Thousands of people are expected in Kigali, Rwanda, from 10th to 12th May, for what is described by many as a game changer. They will be attending a continental summit called Transform Africa, the fourth since it was initiated in 2013. During this summit, President Paul Kagame, who is the Chairman of the Board of the Smart Africa initiative, will receive about 20 heads of states, global CEO, over 3000 experts and 300 mayors from big cities including the city mayors from Japan and South Korea. This Summit, according to Dr. Hamadoun Toure, the Executive Director of Smart Africa, told Taarifa that this is a lifetime changing meeting. Dr. Toure says this is an important moment for Africa. “The outside world will see Africa coming together. That is powerful. The lion of Africa starts roaring now. And it is a real lion not a paper lion.”
Below, Dr. Toure divulges in detail, the real deal here.
We have Smart Africa organizing Transform Africa; a summit that is bringing together global leaders, African Heads of State and players in the IT or ICT industry. Can you take us through what Transform Africa is?
Dr. Toure: Transform Africa is our next big event taking place from 10 to 12 May 2017. This is a flagship program for Smart Africa. Transform Africa is about bringing all the stakeholders together, from decision makers in this summit, many heads of states are attending, and we also have many leaders of the industry within the youth. This year is particular because its theme is around smart cities and because of that, we are inviting close to 300 mayors of different cities of Africa. We have some mayors from other cities in the world like the Mayor of Kobe in Japan, the Mayor of Ulsan in South Korea. Those are coming to share their experience with us. We expect to be unveiling the blueprint of our Smart City study that we conducted over the year so that the mayors can share their views. They will go through it and be able to take some part of it. This blueprint is very large framework of what we have done in the framework of Smart City from energy to transportation to schools. All these are included in the blueprint and therefore this will be the real opportunity to brainstorm with all the stakeholders who are involved in the pass of it from their angle. We are also bringing the youth; young entrepreneurs will be coming from all over Africa. They will be sharing their experiences. They will be competing. We also have the special session for girls and women in ICT spearheaded by the first ladies of Africa and the UN Women, the United Nations that deals with women. We are working very closely with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to ensure that we go in line with the broadband plans that they have at the global level. Africa presents a real opportunity today; it is the continent where if you invest there is real return on investment. We have that opportunity today and ICT will be the key driver for Africa’s development as we always say that the only ingredient for ICT is the human brain and you have it everywhere. And therefore, we are giving the opportunity to the youth of Africa to come together. We are also bringing the policy makers to make sure that they present the continent as a single digital market that will enable us to do the real marketing to bring in the private sector so that we can have programs that will enable the Made in Africa label, programs that will enable us to making the devices in Africa here and especially developing new services, new applications by our youth and therefore, we want to give them the real opportunity. Some countries are looking at ways of using this as an opportunity to create jobs for the youth. The job creation potential for ICT of course is the highest. Many of new jobs in the world are created in the field of ICT. And Africa has a real opportunity to do that so that our children will not be forced to be migrating.
You talked of Smart Cities and mentioned examples of Kobe city of Japan and Ulsan city of South Korea. They got it right there. How much of an understanding across the continent there is about this idea of Smart Cities?
Dr. Toure: This is a very good question because first is that Smart City is the key theme that is the flagship program that is undertaken by Rwanda and the Smart Africa. When each country, when they join Smart Africa, they take a flagship program that they will implement home. And Smart City is a theme for Rwanda and therefore, this summit taking place here under that theme gives us the opportunity to showcase what is in Rwanda and particularly in Kigali. Kigali is one of the most connected cities in Africa and probably one of the best connected cities in the world. You know why? Many things, be it government, transportation, energy systems, money transfers, they are being done here. Those are key initiatives that are undertaken in the city and the environment of traffic and CCTVs, all of those are part of the Smart City blueprint that we are looking at. And therefore, we actually intend to make sure that delegates who are coming here are also experiencing what it is about, from their arrival at the airport, in the buses that are taking them home or the VIP cars that are taking them to the hotels that they can have WIFI connectivity, that that they can have access to the internet, they can browse on the net and they can do some of the services that we are doing. From the organization of this event, their registration and the reservation, all of it is done in a way that we are showing that we are doing it in a smart manner. And therefore, this is about really changing experiences and showcasing Rwanda as a potential country that can drive the world indeed. There are so many facilities here that you see, that have been developed here, conceived here and implemented here. We can give a chance to our young developers to develop many softwares that we are going to showcase here and that is, what happens in Rwanda and particularly in Kigali.
