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The session looked at the Smart Africa Manifesto. It also analysed the role of Rwanda within the Smart Africa initiative and, more generally as a strong supporter of ICT in Africa. Smart Africa, currently joined by 25 African states, aims to create a single digital market for Africa, and to harness the power of ICT for socio-economic development.
In setting the scene, Mr Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), made three key points. First, he likened the shared visions behind the common digital market for Africa to the ideals of the European Union, but also stressed that this vision and the related efforts are not yet recognised by partners outside of Africa. Second, he stressed the importance of connecting people, and used the elimination of roaming charges across the EU as an example of an important first step in this regard. He also highlighted the importance of connecting neighbouring countries via Internet cables. Third, he pointed to achievements such as the massive increase in mobile phone and Internet use, but warned that a lot more needs to done and that it will be crucial to maintain the political will and commitment.
Mr Jean Philber Nsengimana, special advisor at ED Smart Africa, shared his reflections on the Smart Africa Manifesto. He highlighted the importance of the five pillars – policy, access, e-government, private sector and entrepreneurship, and sustainable development – and the important leadership role taken by Rwanda. In addition, he stressed that instead of waiting for all countries to join the initiative, it will be important for the existing group of countries to move ahead and pave the way for others to join at a later stage. He also pointed out that this is a joint initiative as part of which countries which are ahead of the curve support those that are not yet as advanced. According to him, it will be crucial to avoid widening existing gaps between countries.
Mr Jean De Dieu Rurangirwa, minister of information technology and communications, Rwanda, stressed the importance of transforming the Smart Africa Manifesto into national policies. In this context, he spoke about the Smart Rwanda Master Plan, which is a high-level strategy that sets the ICT priorities for Rwandan government. In particular, ICT is seen as an important enabler of economic development, and crucial in supporting the goal of Rwanda becoming a middle-income country by 2030. In addition, he highlighted the importance of ICT for government accountability, and for ‘transforming lives’ through greater access to markets, financial services, and knowledge.
Further topics that emerged from the Q&A included the importance of promoting open data and putting appropriate legal frameworks into place; the goal for Africa to move from being a consumer of ICT goods and services to being a producer, and thereby lessening dependencies; the importance of partnerships with countries outside of Africa to promote knowledge and skills transfer; and the importance of joint implementation and mutual support among African countries.
By Katharina E Höne