Kigali, 10 May 2017
Good morning. First of all, I want to welcome you to Kigali. Many of you are regular visitors, while some are here for the first time. We are delighted to have all of you with us.
I hope you will get the most from this summit and also get a chance to spend some time exploring our country and meeting our people.
Let me thank the members of the Smart Africa Alliance, now comprising 18 member states, for their commitment to Africa’s digital transformation agenda.
The private sector and university partners are an essential part of this effort and your support and engagement are greatly appreciated.
I would also like to thank Dr Hamadoun Touré for his leadership of the Smart Africa Alliance, in particular for building strong partnerships between governments and the private sector.
I thank the Secretary-General of ITU, Houlin Zhao, for the support given to this African transformation agenda, without which those efforts would not be fully realised.
The Director-General of UNESCO has also been very central to this. And the head of UN Women, you are most welcome, and thank you for your support.
This summit focuses on Smart Cities for good reason. Africa currently has the world’s fastest growing cities, but even so Africa remains the least-urbanised continent.
Taken together these facts tell us two things.
First, Africa is not as prosperous as it should be because our cities are too small and disconnected.
Second, this situation is changing rapidly and Africa looks set to emerge as one of the planet’s great centres of growth, innovation, and opportunity in the generations ahead.
However, we cannot take this trend for granted.
This puts the urgency and relevance of the Smart Africa agenda into its proper context. The word ‘smart’ is really about leveraging digital technologies to narrow the gap between the high quality services we need, and those we can afford, and to do so quickly.
We can work together to put technology in the hands of the citizens of our continent in order to build inclusive and sustainable places to live.
Our future well-being depends on how well we respond to these challenges right now.
Let me remind us about a few key priorities.
First, Africa has to be connected—and why not at the highest possible speeds? At first glance the figures appear low: only 20 per cent of Africans have internet access and there are only three years left to meet the Broadband Commission’s target of 50 per cent.
However, this must be regarded as an opportunity for stronger public-private collaboration. In Rwanda, for example, our partnership with Korea Telecom has already served to speed up our progress toward the broadband target.
Second, we must deliver on technology’s promise to bridge divides rather than deepen them. That begins with the digital gender divide. So long as women and girls are lagging behind, then we are not on the right track.
Access to technology and information must also not distinguish between rich and poor or between urban and rural areas. If technology is entrenching divides, rather than equalising opportunity, then we are not harnessing it well, and there will be surely negative consequences to follow from that.
We have to make use of the combined talent, know-how, resources, and decision-making power gathered here to open up new pathways of productivity and inclusive growth for our continent’s rapidly expanding cities.
Technology is a powerful framework for bringing diverse stakeholders together to define challenges and find solutions, as we see in this room.
Transforming Africa, after all, means transforming Africans by enabling a practical mindset of problem-solving and discovery.
The focus on people is the starting point around which we can build everything else, including the infrastructure and systems required.
This goal can only be achieved by all actors working together, with the private sector taking the lead and governments fostering a conducive environment for innovation and investment.
The Smart Cities framework launched today should serve as a catalyst to fast-forward our plans. Our role is to continue to push for speedy implementation.
Africans have the willingness to work and the talent to succeed. We need to make sure they acquire the knowledge and attitudes to be competitive.
I look forward to a rich exchange of ideas over the next few days. We want to work with you all to transform African cities into dynamic and prosperous places for our people.
I wish to end by thanking you for your kind attention and good collaboration.