The idea of Smart Cities requires a robust ecosystem that allows the implementation of these smart cities idea. Do we have that ecosystem across the continent?
Dr. Toure: The Smart Africa program is about attracting close to 300 billion dollars investment. We are talking about investment in infrastructure, from networks, satellites, the other centers, internal equipment, telephones and computers to the networks themselves, so we have the infrastructure. Second, very key element is the development of applications. When you have all those services, you need to make sure that the applications are developed here because an App is a local solution to a local problem. And when we give our youngsters an opportunity to develop those applications, they will be able to bring the solutions that are fitted to our needs. The third element is content development. That is a very key. Development of content from e-services, from e-health, e-education, having books online, our cultural content, all of those need to be put in place in the continent; there are some already existing but we need these tremendous opportunities there. And the fourth element of course is capacity building initiative and, that is why we have Smart Africa scholarship that we have already sent first gents at Carnegie Mellon University, which is one of our partners who have some of more institutions that are our partners in this program and we hope to be training hundreds of thousands if not millions of students in those fields in Africa so that they will be able to work closely with the industry. Partnership with private sector is a key factor in our program. That partnership is needed so that when you are doing a training curriculum, you are making it the way that is fitted to the needs of the industry when they come out of the program. So, those partnerships are very important.
Africa has many challenges and a lot of priorities to consider. Looking at these ideas of ICTs and the implementation of ICT across the continent, where do you position these ideas of Smart Cities, ICT, compared to the priorities and challenges that people face everyday? We are in economies where people need food, need health, but you are advancing and placing this idea across the continent, how does that work?
Dr. Toure: This has been always a question whether you are putting ICT or health, or education or nutrition on the balance. No, we will need both. ICT has been a driver, we know that ICT has been key enabler for you to have a better healthcare; ICT is a driver for you to have access to education and better education. ICT is a driver for agriculture, for instance. We need an environmental sustainability issue that we are facing. All the development issues that we are facing today, ICT is part of their solutions. Sometimes, not part necessarily of the problem, not necessarily part of the solution either. It is the industry that is a tool for all of the sectors but is also, in addition, an industry itself that creates jobs, that gives chance for our youth to compete on the global scale. And therefore, by bringing ICT, we will be able to speed up actually the implementation of the all programs that are also very high priorities as well.
The implementation of ICT requires certain elements that are extremely rare: content, high skilled in labor or skills in general, you also need cost. Do we have these elements taken care of?
Dr. Toure: Always, to put in place any development program, you need the rights policy framework and our leaders have come and reaffirmed their commitment in putting in place the right policy and regulatory framework that would be attractive to the investment in those fields. That is why the Smart Africa manifesto is about key principles putting ICT high on the agenda, putting the necessary legal and regulatory framework for private sector to evolve, giving the chance to private sector, to do business and making profit in the process because they will create jobs, they will develop applications, nothing wrong with that and like that, you need to put in place the right capacity building, education framework and we are learning lessons from others as well. That is why cities like Kobe or South Korea’s Ulsan, some cities are coming here; we are sharing the experiences with them. We are after all in information society; it will be a shame if someone makes a mistake that was made already, or invents something that was invented already, by the lack of information. So the advantage that we have today in Africa is that we are going to move forward fast, we won’t make a mistake that was made already and our partners are ready to share their experience with us and there are people here in Africa who are educated enough. This gives them the right opportunity. They will be able to conceive their own development program and that’s what we want to do.
Can you take us through the challenges or the obstacles that this whole idea of implementing ICT, innovations, Smart Cities across the continent faces?
