Africa: TAS2019 - Kagame, African Leaders Root for Inclusive, Affordable Connectivity

President Paul Kagame, and his counterparts Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (left), and Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali pose with copies of Kenyan government’s ‘Digital Economy Blueprint’ on the first day of the 5th Transform Africa Summit in Kigali.

African governments need to work closely with the industry to make the necessary investments and increase access to affordable connectivity if citizens are to benefit from digital economy, President Paul Kagame.

Kagame was speaking on a panel at the ongoing 5th Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, alongside his Kenyan and Malian counterparts.

But to achieve inclusive digital economy, he said, governments on the continent need to work with the private sector and to ease investment climates and lower the costs involved.

The private sector must not work alone, nor should the governments, he said.

Kagame also called for investments in digital skills to ensure that citizens leverage the benefits of technology for their improved wellbeing.

Asked about how African governments can create more digital jobs for its growing number of youth, the Rwandan president said there has to be a deliberate effort to create jobs, whether digital or otherwise.

"Jobs are jobs, digital or not," he said, adding that the continent must also take care of its "legacy problems" even as it moves to leverage digital technologies.

He also pointed to the enormous potential of Africa-wide single air transport market protocol that African leaders have agreed up, as well as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which is expected to come into force soon with the deal having reached the minimum 22 ratifications needed ahead of implementation.

Rwanda has ratified both continental frameworks.

Kagame said African governments need to work together to make travel within the continent easier, cheaper and convenient, and eliminate transit points outside of the continent.

It's the logical thing to do, he said. "Everything that we need for transformation is in this room or represented in this room."

Speaking on the same panel, President Kenyatta noted that there was need to prepare African people to reap from the dividends of internet connectivity. He said his country was in the process of changing school curricula so that the skills that are being imparted among young people are relevant to the needs of a digital economy.

Kenyatta also said that, like Rwanda, Kenya was distributing computers to schoolchildren to make them acquitted with ICT tools and help unlock their innovation potential.

"There is need to break down barriers for Africa to take full advantage of our digital future," he said.

Malian President Boubakar Keita said his government was committed to make the most of innovation and digital economy to improve the living conditions of its people.

He underlined the importance of African people trading easily across borders and doing so safely.

Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), contributing to the Heads of State panel discussion from the audience, called on African governments to start providing the same kind of support they extend to foreign investors, including subsidies, to local start-ups.

"Do the same for your start-ups," the Kenyan diplomat said, attracting applause from the audience.

President Kagame, the chairperson of Smart Africa, the organisers of the Transform Africa Summit, also announced that the next edition of Transform Africa Summit will be held in Guinea.

It will be the first time that the annual summit will be taking place outside of the Rwandan capital Kigali.

It was first held back in October 2013.

Following the panel discussion, President Kenyatta launched the Digital Economy Blueprint.

Earlier in the day, Sophia the robot, clad in Rwanda's traditional mushanana attire, delivered remarks to the audience, calling for IT solutions to challenges across different sectors, including education, agriculture and health.

The two-day summit attracted over 4000 delegates from across the world, including top business leaders, successful entrepreneurs, start-ups, as well as representatives of government, international organisations and civil society.

The summit is running under the theme, "Boosting Africa's Digital Economy."

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