for the AU recorded an unusually high amount of computer activity on its servers during hours when the offices would have been deserted.
It was also reported that microphones and listening devices had been discovered in the walls and desks of the building, following a sweep for bugs.
The reaction was swift.
Both AU and Chinese officials publicly condemned the report as false and sensationalist – an attempt by the Western media to damage relations between a more assertive China and an increasingly independent Africa.
But Le Monde Afrique said that AU officials had privately expressed concerns about just how dependent they were on Chinese aid – and what the consequences of that could be.
In the midst of all of this, one fact remained largely unreported.
The main supplier of information and communication technology systems to the AU headquarters was China’s best-known telecoms equipment company – Huawei.
“This doesn’t mean the company was complicit in any theft of data,” said Danielle Cave of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a review of the alleged incident.
“But… it’s hard to see how – given Huawei’s role in providing equipment and key ICT services to the AU building and specifically to the AU’s data centre – the company could have remained completely unaware of the apparent theft of large amounts of data, every day, for five years.”
A Huawei spokesman told the BBC: “If there was a data leak from computers at the AU’s headquarters in Addis that went on for an extended period of time, these data leaks did not originate in technology supplied by Huawei to the AU. What Huawei supplied for the AU project included data centre facilities, but those facilities did not have any storage or data transfer functions.”
There is no evidence to indicate that Huawei’s telecoms network equipment was ever used by the Chinese government – or anyone else – to gain access to the data of their customers. Huawei was one of a number of suppliers to the project.
Indeed, no-one has ever gone on record to confirm that the AU system was compromised in the first place.
But these reports played into years of suspicions about Huawei – that a large Chinese company might find itself unduly influenced by the Chinese government.