The New Times (Kigali)

2 November 2013

Rwanda: From Kigali ICT Summit - Can You Cook Online?

analysis

When 24-year-old Perpetue Mukamazimpaka, from the rural district of Rutsiro in Western Province, was shown how to order food online using a business control software called Smart POS, she asked her guide whether it was possible to cook online.

But her guide, a South Korean exhibitor at the Transform Africa Summit 2013 that concluded on Thursday, did not know how to answer the question.

Even if the exhibitor looked confused because it is not possible to cook online and she indeed struggled with what answers to give, Mukamazimpaka's question pretty much summarises the purpose of the Transform Africa Summit 2013.

For four days, the Summit explored ways to enable Africa to leverage advances in information and communication technologies to transform lives.

Mukamazimpaka is one of several millions of Africans whose lives more than 1,500 participants at the Summit, including seven Heads of State from Africa and executives from global companies such as Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook and IBM, hope to transform by leveraging current gains and plans in broadband connectivity across the continent.

It would naturally look like it will take many years before she acquaints herself with or even access a platform to order for food online.

But organisers of the Transform Africa Summit 2013 hope that it will not take long if a blueprint from the Summit, which was conveniently dubbed the 'Smart Africa Manifesto' is implemented to the letter.

Endorsed by seven heads of state who participated at the Summit and poised to be tabled at the next African Union Heads of State Summit for adoption, the manifesto proposes five pillars for successfully using ICTs to positively transform lives in Africa.

ICT to the chore

The pillars include putting information and communication technology at the centre of national socio-economic development agendas, improving access to ICT, especially broadband, improving accountability and efficiency as well as openness through ICT, putting the private sector at the centre of economic transformation, and leveraging ICT to promote sustainable development.

Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, the secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told participants at the closing of the summit on Thursday that the manifesto will help to realize the dream of transforming Africa into a digital continent.

"It gives me pleasure to know that there is hope for this continent," he said, urging participants at the summit to go back to their countries and organisations and collectively implement the Manifesto.

A lot has been achieved in Africa since 2007, a year when African Heads of State and Government as well as global and African entrepreneurs had convened in Kigali for the Connect Africa Summit, which focused mainly on investments in infrastructure that will facilitate the bridging of the digital divide on the continent.

The implementation of resolutions from the 2007 summit has resulted into the mobile penetration, moving from 23 per cent to more than 65 today and Internet penetration increasing from 3.9 to 16.3 per cent.

But a study commissioned by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to assess the implementation of the resolutions from the 2007 summit found that challenges remain.

With the continent at only 5 percent of broadband penetration and about 13 per cent of the population connected to the Internet, the AfDB's report recommends that more African countries and regional trade and political blocs need to do more in building internet and broadband backbones.

Drawbacks in Africa

The report estimated that more than 30 countries in Africa are yet to build Internet and broadband backbone networks that support social and economic growth. Public-Private Partnerships, a prerequisite for information and communication technology development.

Delegates at the Transform Africa Summit 2013 noted that on several occasions, massive investments in technology are needed if digital life is something that Africans need to achieve in order to improve their lives.

Dr Touré said public-private partnership is very crucial to determine the digital future of Africa, indicating that $55 billion has been invested in technology development in Africa for the last six years and projecting that similar investments will reach $70 billion by the end of 2014.

"Private-public partnership is very crucial to determine the digital future of Africa," Dr Touré said on Monday at the launch of the Transform Africa Summit 2013.

Rwanda, whose President, Paul Kagame, has declared the Internet as a needed public utility as much as water and electricity, is among the African countries that have made great strides to get what they want through the public-private partnership approach.

A joint venture between the Rwandan government and South Korea's largest telecom company, Korea Telecom, will help Rwanda to avail a high-speed (4G LTE) broadband network across the country.

Under the deal, Korea Telecom agreed to inject $140m (about Rwf91 billion) in infrastructure and expertise, while government will provide fibre optic network assets, spectrum, and a wholesale licence.

Global digital transformation

The president of Korea Telecom, Kim Hong Jin, told delegates at the Transform Africa Summit that the world is entering into an era where everything will be done digitally in a smart way, adding that Africa does not need to stay behind.

The partnerships such as that of the Korea Telecom and the Government of Rwanda are exactly what the targeted end users like Mukamazimpaka, a student at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre Kigali, are asking for.

"I was wondering if they are able to use Internet to cook without being in the kitchen if they have a system for booking food online," she said rather sheepishly as she tried to justify her innocent question.

"I just wished I were able to order food beforehand and go pick it at the restaurant without having to sit and wait for it there. Our leaders should get in touch with those who have this technology and make sure that they help us to acquire it."

One way to get the right answers for her question to acquire technology is perhaps the recommendation made by the Transform Africa Summit.

It is stated in the Smart Africa Manifesto that a Transform Africa Summit will be organised once every two years in Kigali and that all African countries that will endorse the Manifesto should be organising annual "Smart Country Days" to talk about information and communication technology.

The next summits will clearly make it possible for entrepreneurs like Yoon Chul Hwan, a delegate from South Korea's e-commerce company Arumnet.com that showcased the Smart POS software in Kigali this week, to come back and show more innovations to Mukamazimpaka and many more people from her generation.

"I think this conference represents a great opportunity for Rwanda and Africa because ICT is good for communication and education and a source of prosperity even when people don't have natural resources in the country," Yoon said.

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