Nairobi, 29 July 2009
• Mr. James Clark, Founder and Chairman, World Technology Network;
• Members of the World Technology Network;
• Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
We live, and we are gathered, in a remarkable time.
Technology in its many forms has obliterated the borders that once contained markets, and slowed or prevented communication between peoples.
Above all else, information and communication technology has changed how nations will live with one another.
There is a global awareness of national events, for example in China, and days before that, in Iran, that is 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.
In short, we have come, not only to this remarkable conference, but also to the future– as human beings, scientists, scholars, inventors – and as leaders of nations.
This is the era of total global competition for raw materials, financial capital, skilled workers, and market access.
The competition is intense, and it has massive consequences around the world.
It 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 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, who enjoy skills and ready technology—fosters their creativity and spurs initiative.
Look around this room.
Those who are ready for this new world look across a sea of opportunity, and innovation, and affluence.
The possession of technology, and the means to deploy it, will create surpluses of capital for those of us who are prepared.
It might provide investment in the environment for our descendents.
There are even some indications that it will create the conditions for progressive values like openness to new ideas, interpersonal trust, and a future orientation, thus strengthening our societies.
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 affect 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.
For those who stand outside the domain of technology, denied access by lack of education or resources or power, 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.
But there is a way for nations to prepare, to upgrade and improve their own processes, and to link the poorest and most disenfranchised among them to global networks of productivity. If an aspect of great strategy is daring to accomplish the improbable, then technology has a role to play in shaping great strategy for poor nations.
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.
This is a vital development; this is the image of a new Africa of innovation, entrepreneurship, as opposed to hand outs and pity.
Markets across the continent have opened, competition has intensified, and Africa has become the fastest-growing mobile phone market in the world.
AND, thanks to these companies and stock exchanges, which have grown to serve them, shareholder wealth has spread to more segments of African societies.
Our continent is largely bypassing or “leapfrogging” the fixed line telephone technologies that most Africans could not afford, in favour of mobile phone and Internet solutions.
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 the grower to capture more value.
The next challenge for Africa is to build out broadband capacity. High-speed Internet penetration rates across Africa are still too low, and in this respect, we still live and work on the periphery.
We are committed, therefore, to move beyond just mobile access, to greater Internet capability by investing in infrastructure and software to drive down the cost, and increased opportunities for learning and trade for all Africans.
In the specific case of our country: when the genocide of 1994 was finally brought to an end, Rwanda was a nation of traumatized citizens, a devastated economy, and a splintered society.
It was a crucial time for us, one in which we needed to look beyond our seemingly insurmountable challenges, and FIND a future.
We searched for, developed, and communicated a vision in which every Rwandan could possess knowledge and skills to actively participate in the global economy.
We put forth the goal that Rwandans could compete with, and win against, the world’s greatest competitors in adventure tourism, high-end coffee, and — audacious as it may seem to some– even biotech and software.
Rwanda is committed to realizing the great potential of science and technology, especially information and communications technology.
We have systematically invested in a foundation to adopt, develop and utilize technology in Education, Healthcare, Government, and the Private Sector.
Our efforts until this time have included:
• Putting in place an institutional framework for developing and implementing our technology vision.
• Undertaking a relentless awareness campaign to adopt technology in all sectors of our society and economy.
• Building a versatile communications infrastructure to support and extend the deployment of these services throughout the country. For example, we are building a national fiber backbone that will enable all corners of our country to access affordable broadband data services to power their businesses, and access global digital resources. We have an electronic records platform for our entire population which will enable us to effectively deliver social, educational and healthcare services.
• We fully liberalized our communications market and put in place incentives to attract Foreign Direct Investment.
• We installed information management systems like TRACKnet to improve management of national HIV/AIDS and other health programs by enhancing patients’ monitoring, managing stocks of drugs, and providing critical data on infection rates. Existing GSM phone coverage allows us to gather data from 98% of our country.
• We deployed a similar application in the agriculture sector, which today links the sellers and buyers nation-wide. The data on agricultural produce is published on the web and communicated to millions of Rwandans through mobile device text messaging. This system is, now, being expanded to incorporate a crop alert system to monitor stocks of food items countrywide.
• We are building the requisite skill base among our people. We launched One Laptop per Child Program (OLPC) to provide computers to primary school children. Our universities and institutions of higher learning now have access to digital content available from some of the world’s leading universities, like MIT and others.
YES, technology is a cornerstone of our economic and social strategy: Rwanda grew at 11.2% last year.
More importantly, we did that while wages in key sectors grew up to 30%, 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 travellers.
And, if great strategy is daring to do the improbable, we have even entered into preliminary discussions to host state-of-the-art infectious disease, genome sequencing, and deep computing research capabilities.
Women, who make up a world-leading 56% of our parliament, and who lead, not only that deliberative body, but also our Infrastructure, Foreign and Commerce Ministries, and our Supreme Court, share equally in these strategic investment decisions.
And, all Rwandans agree that, ultimately, the only investment with the possibility of infinite returns is our investment in children.
We call this economic growth through investments in social equity and technology.
Rwanda does not shrink from the challenges of information and communications technology.
As I mentioned, 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 past, it was possible for some to say, “We did nothing because we did not know.”
It is ICT, above all else, that has taken away this excuse. It has, forever, lifted the shroud of silence that, at one time, obscured heinous acts of man perpetuated upon other human beings.
Rwanda’s experience demonstrates that a land-locked nation, rising out of a crisis, with few resources, no navigable rivers, and a rural population; through the use of informed strategy, timely action, AND TECHNOLOGY—can grow.
And that through growth, we can eradicate poverty, and create a society that shares power, and is more action-oriented and tolerant.
YES, this is the era of total global competition.
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, and holds the very promise of our self-determination.
Thank you for your kind attention.