Connecting the continent, accelerating transformation

In 2006, the Government of Rwanda partnered with the International Telecommunications Union to host the Connect Africa Summit that was held in Kigali the next year.

The leaders of our continent understood that the rapid advances of information and communication technology represented an opportunity for the continent to leapfrog the agrarian and industrial stages of development and compete with the rest of the world in the information age, with a better level playing field.

An objective of raising $50 billion dollars in five years to connect the continent was set. Fast forward, in 2013, a similar partnership produced the TransformAfrica Summit at which it was reported by the African Development Bank that the investment targets set in 2006 were largely exceeded with a total of $75 Billion.

Leaders decided to shift gears from connectivity to transformation. A manifesto with five key pillars was signed off by the founding seven Heads of State under the leadership of HE President Paul Kagame. Smart Africa was created as an implementing agency.

Ever since, the organisation has grown to 22 members countries with a combined market of more than 500 million people and dozens of private sector and international organizations members.

The Manifesto

The Smart Africa manifesto contains the key principles that were outlined to accelerate Africa’s digital transformation and drive Africa’s single digital market.

In its General Assembly of January 2014, the Smart Africa Manifesto received the support of all the Member countries of the Africa Union.

Policy: Putting ICT at the centre of each country’s socio-economic transformation strategies. While African countries face many challenges competing for investments such as basic education, healthcare, agriculture and infrastructure; we need to understand that ICT is a solution to meeting the very same challenges in a cost effective and future-proof way.

Broadband for all: Access to internet with digital literacy is the foundation of the digital transformation.

E-Government: Leading by example, the public sector needs to embrace information technology to be more transparent, efficient and accountable to their constituents.

Private sector first: Africa is open for business and the digital transformation will be driven by investment and not charity or public aid. Governments committed to improving the environment for doing business so as to enable private capital to flow and create jobs.

Inclusive development: Digital transformation needs to be driven in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind, especially girls and women. It must also address development challenges as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

The priorities and flagships

The Smart Africa Headquarters was set up in Kigali in 2016 to drive priority initiatives of the Smart Africa and translate the Manifesto into results.

A new target of raising $300 Billion over the next 10 years was set as the amount of investment that is required to achieve the objectives of the Manifesto. Heads of State committed to personally champion the different initiatives to maintain a sense of urgency and provide the highest-level support within their respective countries but also across the continent.

One Africa Network (Smart Africa Secretariat): Establishing affordable voice & data rates for hundreds of millions of Africans roaming in Africa, therefore boosting trade and regional integration. This initiative also aims at keeping Africa’s traffic within the continent, in contrast to the current situation whereby the hubs that route traffic between African countries are located outside the continent.

The Smart Africa Scholarship fund (Burkina Faso):  Providing opportunities to our young people to pursue studies in world class technology universities located in Africa.

Africa Smart & Sustainable Cities (Rwanda):  Aimed at responding to numerous pressing challenges faced by our cities.

The African Cloud Infrastructure (Djibouti): focusing on developing storage and data processing infrastructure and capabilities in Africa.

Internet for all (Senegal): Establishing collaborative platforms and attracting investments that will bring hundreds of millions of new internet users currently unconnected.

Made in Africa assembly of electronic devices (Gabon): aimed at increasing consumption of “Made in Africa” products and spurring tech innovation.

Africa Smart Women and Girls initiative (Smart Africa Secretariat) aiming at totally eliminating the gender digital divide.

Other flagships include Digital Economy Development (Kenya), intra-africa cross-border connectivity (Guinea), entrepreneurship & youth innovation and job creation (Mali), development of High Tech Parks (Angola), Big Data and Data Measurement for Development (Uganda), Digital Literacy (South Sudan).

Way forward

On March 21, this year, Africa came together in Kigali to sign the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement. This historic milestone is an unprecedented boost to Smart Africa’s Mission of leading Africa’s single digital market.

The upcoming TransformAfrica Summit will explore concrete ways to achieve the mission and future efforts will be oriented towards competitively positioning Africa in the global digital market.

The writer is Special Advisor to the Executive Director at SMART Africa.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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