Kigali, 27 August 2009
Information and communication technology has changed how nations grow, and live with one another. For one thing, the world has fewer excuses for intolerance and poverty. First, there is a global awareness of national events — for example, in China and Iran — that are due to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and relatively inexpensive access to technology. These moments in history are captured and diffused to remote corners of the world, even as the events unfold.
Second, this is the era of total global competition for raw materials, financial capital, skilled workers, and market access. The competition is intense and is characterized by discontinuous leaps in the productivity and prosperity of hundreds of millions of people, but also the exclusion and deprivation of billions of their brothers and sisters. The difference between these two experiences is access to information technology, and the strategic possibilities and self-determination such access provides.
Competition, for those who are prepared, for those who have a safe and stable place to live, and who possess skills, fosters their creativity and spurs initiative. Those who are ready for this new world embark upon a sea of opportunity, innovation, and affluence.
For those nations and people who are not prepared, who lack knowledge and resources and access, competition will be cruel and debilitating, and can even effect their dignity. Inability to compete with technological competence will compel billions of people into a survival stride of long hours and degrading work, sometimes far from their homes, driven to exhaustion, dropped to their knees to beg on behalf of spouses and children for shelter, medical care and rations of food.
In an age such as this, “poverty” goes beyond the lack of clean water, safe food, and shelter; it is also the exclusion from powerful networks of learning, production, and trade. The power in information technologies is that there are fewer excuses for nations to exclude themselves from these powerful networks and to mire their citizens in poverty.
For those nations who stand outside the domain of technology, denied access by lack of education or resources, blocked by policies that are outdated and unjust; the future seems devoid of hope for positive change, for upgrading one’s own life, for improving the possibilities of one’s family. And, just seeing what others have, and can do, when one does not have these possibilities, can destroy hopes and aspirations for some, with extreme consequences for all of us.
This last decade was a communications revolution on the African continent, which affected large cities and small villages, the rich and poor alike. Between 1995 and 2005, over twenty five billion US dollars were invested in ICT in Sub-Saharan Africa, led by African private operators and investors.
African mobile phone companies have become regional and even global players — something that our continent has not been known for in the past.
There is hardly any sector on our continent that has not benefited from this communications revolution, including the strategic sectors of health and education. Even small growers and local entrepreneurs have been greatly impacted by the ICT-led revolution in Africa — mobile phone-based exchanges link the buyer and seller with market data, which eliminates unnecessary journeys, stabilizes prices, and allows our growers to capture more value.
And the result is that Rwanda grew at 11.2 percent last year. More importantly, we did that while wages in key sectors grew up to 30 percent each of the last eight years. We sell our coffee to Costco and Starbucks, and we created a tourism experience that attracts some of the world’s most experienced travelers. We have even entered into preliminary discussions to host state-of-the-art infectious disease, genome sequencing, and deep computing research capabilities.
Because of ICT, the world has come into a time of global transparency the likes of which none of us has ever seen. When bloodshed cried out for global intervention in our nation’s past, it was possible for some to excuse their lack of intervention by their ignorance. They did not know, they said.
It is ICT, above all else, that has taken away this excuse from all global men and women of good will. Technology has, forever, lifted the shroud of silence that, at one time, obscured heinous acts of a few deranged men perpetuated upon helpless, anonymous, and disenfranchised millions.
This is the era of total global and near-costless communication. In Rwanda, we are preparing ourselves by creating networks of learning, production and trade, to connect even our most remote citizens to worldwide networks of prosperity. Rwanda has embraced competition and technology as forces for positive change. The former compels us to be creative and to invest, and the latter enables us to have high hopes and unique aspirations, holds the very promise of our self-determination, and removes the excuse, forever, of those who might cloak themselves in the shibboleth, “We did nothing, because we did not know.”
President Paul Kagame was a recipient of a 2009 World Technology Award.