I welcome you to the 9th board meeting of Smart Africa.

I particularly appreciate the support of all of the Heads of State and Government who are present with us today: Burkina Faso, Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, DRC, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. I want to thank you for being present, and a warm welcome to the ministers who are representing their Heads of State and Government, as well.

I am happy to acknowledge the presence of our Steering Committee Co-Chairs, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, and African Union Commissioner Amani Abou-Zeid. I know Houlin has some other activities to attend to, but in any case I thank you for your virtual presence and support.

I also recognise the special guests joining us today from the African Development Bank (Akinwumi Adesina), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Vera Songwe), the World Bank (Makhtar Diop and Hafez Ghanem), the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (Sidi Ould Tah), and Africa 50 (Alain Ebobisé).

I am very pleased to note that seven more countries have joined Smart Africa since our last board meeting in May 2019. This brings our membership to 31 countries. These new members are Algeria, Cabo Verde, Republic of Congo, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe.

We also have new members from the private sector: Tahaluf Al Emarat, BICS, and Softbank.

Joining as board members for the first time today are Yahia Al Hami, CEO of Tahaluf Al Emarat, and Alioune Ndiaye of Orange, representing the CEO, Stéphane Richard.

You are all most welcome.

I want to emphasise how important the partnership with the private sector is, for Smart Africa. We place a high value on what you as business leaders bring to these efforts. We will continue working together with you very closely to make the necessary investments and also ensure a common understanding of how to proceed.

This is especially evident in the process of recovering from Covid. The pandemic has shown that connectivity is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Increasingly, the provision of education and health services depends on digital infrastructure. The good jobs of the future will also rely on technology skills and a digital identity.

So the mission of Smart Africa really sits at the centre of everything we are trying to do as a continent, and with our partners around the world.

We have quite a full agenda today. Before I hand over to the Director General for his presentation, I would like to invite their excellencies, the Heads of State and Government, to make their remarks as they wish.