East Africa: Kagame Pushes for Increased Digital Literacy in COMESA Region

23 November 2021

Combined efforts to foster digital literacy with in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) partner states can catalyze Africa's digital integration, President Paul Kagame has said.

Kagame was addressing virtually the ongoing 21st Comesa heads of state and government summit in Cairo, Egypt.

The summit was held under the theme "Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration," to rally the 21 member states on how to advance the bloc's regional integration agenda using digital platforms to facilitate doing business and enhance their resilience against adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his remarks, Kagame welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for taking over as chairperson of the bloc's authority and also appreciated Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina, for his role in advancing the organization's objectives during his just-concluded tenure.

"Indeed Comesa didn't lose sight of its agenda during the Covid-19 pandemic and continues to implement important trade facilitation programs," Kagame said.

He shared an example of the approval of the Comesa online trade portal last year by the Council of Ministers, as one milestone that exemplifies this continuity.

"While this is a first step towards integrating digital technologies in trade, our efforts should not end here. We need to ensure that our citizens have access to these tools."

Kagame suggested that one of the ways the bloc's 21 partner states can work together is through fostering digital literacy.

The Head of State shared the government of Rwanda's efforts in prioritising digital economic integration, citing ambitions to achieve a 60 percent digital literacy rate for adults by 2024.

Also important, he said, is the need to implement policies in the Comesa area that create affordable, transparent, and secure platforms for digital cross-border payments by small and medium sized enterprises.

"Youth-led enterprises account for many businesses on our continent and we can't afford to leave them behind," he asserted.

By and large however, Kagame highlighted that Africa's integration agenda will be achieved by continuing to put stability at the forefront of Africa's growth and development.

He welcomed the report of the 17th meeting of the bloc's Ministers of Foreign Affairs held earlier this month and said that Rwanda was committed to working with partners in order to maximize trade and prosperity opportunities of the region.

The 2021 summit comes after three years since it was last hosted in Zambia.

Various keynote speakers commended digital technologies including automating customs clearance procedures, the online non-tariff barriers reporting and monitoring system as well as the electronic Certificate of Origin prototype.

A study undertaken by the Secretariat using 2019 trade statistics, shows a huge export trade potential of US$ 101.1 billion, even though the pandemic has led to an 11 percent drop in trade.

A trade update meeting of the bloc's Trade and Customs Committee attributed the low regional trade to an information gap on trading opportunities and regulatory requirements.

Officials, however, reassure that obstacles currently being experienced could be overcome through enhancing the productive capacities, strengthening market information on availability of quality products within the region.

Comesa member states include; Burundi, Comoros, DR Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Eswatani, Somalia, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

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