The task that awaits the new Smart Africa boss

Minister Ingabire: Rwanda expects to see an increase of the membership of the organisation from the current 24 African countries, possibly to all the partner states of the African Union.
Minister Ingabire (centre) welcomed Lacina Kone (left), the new Director General of the Kigali-based Smart Africa Secretariat and thanked his predecessor Dr Hamadoun Touré (right). Net photo.

Last week, Lacina Kone officially took over from Dr Hamadoun Toure as the Executive Director of Smart Africa Alliance, a body that seeks to leverage ICT to drive the continent’s growth agenda.

Kone joins the Smart Africa secretariat at a time when there are high expectations of the 24-member state organisation to grow ICT investments as well as accelerate the adoption of tech across the continent.

He also comes into office at a time when there are growing expectations to increase the membership of the alliance to have increased impact across the continent.

The Ivorian national joins the organisation with an ambition to create a single digital African market, which was launched last year.

Single Digital African market largely entails ‘tearing down’ all borders to have the continent as one market for as well as all-inclusive solutions such as digital identities and blockchain for money transfers.

These will, among other things, require investments by the private sector.

READ ALSOKagame chairs Smart Africa Board Meeting

For Rwanda, among the expectations under Kone include fostering a unifying environment that will increase cooperation among African countries towards achieving digital goals.

The Minister for ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire said that Rwanda also expects to see an increase of the membership of the organisation from the current 24 African countries, possibly to all the partner states of the African Union.

Ingabire said that this will scale up the impact of initiatives under the body as well as create more opportunities for stakeholders.

She also noted that, as members, they expect the commencement of sharing of blueprints of the various initiatives being implemented by member countries.

The alliance works with a model whereby each country has a flagship programme with intentions of sharing approaches and best practices with other countries. For instance, Rwanda is spearheading Smart Cities’ initiative.

“When Smart Africa was created, each country was allocated a flagship programme to spearhead. Rwanda is leading on Smart Cities. The model was that for every model that a country is leading, they should share blueprints of their initiatives for other countries to learn from. We need to start seeing blueprints documented and countries taking up adoption,” she said.

She noted that there are also expectations of roadmaps to implement the Single Digital African Market.

On his part, Kone said that he will seek to continue implementing the roadmap of the organisation.

Among the aspects that he noted require urgent attention is creating unity and a ‘single voice’ by member countries towards initiatives such as increased internet penetration at an affordable cost.

This, he said, will call for the implementation of regulatory frameworks among countries when dealing with operators.

“If you look at, say, the initial internet cost in Rwanda, it’s about $8 per megabyte and it’s about $60 for the same in Côte d’Ivoire which has access to the ocean. Ghana, which neighbours Côte d’Ivoire, has about half the cost. We need to have very serious conversations about such things with a unified voice,” he said.

Other priorities that rank high on his to-do list include one African network to have free roaming for African countries as well as increasing internet exchange points on the continent.

Internet exchange points are physical infrastructure containing network switches that route traffic between the different networks.

In most instances, when one types in a site on the African continent, the request is often routed via Europe which increased the bandwidth used up as well as cost.

By having more exchange points, it will reduce the cost and increase user convenience consequently driving up internet uptake and penetration.

The outgoing director, Toure, assumed the position in 2015 after his stint as the International Telecommunications Union Executive Director.

Under his tenure, he oversaw the setting up of the organisation, growth in membership from the inaugural nine members to 24 as well as brought in private sector members who have since invested in the continent.

Currently, the organisation has 41 private sector partners, the Commercial International Bank, Egypt, Tata communications (Indian) and Rohde & Schwarz, a German technology firm being the latest members to join.

Toure told The New Times that the alliance has been working to attract private companies from across the world to invest in Africa’s ICT sector which consequently creates jobs, speeds up innovation, and avails much-needed solutions.

The membership of private sector stakeholders has enabled the organisation to raise operational budget as well as fund initiatives such as Transform Africa Summit.

The organisation currently has $1.5m in reserve accounts and $4.5m in annual contributions from member states and stakeholders to meet operational budgets. Platinum private sector members pay about $200,000 in membership fees.

Who is Lacina Kone?

Lacina Kone is a Côte d’Ivoire national who has been serving as an advisor to the Prime Minister on Digital Economy. He also advises the Government of Benin on ICT.

He has served in numerous positions, including as head of tech firms such as CVT Global, Booz Allen Hamilton, Intelsat among others.

He holds two masters degrees and has over 20 years of experience in ICT development having begun his career in 1991.