Kigali, 26 March 2018
It is my pleasure to give you a very warm welcome to Kigali.
Rwanda is very happy to serve as host of this year’s Next Einstein Forum, as well as the headquarters of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.
I congratulate the organisers for the exceptionally high quality of the panels and discussions on the agenda in the coming days. We are clearly going to learn a lot.
I wish to add at the outset that, had it not been for the coincidence that we had an Extraordinary African Union Summit in the same week as we have this very important Forum, we would have had many more Heads of State here with you, than just myself.
They had expressed their wish to be part of this Forum with you, but you understand that it is too much to ask the Heads of State to crisscross the continent twice to come to Kigali, just in one week. So they asked me to extend their apologies that they could not make it.
I also take this opportunity to commend the partners and the sponsors who have made this event possible, as I said at the beginning, Johnson and Johnson, and the Robert Bosch Foundation.
Our joint commitment to promoting achievement in mathematics and science reflects their importance for all of Africa.
Human progress, after all, is grounded in the mastery of science and mathematics. When researchers and commercial enterprises apply those capabilities to practical problems, they discover innovations that save lives and transform economies.
Knowledge economies are prosperous economies. Today, more than ever before, adequate math and science proficiency is a prerequisite for a nation to attain high-income status, and the gains in health and well-being that go along with it.
For too long, Africa has allowed itself to be left behind. But that is starting to change, as we see in the important work on display at this forum.
But as Africa catches up to the rest of the world, we cannot afford to leave our women and girls out of the equation. The gender gap in science is a global phenomenon, but that is no reason to accept it as inevitable.
Whatever the causes may be, we have to dedicate ourselves to closing the gap, because opportunity will never be equal without equal access to knowledge.
It is not just about filling heads with information and performing well on exams. The purpose is to apply that knowledge to solve the problems facing our continent and our world. That requires an innovation ecosystem in which government, business, and educational institutions all reinforce each other.
There are many representatives from industry here, both among speakers and sponsors, and this is critically important. We need to build on the good initiatives underway to create more productive linkages with the African research and innovation community, both in universities and start-up firms.
Too often, it is just assumed that technical expertise is unavailable in Africa. Governments are as guilty as big companies in this regard. We keep going back to the same external suppliers for solutions, without making every effort to procure the services here. It doesn’t make sense.
Let’s use the resources we have to give these talented African specialists the chance to grow and compete professionally.
There may be some extra costs in the short term. But doing so will not only build our institutions, but increase our capacity for international collaboration as well.
Scientific research is fundamentally about cooperation across borders. Its global character accelerates the process of discovery and multiplies the benefits.
We do not aim to create an autonomous African science that operates in isolation. That would defeat the purpose. We are working to fully connect Africa to the global networks that have been so productive.
This builds on the positive mood on our continent about the prospects for practical pan-African collaboration. Despite the challenges we still face, there is clear evidence of forward movement, and a sense that the moment is ours to seize.
We have what it takes to do so, not least because of the growing ranks of smart and creative young people who are the foundation of Africa’s future.
The future we want is as bright as we want it to be.
May I, on this note, wish you a successful event, and thank you very much for being here, and for your kind attention.