The 5thedition the Transform Africa Summit gets underway in Kigali today, drawing up to 4000 delegates.
The two-day gathering, which was preceded by the second Economic Forum of the annual summit, yesterday, will be running under the theme; "Boosting Africa's Digital Economy.".
Most deliberations will be revolving around job creation and emergence of enterprises.
Digital economy is based on digital computing technologies with provisions to conduct business on the internet and related platforms.
Delegates follow a presentation during the Economic Forum of Transform Africa Summit in Kigali yesterday. Photos by Nadege Imbabazi.
In Rwanda and Africa in general, digital economy manifests mostly in the form of e-commerce and financial technologies.
Digital economy is expected to enable the continent to more create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for its bulging youth, who are estimated at over 50 per cent of the population.
Digital economy can improve economic activity and trade volumes, experts say.
Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente said that with the rapid population growth and and ever-growing youthful population, the African continent can optimise digital technologies and digital economy to drive job creation and transform their communities.
"Africa has the fastest growing youth population with more 140 million young people now than a decade ago. By 2028, the African continent will be hosting almost one billion people under the age of 25. This young population presents an opportunity to optimise the adoption of technologies as the younger generation is eager to embrace the digital era," he said at the opening of the Economic Forum of Transform Africa Summit.
With start-ups across the world generating new ideas and concepts, the premier said, there is an opportunity to work alongside the sector to deliver the much-needed transformation and job creation.
"This is where we see the value for start-ups which play, globally, a significant role in economic development. Across the world, start-ups are currently being championed by the youth who are actively creating jobs and transforming their communities. They bring new ideas to the table, much needed to stimulate innovation and generate competition," Ngirente said.
He added that digital economy and technology solutions will fast-track continental integration.
However, to achieve the ambitions of a digital economy, there is need to address persistent shortcomings which constitute bottlenecks to growth, experts say.
Among the existing challenges include access to internet across the continent. With the digital economy dependent on the availability of the internet, the cost and access of broadband is seen as a hindrance.
Stakeholders say that cheaper and more accessible internet will ultimately lead to better performances of entities in the digital economy.
Fatoumata Ba, the chief executive of Janngo, a digital platform working with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), said that more affordable and accessible internet would ultimately improve the efficiency of firms and speed up their innovation and impact on the population.
Ba said most of the challenges can be addressed through policy interventions and do not require much capital investment to fix.
For instance, she said, that despite not having access to the sea, Rwanda has cheaper and more reliable internet compared to countries with direct access to the sea.
The Minister for ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, said that among the prerequisites for a digital economy include creating a favourable investment climate to unlock financing for emerging start-ups.
"Investment is growing but we need to leapfrog these opportunities and build strategies that enable more favourable entrepreneurial climate, unlock more funding and facilitate young innovators to address the fundamental African challenges with local solutions," she said.
She added that it is also important to ensure that startups with genuine solutions for local markets are not suffocated by large international companies.
"Digital technologies unlock opportunities for young entrepreneurs to directly access global value chains and foreign markets, and compete at the same level as large corporations.
"Therefore, empowering them and easing their exploration into digital technologies is imperative to enabling African transformation," she said.
She noted that, so far, in regards to attracting capital, they have noted increased willingness by investors to inject financing into African tech startups.
In 2018, investment in African tech startups surpassed the billion-dollar mark - a milestone that had been previously been expected to be reached in 2020.
"Venture capital has more than doubled since 2015, seen through the increase of the number of startups that were able to raise funding and attract investment from $277 million in 2015 to $1,163 million in 2018," she added.
Going forward, Ingabire called for increased mentorship of emerging start-ups in their quest to be investor ready.
Other players note that it's important to review public procurement processes to allow start-ups to be more competitive, especially when they are up against multi-nationals.
Tom Archer, US Technology Industry Leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said that regulation in the sector should not stifle growth.
Archer said that regulation in the digital economy should help create public trust around innovation as opposed to limiting growth.
President Paul Kagame is expected to preside over the opening of the 5th Transform Africa Summit, which will also be addressed by other high-ranking government and business leaders, as well as Sophia, the world's first robot citizen that have wowed audiences, especially in the IT world, globally.