KIGALI - As Information and Communications Technology (ICT) continues to become the engine of growth in the modern world, broadband is the most important tool African youth have at their disposal to unlock their potential and propel the continent to higher levels of development.
The observation was made by President Paul Kagame, yesterday, during the opening of the Broadband Commission’s Youth Forum which brought together African youth and members of the broadband commission, as well as ICT ministers from several African countries.
Speaking at the two-day global meeting, also attended by leading broadband service providers, President Kagame, who co-chairs the Broadband Commission together with Mexican Billionaire Carlos Slim, said that African youth should seize the opportunity and use available technologies to advance themselves.
“To you, the youth, I would like to say that technology is increasingly playing a major role in the way you learn, interact and fully participate in today’s world,” President Kagame said.
“You are tomorrow’s promise because of today’s possibilities—you possess the energy and drive required to use these technologies to address some of the world’s challenges across many sectors.”
He pointed out that broadband offers the youth a powerful tool to remain politically engaged, because it provides a medium to interact with their governments, make their voices heard and allows them opportunities to shape national and global agendas.
The Head of State, speaking at a panel that included Carlos Slim and Dr. Hamadoun Toure, the Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said that in the case of Rwanda, the government has instituted policies which allow citizens to utilise social media to access their leaders.
“This is one of the steps needed to ensure that we remove communication barriers between government officials and their citizens,” adding that it is imperative that leaders form that linkage between themselves and the masses.
“We leaders are faced with urgent decisions—we must establish the right partnerships across governments, industry, academia and the international development community to ensure that we do not wait for another century to recognize that broadband too, was another missed opportunity,” he added
President Kagame noted that there is an urgent need to develop effective strategies necessary for the harmonization of regulatory policies and allow for fast rollout of broadband infrastructure.
He noted that this will create incentives to encourage private broadband operators to invest cost-effectively in low income markets.
The President highlighted the need to ensure that broadband development is not seen in isolation of other national development priorities but rather as a symbiotic strategic imperative.
Similarly, President Kagame emphasised that the Academia should play a significant role in ensuring that the youth possess adequate skills to use and exploit the benefits of broadband technology.
“As we continue to deliberate on the subject of building Africa’s future around broadband technologies, it is also important to recognize that the world needs to be mobilized to address broadband as a development imperative,” Kagame said.
“This is the message we will deliver to world leaders as they convene in Geneva next month in October to adopt core strategies that will move broadband to the central stage of developmental policies.”
Carlos Slim, who is currently the world’s richest person according to Forbes magazine, said that the world is living a new civilisation of digital technology, which should be good news to developing countries.
“Technology offers us a great opportunity to work towards the socio-economic welfare, our people and governments have been looking for, for many years,”
“First of all, we need to achieve universal access to broadband,” Slim said, noting that part of that target has been achieved especially with the emergence of mobile phones and their portability, adding, however, that a lot more is yet to be done in the area of data.
Citing Latin America, Slim said that the level of penetration is equal to that in developed countries such as USA and Canada but the region still lags behind in the area of data and video connectivity.
“We need to go beyond the voice, we need to go to data, we need to go to video, we need to go to applications and other internet and broadband enabled developments,” observed the telecoms mogul, noting however that the progress is so far commendable.
Also on the panel was Sunil Bharti Mittal, the Chairman and owner of telecoms giant Bharti Airtel, Cheick Sidi Diarra, the UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries and Suvi Linden, the Finish ICT Minister.
The panel also had 3 African youth, Akariza Gara from Rwanda, Emmanuel Fori from Ghana and Kariuki Gathitu from Kenya.
Youth representatives from various African countries engaged with the panel and commissioners on ways to leverage the power of technology and how broadband can lead the way as this century’s transformative technology.
Later in the day, the delegates visited the Millennium Development Model Village in Mayange, Bugesera district. Prof. Jeffery Sachs, the founder of the Millennium Project, conducted a guided tour.
The Millennium Project was commissioned by the United Nations Secretary-General in 2002 to develop an action plan for the world to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people.