Gone are the days when Africans used to see Information and Communication Technology as a luxury, President Paul Kagame has said. “In just ten years, what was once an object of luxury and privilege, the mobile phone has become a basic necessity in urban and rural Africa,” Kagame said yesterday. He was addressing hundreds of top government and telecoms industry leaders who are attending a two-day high-level Connect Africa summit at Serena Hotel in Kigali. The meeting is attended by six African Heads of State, including Kagame.
He said that the mobile phone technology is one of the key players in Africa’s ICT revolution. Kagame observed that the formal and informal sector operators and consumers throughout the continent use mobile phones to access a range of services and that farmers and traders in rural Africa do receive market information through the use of mobile phones.
“Health data is easily transmitted from remote rural corners for timely interventions by centrally-located authorities, thus drastically improving public health delivery,” he said.
“In the field of education, the Internet has not only connected some rural schools – it has also provided reading materials and curriculum content for teachers as well as learners,” Kagame added.
He said that several positive changes associated with mobile phone technologies are not restricted to national borders and the new and cheaper alternatives to roaming are now easing trans-border business transactions and personal communication in the region.
He added: “East Africa-based companies are taking advantage of the enlarged East African Community to the benefit of regional consumers. Similar cross-boundary developments are to be found in other parts of Africa.”
He however decried the low investments in building the necessary ICT infrastructure.
“Beyond the powers of ICT associated with the mobile phone and data services, we have stalled when it comes to building the required communications infrastructure for more ambitious applications, product development and greater diffusion of these tools.”
He stated that African governments need to create conducive environment for more foreign and domestic investment flows in the sector.
President Kagame indicated that he was certain that the confidence expressed in Africa would turn into tangible results.
“I have no doubt that if we undertake our respective responsibilities, we in Africa will develop and benefit from a vibrant ICT sector.”
He called on various stakeholders at the summit to explore and invest in broader ICT ventures that will eventually connect the highly unconnected African continent to the global information superhighway.
He said the meeting provides a vital opportunity to bring about greater cohesion in the continent’s ICT strategies, and to strengthen partnership between governments and businesspersons for rapid realisation of tangible results.
He observed that one of African countries’ main challenges was fostering growth and development using their national and continental resources.
“This means that investment and trade – as opposed to aid and charity – must drive the transformation of our economies.”
“In order to realise this much-needed economic revolution, we have to forge productive relationships between government and business,” he noted.
The President added that the fact that Africa remains the world’s least connected continent had seen it fail to tap into enormous socioeconomic benefits that accrue from ICT.
Investments not only about money
Urging investors to put their money into ICT development projects on the continent, Kagame said that investment in ICT is not just about money, profit, prestige or infrastructure for its own sake.
“It is about improving access and affordability for African people, ultimately, it is about empowering people to realise their ambitions and aspirations to improve their own lives,” he said.
“This will keep our best and brightest in Africa, where they can build a more prosperous future for themselves and for our continent; more importantly, rural Africa can become fully integrated into the productive economy – as opposed to its current status of a subsistence hinterland,” he said.
He called on the private sector in Africa to compete with multinational ICT companies in making more significant investment on the continent.
Meanwhile, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza presented the state of the ICT sector in his country, and appealed for massive investments in the field.
He described Burundi as a newly born baby in reference to its emergence from years of civil conflicts that destroyed the country’s infrastructure and derailed development initiatives.
“Currently Burundi is surviving with only 50,000 connected computers,” Nkurunziza said.
He said that his government has scrapped all taxes on ICT tools and reduced costs of acquiring licenses in the country in order to fasten the process on connectivity.