Dr. Toure: The major obstacle is the lack of infrastructure today. Once you have the infrastructure, you will need to build the content of course. The content is there already but it’s up to us to come and bring it together. Now, no one of those will come without the right ecosystem to be put in place. And for the ecosystem to come in to play, we need to have a good policy and regulatory environment that will be key to attracting all the players on the ground so that they are really interested into it. As I said Africa is a continent with the highest return on investment today, therefore it’s not a problem in the ICT field, if you have a good idea, you will find the funding for real; no doubt about it. What we want to do here in Africa is to make sure that we have a harmonized development across the continent. That is why we want to make sure that we specialize in each country, in one area so that we are starting the Made in Africa label in different industries so that we buy from one another and we go together. There are one billion citizens now, once you reach one billion mark, it is a symbolic mark, it is very important. With one billion citizens, it makes you think, if we wanted one billion people connected, we need one billion laptops, one billion smart phones. That is five hundred billion dollars if the unit cost is five hundred dollars. That is five hundred billion dollars, are you going to import all of this? Look at the trade imbalance! Or are you going to be part of manufacturing chain? Are you going to be buying all the applications that have a common name? Or are you are going to start developing some of them to feed your own solutions with your own solutions? This is what we are talking about here.
A couple of weeks ago, President Kagame was attending the event where he met with the broadband commission discussing how Africa can step up and be on a table to discuss Africa’s role in global matters and the 5th Generation …..How is Africa prepared to fit into the generation where it doesn’t have to rely and depend on the rest of the world?
Dr. Toure: We are indeed promoting the Made in Africa label here. That is why it is important to come together as a single digital market so that we would be attractive to the manufacturing industry. All 53 countries except a few countries like Nigeria, Egypt or DRC, are big enough with a population that is attractive enough to an industry. Therefore, if we come together, we will be able to do that. And Africa is able to do that. Look at the leadership that President Kagame did within the broadband commission for digital development. When the ITU created the broadband commission, it came to President Kagame to be the first founding chairman of it together with Carlos Slim Helu from Mexico. Since 2010, they have been driving the global ICT development, broadband development in the world. Rwanda is showing the lead in putting it in place here with 4G coming almost in 95% of the country by the end of this year, with WIFI access, with 4G internet access almost in every public place in this country, therefore Africa can also show the lead. When we were thinking about the Made in Africa Label, we thought that we could be labeled as protectionists. Well, after elections in countries in the West of the world today, you realize that it is a legitimate obligation for every leader of the country to try the thing of `its country first’ and also there is nothing wrong with putting Africa first and therefore we will be able to have the right partnerships that will be beneficial for all partners. We are looking at partners who will come and invest and we may profit out of it and therefore it’s a win-win for everyone. We’re looking at the potential to create jobs for our youth. That is good for us and that is good for others who are sick and tired of seeing our young people emigrating in their countries.
Can you describe Africa in the next generation? Let’s look at Africa in 2050 for example
Dr. Toure: I am very much optimistic. The future is here, in Africa. And we have the leadership today that dares to dream big for its continent, that dares to dream for its citizens and shares those dreams and when it shares the dream, it becomes a vision.
Can you give examples of some of the big things that you are predicting in the coming generations?
Dr. Toure: We have estimated to 300 billion dollars investment. That could be big for some people; there is nothing today when you look at 53 countries and when you look at all of the four pillars that I mentioned; infrastructure, content development, software development and also capacity development. In all those areas, we are conceiving our own development programs. These are not development invented somewhere else, imposed on us, it is things that have thought, discussed by our leaders and they have given us instructions on how to do it and we have enough specialists on the ground to try and make those dreams realities and that is what we are doing at Smart Africa.
You talked of the youth taking advantage and playing the role in advancing the ICT and technology but I have spoken to different youth across Rwanda and also across the continent. We are looking at some of their challenges that they face including the lack of consumption of what they produce, mobile applications, softwares, level of consumption is still low to the extent that they find themselves in a situation where they have to go into other sectors and abandon the projects they worked on. How is Smart Africa going to address this matter?
