Let me first express my appreciation to His Highness the Amir for graciously inviting us to be part of this event. It is an honour to be here with you today. We, myself and my delegation, feel at home here in Qatar.
The topic of this year’s conference, “safe, smart cities”, is highly relevant. Throughout history, urbanisation has been a powerful driver of wealth, culture, and science. Urban life brings people of diverse backgrounds into close contact. In the city, we have the opportunity to learn from each other.
Cities also have generated significantly higher levels of economic productivity, as well as creativity. Urbanisation creates the conditions for more complex economies powered by innovation and services. In short, urbanisation is a key step on any society’s pathway to prosperity.
It is therefore no accident that Africa still has some of the world’s lowest rates of urbanisation. This is among the factors that have kept Africa from advancing as quickly as it should have, given our inherent advantages.
However, the human geography of Africa is in a state of rapid change. The rate of growth of Africa’s cities is, on average, the highest in the world.
For example, in Rwanda, our urbanisation rate is around 6% a year, compared to the global average of around 2%. In 1962, Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, had only around 6,000 residents. Today, Kigali is home to nearly 1.5 million people. Still, less than 20% of Rwanda’s population lives in urban areas. Our target is to raise that to 35 percent in the coming years.
This wave of urbanisation is also occurring elsewhere in Africa. It represents a historic window of opportunity for investment, growth, and human development. It also means that we have the opportunity to plan now and do things the right way. We cannot afford to leave urbanisation to chance, or go back and fix mistakes later after costs and damage have already been incurred.
This is where technology has a huge role to play. Africa is fortunate to be undergoing its urban revolution at this particular time when smart cities technologies are evolving and maturing.
In Kigali, wi-fi has been made available on public transportation, whereby the way you pay for your ticket using a tap-and-go card, not cash. Essential public services, such as identity documents, land titles, and business registration, are accessed through our e-government platform, known as Irembo.
Rwandans are also using mobile money applications to pay for water and electricity, as well as their taxes. Digital payment not only makes those services more accessible to consumers, it also reduces the vectors for corruption.
In that respect, allow me to commend His Highness the Amir of this country for his foresight in establishing the annual Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award. These competitive prizes recognise exemplary efforts to build corruption-free societies around the world.
Rwanda is honoured to serve as host for this year’s award ceremony in Kigali on 9 December 2019, of course happy that we are partners with Qatar and the United Nations as well.
As our cities grow, we will remain open to collaborating with partners, such as those represented at this exhibition. We wish to work together to deploy relevant technologies to manage the consequences of urban expansion and make sure that our citizens and visitors get the most out of our cities.
As we strive to build smart cities, there are two important considerations to keep in mind at all times.
First, smart cities are about people, not computers.
The mission is not to invest in technology for the sake of it, but to do so strategically to make life measurably better for the people who live in our cities.
Yesterday, the Minister of Transport and Communications recalled Qatar’s very strong performance on the recent World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, particularly in terms of ICT adoption. And by the way, we congratulate Qatar and we are happy to be partners.
Rwanda, like Qatar, ranks in the top ten globally on measures of government’s long-term vision and responsiveness to change. Our primary task now is to accelerate implementation of our development vision in order to rapidly achieve the good results witnessed in this country, among other positive examples around the world.
Second, the foundation of smart cities is trust. Ambassador Ischinger yesterday rightly emphasised this critical point in his remarks.
Much of urban technology depends on the data generated by residents. If we want our citizens and customers to remain open to the benefits of high-tech cities, we need to be responsible with their data at every stage, from collection to storage and usage. The public and private sectors must work closely together to foster the necessary environment of trust for smart cities to flourish.
Let’s work together to apply the power of technology to enhance the quality of our cities and the future of the people who live in them. I thank you for your kind attention.