Good morning to everyone.
One of the attractions of meeting here with you, is that I was told this is a place where people don’t have to wear ties. So that was one of the considerations.
I thought it was important to join you for a few minutes, not only to wish you a productive series of discussions today, but also to let you know why the topic of integration is so timely.
First, allow me to recognise Strive Masiyiwa for his proposal last year to convene an economic forum in advance of the Transform Africa Summit.
Thank you, Strive. For me it was a pleasure just to be associated.
I also commend Dr Touré and his team for making it happen. The support of Ecobank for this event is also appreciated.
The idea I wish to share is that technological integration should be seen as the vanguard of economic integration more generally.
If you look at the purpose of integrating technology, it is to serve all of us, our businesses and other things as well.
People have complained that if you are moving from Kigali, as a passenger on a plane, and you want to go, let’s say, to one part of West Africa, you would go to Conakry, to Abidjan, to Lagos, to Accra, to Dakar…
I’m sure in this audience there are people who have had close to a dozen stopovers, half of them maybe on our continent. Sometimes to fly home from here, you have to go to Europe, maybe from one city to another in Europe, then to another city in Africa, and then another one in Africa as well.
So when people talk about one common digital market or one common air transport market, I think the purpose is to solve some of these problems.
When you are integrating technology, I think it must be looked at holistically. When you are integrating our regions and countries, the whole continent, all these things should be coming to mind.
I’m sure people here know it very well, better than me, how even when we are communicating by phone, the traffic follows the same route as the planes I was talking about. Doesn’t it?
Sometimes it has to go some places outside of Africa and then back to us. What are you integrating, if you don’t include this? Why don’t we have that happening on our continent without having to pay for a visa for the traffic to first go out of our continent and then receive it back. It requires a visa, which comes in the form of how much you pay.
Is this something we can’t address? We are supposedly very proud Africans, businesses and governments, and I think we need to work hard on that. It’s one of the things people should be looking at so that we are able to have results as soon as we can. We still have a long way to go.
Regional cooperation on technology has produced good results to some extent on our continent in recent years.
Meanwhile, other urgent integration projects have languished on the African agenda, sometimes for decades. We surely can find ways of speeding that up. It is beginning to change, and with a forum such as this, bringing together so many people with diverse backgrounds, I think we can make it happen faster.
Technology cooperation is part of that story. But behind it there has to be political will in real terms. Political will is not confined to the public sector. I think business leaders need that political will as well because it comes with the thinking and what you connect with, in the interest of our continent and our people.
Technology comes with a common set of standards, and a shared vocabulary as well, which is another positive. Our people, especially our youth, have to eagerly embrace the digital economy and expect to play a full part in it.
Innovation is also anchored in the private sector in terms of both research and distribution of products and services.
On the government side, there has been a positive trend of entrusting professional regulatory agencies with the mission to encourage this sector and regulate it in the public interest. That helps prevent politics from slowing things down.
In other words, there is a natural ecosystem that facilitates cooperation among governments and partnership with the private sector, which of course you can’t take for granted. We have to work hard at it with everybody playing their part, so that what we see in the results and outcomes reflects what has been behind it.
Examples of successful regional integration, such as Smart Africa’s focus on One Africa Network, have helped lay the groundwork for even more ambitious projects, such as the African Continental Free Trade Area.
It has helped simply by providing practical confirmation of the truth that we have everything to gain from working together, and also being more connected. Today’s discussions are therefore very welcome.
We will continue to advance on the digital transformation agenda championed by the African Union, Smart Africa, the Broadband Commission, as well as the many external partners here with us supporting these efforts.
At the same time, let’s build on that momentum to stay on course with implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will unlock tremendous opportunities for our region and our world.
I wish you a successful meeting and look forward to being with you again at the Summit tomorrow morning. Thank you very much for your kind attention.