Dr. Toure: It is part of the discussion and we have the young people coming today from Silicon Valley coming back home. That is the clear example that this strategy that we are putting in place will be winning. When those youngsters come, they come with a different culture that we need here. ICT development is a totally different culture from the past and therefore you need that culture; a culture of sharing information. You know, information is the only thing when you share it, it is not price. And our young people in this arena are able to do it and yet they will be still competing. We are giving the opportunities for our young girls to evolve in this business. Girls are naturally good in this field because they are multitasking and naturally if they have the opportunity, they will liberate themselves. And the gender gap will be reduced or eliminated, I should say, because we don’t want to reduce that simply, we want to eliminate it just like we don’t want to reduce poverty, we want to create wealth and we want to give the chance to those young people to have hope; that is the first thing you need in order to survive.
Smart Africa is based in Kigali as the head office. Who funds Smart Africa, where do you get the resources?
Dr. Toure: From the beginning, the Chairman of the Board, which is President Kagame, sitting before eleven other presidents in Africa, they have given us instructions to go out there and mobilise funds for this organization and we have unveiled our vision and mission with the private sector and they have been with us and they are funding this organization. We ended the first year in January this year, with a very positive cash flow. There is money coming from private sector; we have more money from member states as well. We are not rushing for member states, we don’t need to convince any country that this thing is good for them, if they are not convinced, then they have a problem. And we have countries coming and joining; they are convinced that together, we can go far and we can go fast as well.
Apart from Transform Africa event, what else do you do throughout the year? What are the activities that take place within the institution?
Dr. Toure: In the course of the year, we have all of the Smart Africa pillars, flagship programs that have been selected by the countries who are working on them to make sure that they do implement them, once they implement it, they come and share it. Here, during the Transform Africa this time, we are sharing the experience of Rwanda. Next year, we will be sharing the experience of another country, and between; we will be sharing the experience from all of them.
What are the advantages of Smart Africa being in Rwanda?
Dr. Toure: Rwanda comes top in Africa in the Doing Business ranking and comes top among countries in the world. It takes six hours to register the company in Rwanda. That makes it really a place with strong institutions that are giving you the enabling environment. All the infrastructures are here present today and leadership is daring to see ICT and new technology as a tool that will be an enabler for all the country to develop. And walking around Kigali, you see development everywhere. For anyone who comes, who has been here 20 years ago, you will see you have come from hell to heaven and that’s what is happening. Unfortunately, the country has gone through some history and was strong enough to learn from that and rise above everything that anyone could expect the way Rwanda did and today is a prosperous country. It is an example in Africa that many African countries are following. I organize on monthly basis tours where many different African countries come here to learn from the experience Rwanda went through. This shows you how an exemplary leadership can be good for any country’ s development. And other leaders respect that and that is why they are sending their specialists here so that they will not have to make mistakes that were made, so that they will not have to invent in something that has already been invented.
You are the former ITU boss and you have been travelling around the world sharing the ideas and the concept of Smart Africa. How has been the reception from the outside world about concept?
Dr. Toure: The reaction of the outside world is probably important but the reaction from internal world of Africa is more important for me. Many leaders are saying, why did not we invent this thing earlier? So, they are all saying, ‘et’s go, let’s go for it.’ That is important. The outside world will see Africa coming together. That is powerful. The lion of Africa starts roaring now. And it is a real lion not a paper lion.
How was the reaction? Are they threatened? Are they interesting?
Dr. Toure: No, it is the contrary; it is a win-win for everyone. There is an opportunity that we are creating for our citizens. They will make the world a better place to live in. The Asians will be sharing their experiences. Some of the Asian countries were in the same level of development as we are today, just a few years ago.
It is prompting the shift on how they strategize on approaching the African market?
Dr. Toure: Of course it requires a new business model for everyone, but that’s the way we want to develop our development program. It is the development agenda of Africa being conceived here in Africa and developed here in Africa; that it should be. Others have done their own development programs, so when they see us doing the same thing, I see no problem with that and I think that it is beneficial for everyone to see our African youth finding jobs here in Africa and working within their countries and therefore there is a win-win for everyone.
The interview was conducted by Magnus Mazimpaka, Taarifa’s Chief Editor. Below you can watch a video version.